At least some exposure to cursive, please—or am I just a handwriting purist?

¶ Several months ago I had to write a letter. It had to be addressed to one of these two siblings, an eight year old girl and an eleven year old boy. I settled for the eight year old girl. There was no computer around, and I was pressed for time, so I chose to write in cursive (I write faster). But wait. What if the girl didn’t know how to read cursive? So I asked their aunt, “Do they know how to read cursive?” Fortunately, she said yes, they did.

¶ If the aunt had said no, then at least I wouldn’t have to start the letter over and write in print, as I had asked her beforehand. But I have been in situations where I have had to rewrite things because people could not read my handwriting. Not that it was messy, but because they weren’t able to read cursive. Not even some adults could read my cursive—it was beautiful, they said, but it was like a foreign language. And for this, I’m slightly annoyed that I have to write more in print, but I’m also concerned.

¶ My elementary years were already in an era with computers; teachers were not very strict with cursive. In third grade, when they started teaching students cursive, we would write in workbooks using the Zaner-Bloser method. We would not get graded on the quality of our cursive. The quality of my own cursive, however, mattered to me. Ever since I was a kindergartner, I, having already mastered printing, was eager to learn cursive. It looked so elegant, with its graceful loops. So my mom taught me how to form the letters; my dad, a teacher, would give me workbooks and worksheets using the Palmer method. Every day, in my free time, I’d always try to improve my cursive. Even today, I love to practice calligraphy and am trying to learn Spencerian penmanship.

My print and cursive writing. I was too lazy to add a capital alphabet and a pangram for my print letters.

¶ And modern education continues to relax its emphasis on cursive. I asked a group of teenagers, “When was the last time you wrote in cursive?” I got responses such as “Yesterday,” or “Just now,” or “Last week,” but the most common was “Can’t remember,” or “Several years ago.” Other responses were, “I was never taught cursive at all.” This is the part that concerns me. If more and more people cannot read cursive—if cursive remains neglected altogether, how will people try to make sense of things from the past, written in this style? And does that mean the people that do write cursive will have to forget this writing style in order to assimilate into a world of print? I love writing in cursive due to its sophisticated form and the fact that it makes writing quicker when I don’t have access to a typing keyboard of some sort. But sometimes I feel like I must give it up in order to be understood.

¶ Reading all this, one might come to the conclusion that I am a handwriting purist, that I must hate modern technology and I long for the days when schools taught Spencerian script. Those were the good old days, eh?

  1. If I hated technology, you would not be reading this because I wouldn’t have a blog. I also have an email, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. Furthermore, like countless others today, I have a computer addiction. I hope it will go away this 2017.
  2. Despite my belief that being able to read cursive is necessary, I find several problems with teaching cursive as a core class with a grading system and all that.

¶ You see, if we taught cursive as a core class with a grading system, what we would be doing is insisting that there is only one way to write letters. They’d have to be at a certain slant, with the right roundness of loops, the right height, etc. This would be robbing kids of their individuality, as handwriting reflects personality. As an elementary kid, when I read the old-fashioned cursive workbooks my dad gave me, I noticed there would often be some kind of rubric chart for handwriting in the back of the books. This chart was meant to mark off the number of times the student got the pen grip/loops/slant angle wrong. At the time, my slant wasn’t that great (often inconsistent), my loops were sometimes closed, and to this day I have a faulty pen grip that I am trying to correct. “That’s terrible!” I remember saying. “If we were graded like this, I’d hate cursive by now!” It would be really petty to penalize someone with bad handwriting unless it’s totally illegible. “Content,” I remember my mom reminding me. “Not how pretty it is.” Teaching cursive like this would be a time waster. Why spend so much time on handwriting exercises when you could be learning programming or other skills more in twenty-first century demand?

A printed version of the Declaration of Independence was actually what many American settlers read, not the fancy cursive one.

¶ As said above, I think students should learn how to read cursive in order to read things from the past. However, this only applies to personal documents, such as letters and diaries. There are many typewritten versions of other documents with more prestige, such as the Declaration of Independence, that solve the problem of not being able to read important historical documents written in cursive; you can search them up on the Internet and find the content of the documents without the beautiful lettering. The need for cursive as a signature is also being taken over by modern technology. Instead of a cursive signature, you can use a thumb print, or you can take a photo of a check and send it to your bank. There is almost no doubt that in the future these methods of authenticity will spread to other areas currently requiring written signatures, and today a printed signature won’t make a difference.

¶ Furthermore, while exposure to cursive is necessary, the practicality of cursive is questionable. Not everyone finds it quicker to write in cursive. A lot of people who grew up with cursive don’t actually use cursive anymore, and if they do, it’s some print-cursive hybrid. (Except me. My handwriting is either strictly cursive or strictly print. Personally, I could never stand writing in a print-cursive hybrid. I don’t know why.) For some people, like me, pure cursive is practical, but what works best for me may not work best for others, who might prefer print or a hybrid.

¶ So what do I think is the best way to expose cursive to today’s kids? Well, as its staunch supporters say, cursive is an art form. Therefore, it makes sense to teach cursive in an art class, along with long-since-used letterforms such as Uncials and Gothic styles. True, even art classes are often removed from schools in order to save money. But that’s a discussion for another time.

7 thoughts on “At least some exposure to cursive, please—or am I just a handwriting purist?

  1. By learning cursive, we build the neural pathways necessary to stimulate brain activity that enables language fluency and vision-motor control. These are important for cognitive development, learning, reading, sports, socialization and everyday tasks. I am concerned that eliminating it will begin to hamper development in many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are many other activities that do help with vision motor control, but learning to read (and write) cursive does give people another way to see how letters are formed, which is kind of why I would want it to be taught in an art class.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s crazy that people don’t know cursive nowadays! I learned in elementary school, but I was never very good at it and I never needed it again after that. In high school, I was bored in class and decided to teach myself, which is when I *actually* learned how to write cursive. Most of my friends, though, don’t know or use it at all. I think exposure to it in some way is good — but for practicality issues, I’m not sure it’s a great idea to be graded on writing it. Perhaps it could be a stylistic choice, to choose to use it or not? Hm.

    Interesting post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is really interesting. I genuinely hadn’t considered that not being able to read cursive was a thing. At work I often force myself to write print just because my cursive is pretty messy especially if I am writing in a rush, where as making myself write print forces me to slow down. I often accidentally slip in a cursive ‘s’ though which does throw some people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes–it’s shocking how many kids do not know how to read cursive today. For me, I could read cursive before knowing how to write it, so the fact that many people didn’t know how to read cursive confused me.

      Liked by 1 person

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