Learning cursive—what’s the point?

I learned to print in first grade and to write in cursive in third grade.  I used cursive for all my written school work—spelling tests, homework, and exams—everything.  But  eventually, I used a combination of styles for hand writing—printing for capital and some lower case letters, and cursive for the rest.

Most of my incoming Christmas mail is addressed using printed labels.  But those friends who handwrite my address fit into three categories:

  • They print everything, sometimes in all caps.
  • They use a version of my hybrid style.
  • They write in cursive. (But that method is rare since the advent of  computerized mail sorting machines.  My neighbor, who handwrites in gorgeous cursive, had her outgoing Christmas mail returned as “unreadable” two years ago.  So now she prints on her envelopes.  I guess the Post Office’s machines don’t read cursive.)

Cursive has been eliminated from the curriculum in many elementary schools.  The common core curriculum instead focuses on learning the keypad—fingering optional.   This decision is controversial.

Arguments abound for learning cursive:

  • People need to be able to read old family letters and historical documents.
  • “I learned it, Sonny, and by golly, you will too.”
  • Cursive is an art form used by previous generations, and we should appreciate it.
  • People can handwrite using cursive faster than they can print.

Likewise, arguments abound for abandoning cursive:

  • People today rarely need to read cursive. Printed versions of old documents are online.
  • There isn’t time to learn everything, so less important skills must be abandoned.
  • The curriculum must stress what is important for students’ futures, namely, keyboarding and using computer software like Google docs and Zoom.

Another argument favoring cursive is that serious writers write better when writing in longhand.  (Four times using the word “write” in that sentence—hmm.)  Some excellent writers today write first drafts in longhand, revise in longhand, rewrite in longhand, and only then put their work into a typewriter or computer.  But I suspect many others—a majority—compose on their iPads or laptops without a loss in creativity.

More disturbing to me than the loss of cursive skills is the incursion of text messaging forms into non-text writing.  I teach a high school student who does not use capitals and who abbreviates every other phrase.  I suspect this way of writing will become the norm in years ahead.  And just like resurrecting cursive, there’s little we can do about it.  “What works” will win.  Methods of writing evolve.

One response to “Learning cursive—what’s the point?

  1. It makes me sad that my son has not learnt to write in cursive in school. He can’t even sign his name the way we are accustomed to because of it. I guess we do evolve and change but it’s such a beautiful form of writing that it is sad that it will eventually be lost. 😔


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