Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a decline in the number of my students who use cursive handwriting. In fact, I’ve seen a decline in the number of students who can even comprehend cursive handwriting. It would seem this is a pervasive trend: the Hartford Courant reports that with the advent of instant messaging, keyboarding, text messaging, and the like, students have abandoned cursive in favor of printing when they must handwrite something. I’ve also noticed a dramatic uptick on the number of complaints when students need to take notes. I can recall taking pages of notes as a student without complaint. I wonder if there is a correlation. Writing cursive is so much faster and involves much less movement with the hand. I imagine that students really do begin to feel pain after printing for long periods of time. My own handwriting is legible compared to most, but my students often report they can’t read it. I honestly don’t think it is so much that it’s illegible as they don’t know how.
Is it even important to know how to use cursive, in this age of computers? I would argue that it is still a useful skill, especially in note-taking, but I don’t see the point in making it part of the high school curriculum, as one of my former colleagues did — she required her students to write in cursive. On the other hand, this complete inability to use cursive concerns me. It shuts off a whole realm of communication to students (even if it is, as has been argued, an archaic means of communication). For example, census images I’ve read while researching my family history were all taken down in cursive, and very few are available as transcriptions. I also experienced the recent joy of reading a diary my great-great-grandmother kept in 1893-1894 — in cursive. Had I not been able to read cursive, these documents would have been “lost” to me. In a way, it is a form of illiteracy. Recently, one of my students told me that he is having difficulty in Hebrew because his Hebrew teacher writes in cursive Hebrew — and he doesn’t know the letters in cursive.
I just can’t imagine not being able to read cursive. But then, when I was in high school, I wrote my friends seven-page notes instead of IM’s.