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Will the keyboard replace the pen? Photo edited from Sybil Liberty and La Chose.

My high school English teacher’s handwriting was perfect to the point of looking Photoshopped. Perfectly looping and swooping characters, all of proportional size, width, and pen pressure. “How can I get my handwriting like yours?” I asked her.

“For you, it will be impossible,” she said. So far, she’s right. My cursive is decent, but nowhere near her speed-calligraphy.

For future Indiana students, though, handwriting is headed the direction of soap-making and other skills our parents had that we don’t after Indiana’s Department of Education decided to cut any cursive requirement and give schools the option to stop teaching it altogether.

I get it. We type more often than we write nowadays. But I also use calculators more often than I long-divide, and I’ve never once used the slope formula in my everyday life. In high school I loathed calculus, seeing it as pointless and irrelevant, until I realized math class is more about exercising the brain than ensuring life-long memories of equations. Why is cursive handwriting not seen the same way?

In our self-righteous wisdom as the ‘most advanced humans in human history’, we may see the keyboard as an evolutionary advancement, but instead of becoming more complex we’ve only become more simplistic. I can type in any one of hundreds of thousands of fonts, and I could even make my own. But I use the same ones as everyone else. With handwriting, it’s the other way around: you’ve only got one, completely unique way of creating letters.

We have gone from cavemen banging on rocks, to eloquent alphabetical artisans, and now to Know-It-Alls banging on plastic buttons.

Aside from being poignantly humanistic, writing in cursive also helps create motor skills in children and prevents forgery. It lets us read older documents like the Constitution, and if nothing else, while we’re handwriting we don’t have the ability to get side-tracked on the Internet.

Hang on one sec, I’ve gotta check my email.

Education


 

About The Author

Jason Wire

Jason Wire graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2010 and spent the year after writing and teaching English in Spain. He's back in the states now, but doesn't know where. Follow him @wirejr.

  • http://www.lxndr.com/ Alexander Unwyn Cherry

    Cursive was unpleasant for we left-handers. I’d rather type, and be sure that my words are my own, rather than my lettering.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1432339211 Julie Schwietert Collazo

    Jason-

    Apparently, cursive is no longer required in my hometown’s public schools either; I just learned about this a few months ago. I think it’s pretty sad- while it may not be a necessary skill, I’d like to think it’s one that makes life a little bit richer. 

  • http://www.sweeneysays.com Sweeney

    I can’t speak for the Indiana legislation because this is the first I am hearing of it, but I can’t say I am too bothered by it.  This subject has come up several times in the last couple days and I am usually met with miffed responses like yours by people who to feel like something is being lost.  I understand that, to a point.  However, part of me can’t help but feel that it’s more a matter of resisting change.

    Sidebar, I am irked by the fact that everyone keeps bringing up the Constitution in defense of cursive.  I went to school in DC with the intent to major in political science.  I was the nerdy kid who carried around pocket-copies of the Constitution and had one of those faux-aged paper copies taped to my bedroom wall. I went to school in DC, I’ve been to the archives several times and my own mother – who has the loveliest cursive I have ever seen – finds the Constitution a bit tricky to read.  I know the document pretty darn well because it has been re-printed a thousand ways to Sunday.  This isn’t really a point in favor or against teaching cursive, merely a grievance that I have with that particular argument in defense of cursive.

    That being said, my feelings on the issue boil down to this question of what we should be teaching.  I am averse to the overwhelming majority of lessons that emphasize rote memorization in lieu of teaching actual critical thinking skills.  It’s hard for me to see cursive as anything but the former.  I don’t think it’s a useless skill, I just think that it is time that could be far better spent.  Work it into the art curriculum if it is so vital to be saved.

    This was far longer than I intended – sorry.  Interesting piece!

  • http://www.sweeneysays.com Sweeney

    I know I just left a really long comment, but I have one thing to add: part of what makes the Constitution so tricky to read isn’t just a matter of the cursive style, but the fact that spelling has changed. By modern standards, the founding fathers didn’t know how to spell.  If anything, the Constitution represents the fact that the written word (like the spoken word) evolves.  In that respect, it demonstrates the fact that we are at another evolutionary turning point. 

    • JasonWire

      I totally get your objection to the oft-used Constitution argument. It’s definitely not the main thing we’re losing out on if we were to ‘lose’ cursive–I’m sure we’ve got a few digitally transcribed copies somewhere ;)

      But this tossing away of ‘old technology’ in favor of ‘new tech’ is indicative of our unceasing trend of assuming everything that’s faster, shinier, cost-effective and efficient is what’s ‘best’ for everyone. But how often does technology just waste time and distract?

      When I taught English in Spain, the classrooms had been recently outfitted with computer stations at every desk, and the teachers were always trying to incorporate them into their lesson plans. But every time, someone’s wouldn’t work, or the internet would load slowly, or any one of a number of other tech problems, and 10 minutes is wasted. Would better tech support have made the classes run more smoothly? I don’t know, but I doubt the kids would have learned any more than the average diligent student did ten years ago.

  • Kate Gladstone

    Handwriting matters … does cursive matter? 

    The fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citation on request.)

    Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old who knows how to read. The value of reading cursive therefore does not compel writing it. 

    What about individuality — in signatures, for instance? Questioned document examiners (specialists in identification of signatures, verification of documents, etc.) state that the least forgeable, most individual signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive all, are fairly complicated: these make forgery easy.

    The individuality of print-style (or other non-cursive style) writings is further shown by this: six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the writing on an unsigned assignment) which of her 25 or 30 students wrote it.

    Consider, too: whatever your schoolteacher may have been told by her schoolteacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures using any other style.  (Don’t take my word for this: ask any attorney.)

    Kate Gladstone — CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    Director, the World Handwriting Contest
    Co-Designer, BETTER LETTERS handwriting trainer app for iPhone/iPad
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

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