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Is Cursive Writing Cursed with Extinction?

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With the fear that I might be labeled an Andy Rooney wannabe, cranky about things I can't do anything about, I am hesitant to mention the twinge of sadness I felt at the news recently that public schools have, for the most part, officially abandoned the teaching of cursive handwriting.

But there, I've mentioned it, so I'll explain the twinge.

First, I'll be honest: I doubt that there was anything more tedious than my elementary school lessons in what used to be known as Parker penmanship (though I have a competing memory of "Palmer penmanship.") I recall, still, the wide-lined paper -- one line indicating the ceiling for lowercase letters, the upper for capitals, and the upswoop of the the h and f and other tall lowercase letters.

For the naturally disorderly state that young boys represent, the discipline of keeping writing within these borders was nothing less than painful. The girls were always better at the meticulous business. And as a leftie whose hand took on a clawlike curl in order not to smear what I'd written, the pain was accentuated.

And yet, these days, when I get the occasional ink-on-paper note from my son -- the successful product of an expensive private school, an expensive private college, and an expensive law school -- I look at his untutored block printing and have a moment of regret that he was spared the tedium of penmanship in order to do more "creative" things in the early years of his education.

Because most of his writing and correspondence, as is the case with almost everyone these days, springs from a keyboard and his self-taught typing skills, I wonder why I care. Truth be told, my left-handedness -- and laziness and impatience -- has never put me in the running for a calligraphy prize.

But when I sit down to write an important personal note, or a sympathy card, or anything else for which computer word processing is inappropriate, I can -- if I slow myself sufficiently -- turn out a legible and not unattractive script where all the letters connect with a rhythmic order that old Parker (or Palmer) might approve.

And in the process, I find a certain satisfaction at the logical, linear process of connecting one flowing letter to the next. This might be the equivalent of a computer animator actually taking a pencil and drawing a character on paper, just to recall the pleasure of small muscle control.

Handwriting may share some of the virtues of the growing slow-food movement. (If you want to infer that Twittering is junk food, don't let me discourage you.) There's an additional benefit: A necessary deliberation that slows me down and -- in the absence of a Delete key -- makes me choose words more carefully.

In my long, difficult effort to learn Italian long after my student years, I have found that I remember vocabulary better when I handwrite it on paper than when I type it onto a screen. This is anecdotal, not scientific, evidence, but the more deliberate act seems to be a mnemonic aid.

An additional worry as handwriting vanishes: Will coming generations, never having learned it, be incapable of reading cursive script? Few of us can read our doctors' prescriptions, but what if we couldn't read that inherited box of our grandparents' love letters?

A teacher in an excellent high school told me recently, "We're not hands on, we're tech on." Clearly, that's the way of the future, and, not being Andy Rooney, I'm not arguing against it. But some fine day, when budgets are no longer busted and schools can add extracurricular "frills" again, an elective on handwriting might be well worth offering. Call it a history course. With extra credit for lefties.

What do you think? Is there still a place for cursive writing in the curriculum? Please share your thoughts.

Comments (44)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Michael Misha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Owen,

I just came across an article in this week's issue of TIME. It's another perspective on cursive handwriting. It appears you're a trend-setter.


Michael Misha

Pat Griffith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a third grade teacher, I am responsible for teaching cursive. My kids thoroughly enjoy it and really they practice it and want to learn it. They can't wait to write their names and anything else in it. By the end of third grade they are writing spelling words and some of their work in cursive. The teachers of our 4th graders demand it in fact. our district for now it is safe. Some of the kids have a lot of trouble with it and others are already doing it prior to my presenting it. I personally think it needs to be taught. I agree there are many times when a beautiful script in a note or formal letter is touching. I say it needs to be kept. It's an eye-hand coordination thing for some, a milestone for others and just something else to learn for yet others.

