Down With Cursive

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Learning to form the irrational, non-intuitive shapes of the capital G and Q in cursive is something of a second-grade rite of passage. Or at least it used to be. As handwriting in general becomes increasingly passe, and as elementary school curricula become increasingly test-oriented, teaching cursive is slowly getting pushed out of the curriculum.

And who cares, right? Unless you’re getting paid to address wedding invitations, you probably haven’t used your cursive skills recently. People who freak out about kids not learning cursive are reactionary nostalgists — and I usually love nostalgia! But even I understand that times have changed, and typing classes seem like a much better use of kids’ school hours.

Recently, the neurologists started to weigh in (always a bad sign). Turns out that handwriting is more cognitively demanding than typing. When you’re typing without looking at the keys, you create “a distinct spatiotemporal decoupling between the visual attention and the haptic input.” That is, your typing hands are at a remove from the letters that appear on the screen. When they practice physically forming letters by hand, kids are also learning to recognize those letters when they read. Which is a fine case for making sure that kids still know how to operate the ancient technology of pen-and-paper writing. But that’s an argument for why we still need print; what, exactly, is the function of script? 



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2 COMMENTS

  1. Handwriting matters … But does cursive matter?

    Research shows: the fastest and most legible 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 if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

    Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don’t take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone

  2. When did we begin to refer to ordinary standard handwriting as “cursive”? In all the years during which my pennmanship was evaluated by grade-school teachers, I never heard this term. We did learn that we were learning the “Palmer” system, and that other shapes were also recognized, but this “cursive” term was something I never heard until working with school children in inner Philadelphia in the ’70s. I always figured it was some slang expression, like “yo, Adrian”

    The simple advantages of handwriting over keyboard are obvious to anyone who has worked in a warehouse, on a construction site, in an airplane cockpit, or under 45 feet of sea water. Yes, I have done all of these. A simple pencil on a slip of paper will not have a battery run dead, nor “auto-spell” some mysterious term for your boss’s name, and will record faithfully the idea or measurement or list that you do not wish to forget. It must be legible; and Ms. Gladstone has a point, some semi-printed systems are useful. But a good clean line of handwriting is still a sign of a well-educated individual.
    And, you may someday want to address your own wedding invitations or thank-you notes. They should look good in your own hand.

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