Cursive handwriting, those long looping letters of script, which at its best flows across the page with your thoughts, is apparently in danger of extinction.
We used to spend a lot of time on mastering first printing, then cursive writing skills when I was in school. Cursive, if I remember correctly, was first introduced in third grade, with more and more emphasis placed on it in fourth grade, where we basically left printing behind.
A lot of time was spent perfecting the technique of penmanship in that year, where it was even assigned its own letter grade on our report cards. I remember that very well, because my left-handed efforts earned me my first “B.” I was devastated that I hadn’t “measured up” with my handwriting skills, at least in my mind, which caused me to spend a fair amount of time afterwards shaping and reshaping letters with my cramped left hand turned at the awkward angle required for me to hold the pencil correctly.
Evidently, those efforts paid off, because my “B” turned into an “A” on the next report card. From then on, I remember taking a particular pride in my handwriting, adding little flourishes her and there, and for a while there in my teenage years there was the circle for the dot over the “i.”
If I look back at my handwriting over the years from elementary, to middle and high school, then college, I can see the changes that were going on with me as my handwriting evolved.
I remember studying the signatures of our founding fathers in elementary school, particularly the “gold standard” signature of John Hancock, whose perfectly polished penmanship still seems like a work of art to me.
These days, it should be obvious to most of us that cursive writing is disappearing – most recently there is some talk of halting the teaching of it in school, instead concentrating on the basics of printing before moving to today’s favored communication method — the keyboard.
And the generational gap toward that happening is obvious — my own kids’ penmanship is not as eloquent as my own generation’s, mostly because there wasn’t nearly as much emphasis placed on it.
By contrast, my father and mother had a seventh and ninth grade educations, respectively, yet both had beautiful, flowing handwriting, as did my brother, who was 12 years older than me.
Most often, cursive’s primary use these days is for signatures.
Yes, computers, e-mail, texting, tweeting, etc. have put the writing on the wall for cursive, it seems.
According to the “Responsibility Project,” supporters of cursive say there is a societal responsibility to keep it alive, and that much more than penmanship is at stake.
After all, its demise could create difficulties in reading historical documents – they would have to be transcribed to a language future generations can understand (the keyboard) so they can be read.
Cursive’s flow works the brain differently and builds distinct cognitive skills. Handwriting reinforces reading and spelling, develops motor memory as it becomes automatic, teaches students to focus and may help them remember what they learn, some studies suggest.
Neuroscientists say that the brain changes throughout life depending on how we use it and as keyboards replace cursive, new neural pathways are created and new cognitive skills replace the old.
But others say there is no need to save this communication form, since it fails to prepare students for a practical future.
Though most agree we do need to be able to write, in some form, printing should get us by just fine.
Maybe that’s true, but I can’t help but think of what a loss cursive will be. Years at this job jotting down meeting notes in my own fast and furious form of shorthand has gone a long way toward ruining my own penmanship, but I still enjoy being able to shape letters with their flowing curves, breaking the line of the pen only to separate words, while making the line of communication connect from brain to hand. It’s a conscious effort that gives me a certain satisfaction I don’t get from a typed document.
Then, of course, there’s the sentimental side. I look at my late mother’s handwriting on a piece of paper and I feel connected to her in a very personal way. I can feel her hand hold the pen, shape the letters, put period to sentence. I look at my husband’s letters and notes to me over the years, the curve of his handwriting and the effort it took to write those words stirs my heart as much as the words themselves. And my kids – writing in their scrawling scripts as they learned – declarations of love to their dad and me, learning to spell words, working out sentence structure, writing a story out in “longhand” — those things have a feel I don’t think the keyboard can ever quite match.
After all, handwriting, like the human face, is unique. It reveals things about the writer that the typed word cannot. Each stroke of the pen captures a moment in time, with none exactly the same. For example, words written in a thought-out love letter will appear quite different from a letter poured out in anger or frustration.
I don’t think cursive will ever completely go away, but I think that it will evolve into an art form, and since I can’t draw a stick figure, keeping up some form of legible cursive will likely be my only claim to the artistic.
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for The Madison County Journal.
Lovely essay! I will teach my children cursive myself, possibly even old-fashioned short-hand. I would rather the schools teach typing to a high proficiency as that is the current and future interface with the world.
Cursive does allow more expressiveness and can be more readily recognized as personal. I wonder how much more difficult handwriting analysis would be with just printing. Many middle eastern languages have writing designed to foster emotionality (for good or bad). It's nice to have the option to be graphically emotional, but perhaps using the proper words rather than emotions is far more effective in the long run.