Andrew's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A good point is made here and this is what are we teaching and in the future will it still be relevant? I am only 24, young by many standards but I still remember useing up class time to learn my cursive letters. Now perhaps we were all meant to become doctors who for some reason have became known to have poor penmanship. However, as we still write checks today I have to pause and write very slowly as those rusty cursive skills are required once again. So perhaps cursive has been tagged for removal as we have moved to using computers to handle every facet of our lives. Even the need for writing that rare check will soon be required no more as we use online banking. So overall, how do we question the skills that we are teaching our students today and will they be up for questioning 20 years from now when we begin to doubt their need in the new evolved world order of new skills required?

Linda 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello! Like many of the posters here, I learned cursive in third grade. I was required to write in cursive until 8th grade. When I entered high school, I was given the option to print or write in cursive. I chose to print. I always disliked cursive- I found it awkward and thought it was sloppy. To this day, I always print. I think it is neater and prettier than my cursive.

Now I teach high school. I also do not require my students to write in cursive. I get a mix- some students print, some write in cursive. Regardless of what they choose, they can all read cursive. My co-teacher did a mini experiment one day and wrote the directions for the day's warm-up in cursive. All of the students were able to read it.

Even though I find very little need to write in cursive, I agree it should still be taught in schools for the same reasons already discussed her.

Linda R.

Napoli's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Owen, I also am a second grade teacher. Growing up I learned cursive in the second grade but I am not teaching it to my students. Sadly, there is no handwriting curriculum in the first grade so when the students come to me they have poor handwriting ( most of them) and my feeling is they need to improve on that before they can learn cursive. I would like to teach cursive and its something that I debate with myself also. Do you have any suggestions on teaching handwriting in a fun way? Maybe I can devote the end of the year to cursive.

Lindsay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach third grade and my students come into my class every year and I always ask what they are most interested in learning about, and without fail, the majority of the class says cursive. They enjoy learning how to sign their name, and by the end of the year, they are writing everything in cursive. When many students come into class with terrible printing because they really were never taught the correct formation of letters, cursive allows the opportunity to teach the correct formation, and many students have better cursive than printing. My district has been debating whether to get rid of cursive, but just last year, they decided to keep it for a few reasons. The main reason being that students must be able to read it. I did also hear that on the SATs or PSATs that on the essay parts, the students have to write in cursive. I don't know if that's true or not, but I have been told they have to write in cursive because it is harder to copy from other people. Does anyone know if cursive is required on those tests?

Jean-Marie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You are lucky that some of your students can read cursive. I have been teaching middle school science for seven years, I have taught at two very different schools, and every year I do the same test where I write in cursive to see if my students can read it. Unfortunately, most of my students cannot.

In college when I was studying to become a teacher, I had to take a handwriting test for print and cursive, and I passed with an A. I do not always have the most legible handwriting, but I know how to slow my self down, focus, and produce legible print and cursive. I find that cursive is an art that is disappearing slowly. I also agree with you that it should be taught, and I hope that it is before it becomes ancient history.

Stacie Fullmer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a fourth grade teacher who used to require cursive. (Our school teachers cursive in 3rd.) Then I found out that the 5th and 6th grade teachers did not. I had a very difficult time deciding whether I should continue requiring. In making my decision, one 6th grade teacher asked me where in my adult life do I use cursive? She asked about resumes: No, applications: No. I couldn't think of too many places where I used cursive. I finally decided that students could choose. I agree that sometimes we have to focus on where the future is headed to help us make our choices.

Jennifer Hassett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In the schools I grew up cursive was taught and had to be used at all times by the fourth grade. It seems that cursive is not looked at as important anymore because of all the standards that have to be meet before the end of the school year. I think it is sad that my eighth grade students do not even know how to write their names in cursive. When the students in middle school are asked to sign their names, they print it.

Jennifer Hassett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that cursive beautiful. I do understand that test booklets are not written in cursive, but everyone should be able to write and read both cursive and print. I have always felt that cursive is a formal way of writing. I teacher eighth graders and when they write letters or sign important papers they print. When these students print it is just very sloppy.

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