Cursive Handwriting

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.

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21 thoughts on “Cursive Handwriting

  1. I was about to suggest that cursive was a dinosaur when you reminded me of all those documents – all that history – that was recorded in those beautiful old Palmer hands. I suspect that what may happen is that historians will have to learn to decipher it (yes, I'm positing cursive's demise in the mainstream).

  2. I mourn the loss of lovely handwriting. My own child barely scribbles well enough to read her own math homework and has no appreciation for well-formed letters and numbers. Like the commenter above, she thinks good handwriting is "too hard" and a waste of time — until she needs my help with math. She thinks I'm a ridiculous old fogey (at 38!) for making her write legibly because it doesn't seem to a priority for anyone at her school. She doesn't make the connection between tidy thoughts and a tidy paper. Sometime good, classic cursive will be a lost art and therefore prized just as calligraphy is today.

  3. I want cursive. I think it's important, and that's my personal opinion. I was very upset with our school system, as my son's teachers did not have time to finish the alphabet in cursive. Can you imagine there are now students out there who can write some letters in cursive, but not all. PUT CURSIVE BACK INTO SCHOOLS! :)

  4. First, cursive is not intrinsically faster. In response to this claim at one point I, and a graduate student colleage of mine collected a number of writing samples from people who where either dominant cursive writers or dominant printers. There was no statistically significant difference in a persons writing speed for a dominant writing type. However, dominant cursive writers printed much slower, and dominant printers wrote cursive much slower. A survey of the resulting texts tended to indicate however that the cursive samples where substantially less legible. Our conclusion was that cursive has no speed advantage over printing as a dominant writing style, but printing has a large advantage for legibility. In other words, teaching cursive is a net loss. Spend the time usefully, teach typing instead.

  5. Quadrupole, I'd like to see that study. Also, how does one address the fact that even in this age of computers, not every student has access to one at all times? I think keyboarding is an extremely valuable skill, and I'm grateful for my typing classes in high school, but I still don't own a laptop, so I take most of my notes in meetings and the like in cursive. I supposed since I am a dominant cursive writer, it makes sense that printing would be slower for me. Are my students just being whiny about notes, or does cursive make it easier?

  6. I remember looking at old fashioned copperplate hand writing and wishing I could be taught that in school. Will there one day be side jobs, for those of us with no other marketable skills,in deciphering cursive writing? Will simple, well formed cursive be in demand as calligraphy once was for special occasions? Hm.

  7. A lot of the young adults (including doctors and other professionals) who learned at school — or at home — that "handwriting can't matter" now end up coming my way to learn the skill in adulthood. I also get a lot of calls for help from parents and teachers of teens facing the SAT … not to mention a fair number of calls (and e-mails) for help that come to me from the desperate teens themselves.

  8. Kate, That's really interesting. I didn't know that was a happening. I didn't even think about the SAT, which is really strange, as I have been a reader for the SAT essays.

  9. My son's enrichment teacher, who spends a lot of time studying the latest research in brain development, has encouraged her students to learn cursive because she says research has shown it develops neural pathways in the brain that learning printing does not.

  10. Ha! I'm a teacher & I never learned to write in cursive. We came to the US from England when I was in 3rd grade and somehow along the way, I missed all of the basics of cursive writing. My teacher never bothered to go back and actually teach me how to write in cursive, I was just expected to do it!

    I'm pretty sure that cursive is on a major decline. Is it technology's fault, or are we too busy stuffing extra reading and math into the schedule to prepare for high-stakes tests?

  11. I had a moment of "I must retire again right this minute" this afternoon when at least six people in my last period class told me that they have trouble reading cursive handwriting. I just blurted out, "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" Then I looked over a set of their papers and realized that about one in fifteen freshmen students actually writes. The others all PRINT!!! I was astounded, but I let them know that I was not going to print, and that they were just going to have to deal with it.

    I cheerfully allow my students to print, but the fact that some cannot even read cursive is troubling.

  12. Margaret, that's my big beef with the whole thing, too. I don't much care if they write cursive, but I really think they ought to at least be able to read it.

  13. I want to see that research proving that cursive has a net loss (legibility) with no net gain in speed (which fits in with other research I'll cite below) and I also want to see that research (or at least a citation) supposedly proving that cursive builds you extra neural pathways: I've seen this claimed at least 250 times, but always (as here) in "a friend told me" fashion: NOT ONE person, when asked, has ever managed to find the actual source. (Some of the brightest people today, or ever, never learned cursive: do you really think that the Renaissance people lacked crucial neurons because cursive wouldn't appear until the Baroque?) The JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH (May/June 2008 issue) documented that highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters use printed letter-shapes and only occasional joining (making the easiest joins, skipping the rest) – cursivists, says this research, write as slowly as printers of the same age.

    Kate Gladstone – the Handwriting Repairwoman – http://www.learn.to/handwrite

  14. Leaerning to read cursive takes an hour or less with proper teaching: I've taught five- and six-year-olds to read cursive if they could read print. For free teaching materials (which young adults/teens/pre-teens can also use to teach themselves to read cursive), go to Portland State University's Getty-Dubay Handwriting site at http://www.cep.pdx.edu/ihsbro and there click on the listing for sample pages: this click will take you to a page where you should click on the words "Recognizing Looped Cursive" to view and download an illustrated four-page PDF to teach/learn this skill. (Also explore the site's other handwriting materials.)

    Kate Gladstone

    The Handwriting Repairwoman
    http://www.learn.to/handwrite

  15. As a child, I had horrible penmanship. I went to printing solely for my teachers' benefit. As time went on, I had gotten completely away from using cursive at all. My children don't even know how to use it. I am making the effort to return to cursive. It's been so long (35 years) that it's as if I am learning it for the first time! This is something that cannot be lost.

  16. I use cursive every day at work and I also used while in collage. The art of writing in cursive is now becoming lost to the younger generation; I know I am part of the younger generation. I love using cursive, the beauty of writing with a fountain is almost unheard of, there is one other person I work with that also writes with a fountain pen and I am the only one that can read his had writing and not because it is illegible it is because no one else knows how. Not only is the art of cursive no longer being taught in schools but people can’t even write with a fountain pen, I handed a fountain pen to a teacher to sign something and they handed it back to be because they did not know how to write with it. Give someone a fountain pen and then teach them to write cursive then the might have pride in what they write.

  17. I'm in high school, and I write in cursive. My classmates' complaints on my handwriting make me wonder if I should just stick with print… afterall, the whole point of writing is communicating. Yet, I love the elegance that cursive has.

  18. I totally agree! I am a student and my class is one of the last in our district to have been taught cursive writing. Penmanship used to be a top priority in school, but now, as long as the teacher can some-what read it, it passes. I began to believe that cursive was nothing more than a way to write, and very few students used it regularly. Then one day I was trying to write paper in cursive and could not remember how to write a capital T in cursive! I recognized this instantly as a falling art form, and will soon become something used only for special occasions and newpaper titles, like Olde English fonts. Save cursive!

  19. Don't give up cursive just because your friends don't like it! If they complain about something so simple, I would rethink friends. If nobody can read it, it's kind of your own code, and a talent. Brava for keeping up the artistic language penmanship!

  20. I am sad to say, but even I, the cursive fanatic, do not know how to use a fountain pen. If they even sell them, I will try!

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