It seems that we are at a turning point in communications in the United States that requires attention. I’m really unsure how it came to be that schools quit teaching cursive writing or made it a low priority but this trend needs an immediate reversal. I’m not simply waxing nostalgia for simpler days, I am genuinely concerned over creating a greater divide between the classes in our nation.
While my own children were taught cursive in school, they would be the first to admit that it is not their first method of communication and that their own penmanship lacks the consistency in flow compared to that of previous generations. That being said, they are able to decipher the written word. Only a few years younger than my own kids, a teenage nephew relies upon his brother to translate the messages in cards from their grandmother.
I’ve heard some defend the change by simply saying “there isn’t enough time for it” which I view as a cop-out. There was time for it in the days when gathering information for a report required going to the library and using a card catalog to locate sources and then digging into books to glean the information before either writing or typing the assignment. There were no Post-it notes to mark your places and no spell check to ensure accuracy, that required further research in another large book. All of that took time and most of it is no longer necessary with information access a few clicks away via computer. There was time for it when someone had to go to the well before school began so there was water in the classroom and assignments were done by candlelight at home after chores were completed. It’s simply about making it a priority and not giving into whining if it doesn’t come easy. Make time for it.
I recall standing at the chalkboard and practicing letters awkwardly while classmates like Susan and Sabrina seemed to have a natural ability to make the identical shape over and over with little effort. I remember the manila paper with solid blue lines that had a dotted line midway between as sort of a visual set of training wheels serving as a guide. Before the days of participation medals there was penmanship and it was pretty clear who the winners and losers were. Not being good at it was not a reason to quit, it served as motivation to practice more. Cursive writing is a discipline and schools need more of it, not less.
Handwriting is an even playing field for those who are not musically inclined or athletically gifted. It is an equal-opportunity activity requiring no expensive equipment. To take it out of the classroom will mean that sooner than later some parents will make it a priority and have their children take lessens in it. Depending on an area of study, it seems likely that colleges will offer it, so students can access manuscripts and understand other documents. It strikes me as ludicrous to pay college tuition for this basic knowledge and it also is the sort of information that is much more easily grasped when a person is younger. Why would we deny youth such an accessible tool and potentially have it become yet another divisive symbol of rich/poor and have/have-nots?
The activity itself is scientifically recognized to increase brain activity and develops fine motor skills. Failure to provide this stimulation altars the way the brain functions. Neuroscientists recognize that the relationship between the hand and the brain is different when writing a letter than when simply selecting one from a keyboard. There is value in the creativity and communication form and recent tests have shown a person is able to generate more ideas when physically writing as opposed to keyboarding answers to the same questions. To ignore this we are actively allowing the decline of idea generation to our youth.
It seems obvious that an adult needs a signature to enter into a legally binding contract. How does one develop a signature without the skill of cursive writing? Signatures were once like snowflakes, or a visual form of DNA, something unique to the owner. My best friend and one of my sister in-laws share a similar chubby and cheerful penmanship. My mother had a formal and very elegant handwriting. Other than the last name being the same, my brothers signatures share little resemblance. The long line off the end of my E in Rose was intended to mimic the way my father signed his name. It seems odd that our youth might one day look at the Declaration of Independence and utter “That looks fancy.” but have no capacity to grasp that the words which drew their attention formed the name John Hancock. I think that would be a shame.
While it’s hard to ignore the importance of being able to read as a means of understanding historical documents for academic purposes, there is also value in being able to read cursive writing for other reasons. Those wishing to have insights to their ancestors can access a great deal of information through review of census data, much of which is handwritten. Closer to home are family bibles (often documenting births, marriages, deaths and other details), baby books, notations in photo albums and correspondence are all interesting, important but unfortunately lost without someone able to read them. I recently shared with my daughter some postcards my great-grandfather had sent to his children in the early 1900s and autograph books with messages from the children’s classmates, some in cursive by those as young as five. My mother was a letter writer and saver, somewhere among my things are all of the letters which I sent from summer camp and during my college years. It would be a shame if my future grandchildren would be unable to read them some day or need to go to a translator to have them transcribed. Failure to teach cursive and provide what should be considered a basic skill is cutting off easy historical access for future generations.
In an era when technology has permitted greater access to information and broader communication to many, it seems short-sighted to look at cursive writing as some outdated or unnecessary form of communicating. It’s affordable and with nothing but benefits to those who are able to produce it and understand it, it should remain accessible!