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Recently there has been a lot of debate over the teaching of cursive handwriting in American schools. Maybe it has something to do with my love, not just of writing, but of history that makes me Pro-Cursive.

Every now and then I sift through the few old letters I have managed to save written by my grandmother’s. I am struck each time with the notion that the person who wrote those words took time out of their busy day to stop, sit down and write to me because I was important in their lives. It made me feel special. Every now and then we read in the news how new, historic documents have surfaced after many long, forgotten years. Quite often these are letters from war veterans to their families and in most cases these snippets of history are written in cursive. As a lover of history, I am filled with dread that one day these documents and their importance will lose all meaning.  Only those that hold degrees in cursive writing will be able to translate the obscure swirls, loops and humps of this cryptic form of writing. So much will be lost then.

What of the documents we already have carefully preserved in museums and library archives? What will become of them? They may be saved for posterity but what of their physical link to our nation’s past? When the vaults are opened and the common man is permitted a glimpse of these relics, will he be able to connect to that document merely by reading it in the very handwriting of the person who so carefully crafted it? What leaves a more lasting impression, reading the Gettysburg Address on a computer screen or standing before the very item knowing its history and reading its words for yourself? Will there be any sense of awe, purpose and pride gained when we have put ourselves at such a distance from those things that matter to our liberties? Or will these documents hold onto our hearts as much as an image in a book of Egyptian hieroglyphics we cannot begin to understand? 

To those school children of the distant future deprived of an understanding of cursive writing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and original Bill of Rights may as well be in cuneiform and will feel just as distant to them as such. For the non-history buffs, imagine being given the opportunity to lay your eyes on the scientific formulas of Newton or Einstein not just in a book or on a cold monitor, but right there in front of you. What a thrill it would be to be permitted to hold the very quill of Archimedes or the ink pen which Beethoven used to write his 9th Symphony and not just look at these items but understand their meaning, to be able to read those special languages of scientific notation, mathematics and music.  Cursive holds that power over me, that love, that connection to those before me.

It is said that those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. If the generations to come are intentionally allowed to forget a form of written communication, what affect will that have on the collective memory of our nation? How much will be forgotten simply because we were too busy to teach them the simple art of cursive and there is no one around anymore who can read it. Is this a risk we really want to take? I believe it’s not. Whenever that day may come that I am a grandmother, I will take it upon myself to teach my grandchildren and all their friends this craft. Too many people depend exclusively on the typed word, restricting their research and experience base to that leaves out so much of the world.

There are those that will argue cursive is out-dated, old-fashioned and simply too slow a method of communication. To which I reply, “What’s the rush?” We humans have rushed ourselves far too long. We seem to think we must constantly be ten steps ahead of the next guy and that somehow we are superior because our technology is more advanced than someone else’s. Sure, we can wipe out life on this planet in the blink of an eye if so inclined. That hardly makes us better, just more dangerous and maybe just a little bit more insane than the other living things we share this earth with. Faster is not always better.

I think we need to slow down, not speed up. We need to communicate better not faster. How about instead of stopping to smell the roses, we let ourselves stop and get a cup of tea or coffee, a pad of paper and a pen and write something down in the  slow, graceful, easy curves of cursive for the future generations to remember us by.

10 comments

  1. pamelamorrisbooks

    After I wrote this I considered the notion of classifying cursive writing as an art form, rather like calligraphy. If that’s the case maybe we should also consider doing away with oil paints, chalks, watercolors and while we’re at it, crayons. I mean, why use those ancient methods of creating art when you can draw on your computer screen instead? People would be up in arm if it was decided to remove crayons and finger paints from grade school, wouldn’t they? They teach valuable eye-hand co-ordination and dexterity to young, growing minds and muscles… oh wait – maybe cursive does that, too.

  2. kategladstone

    You are not the only one thinking ahead to this. As a handwriting teacher, I have actually co-created software to teach kids to read cursive. It launched last night: check “Read Cursive” (free) in the iPad/iPhone App Store. Soon it’ll be coming to Windows —to Windows phones too — and to Kindle, Nook, and Android as well!

    1. kategladstone

      If you really thought we needed to slow down, you WOULD be encouraging hieroglyphs — it’s hard to get much slower than those!

      Just _how_ slowly would you like your children to write?

  3. pamelamorrisbooks

    LOL. So slow they are writing backwards! *grins* Which I can do in cursive with my left hand while my right hand is writing the same thing forward. It would be awesome to be read and write in heiroglyphs, too.

  4. nathanielballard

    Have we come so far that we have to write some letters down on a iece of paper, create a computer program, scan the shapes of those handwritten letters and words into it, have the program show the shapes of those letters and words, and have the computer tell the user “Well done” when they correctly identify the word or letter? When we could just, oh, I don’t know, sit down with a piece of paper and write letters on it? Maybe I’m missing something here – why add all those extra stages and complications?
    There are few things I enjoy more than going to a museum and seeing old documents, books that were carefully scribed by hand, seeing the curves and loops that were actually made by Queen Elizabeth herself, or in the case of the charter of my old school, which hung on the wall in the school library, by Edward VI, see Newton’s laws of motion written down in his hand. More mundanely, I love going to the musty cardboard box in my attic and looking through the letters I wrote and received when I was a student, and did not have all this technology to do my writing for me.
    I will admit that for the most part, I prefer to type, simply because my handwriting is atrocious that even I can’t read it half the time. I should probably do something about that. But when I do sit down and write, it is much more enjoyable than banging away on the keyboard, and much more restful on the eye and the mind.

    1. kategladstone

      Nathaniel — the nice thing about an iPad handwriting app (such as “Read Cursive,” which you are very nearly describing) is that it will be there for the student when the teacher may be too busy (or think she is too busy) to give even a minute to the task. Further, nowadays many teachers themselves cannot (or, for other reasons, do not) write in cursive — or even, sometimrs, read it themselves. A teacher who cannot read cursive is not the best person for the job of teaching anyone else to read it.

  5. kategladstone

    By the way, Nathaniel — do you regard Queen Elizabeth’s handwriting as “cursive”? Here in the USA, the term “cursive” is normally restricted to meaning ONLY thosewritings that join all letters, loop all ascenders and descenders, and form b/f/k/r/s/z and the capital letters in particular ways which are only very distantly related to the forms they take in what you are reading now. For anything in between that extreme and the opposite extreme (print-writing), there is actually no recognized or generally accepted name in American English: as handwritings anywhere between those two school-taught/school-approved extremes are simply supposed not to exist.

  6. Pingback: We Must Teach Our Children Cursive | loricamper.wordpress.com

  7. kategladstone

    Handwriting matters — reading cursive matters exceedingly — but does writing in cursive matter? Research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

    Be ause reading cursive is crucial, it is fortunate that even small children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, for the computer-abd-cellphones genetation there’s even a free iPad app to teach thm how: named. “Read Cursive,” of course — http://appstore.com/readcursive .) So why not ensure that all children learn to read cursive — along with learning other vital skills, including some handwriting style that’s actually typical of effective handwriters?

    Educated adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. (Source below.) When even most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why exalt it?

    What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!) All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf
    Background on our handwriting, past and present:
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
    http://youtu.be/3kmJc3BCu5g

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
    http://youtu.be/s_F7FqCe6To

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —
    http://youtu.be/Od7PGzEHbu0

    [AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

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