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Today’s moment of senseless pedagogical nostalgia

[ 77 ] April 28, 2011 |

When outlining “The Case for Cursive,” a journalist ought to provide an actually compelling argument. The best substitute, it seems, runs something like this:

Might people who write only by printing — in block letters, or perhaps with a sloppy, squiggly signature — be more at risk for forgery? Is the development of a fine motor skill thwarted by an aversion to cursive handwriting? And what happens when young people who are not familiar with cursive have to read historical documents like the Constitution?

In order:

  1. I don’t see why it would. Why standardized, grade-school instruction in cursive handwriting should be celebrated as a useful device in the war against forgery is beyond my comprehension in the era of electronic identity. More broadly, the assumption that cursive is more difficult to forge rests, I suspect, on the dubious premise that cursive script supplies a graphic fingerprint, an expression of individuality that surpasses than any other style of writing. I can’t imagine there’s much — if any — evidence to back up such a claim.
  2. Probably not. The Palmer Method — which I believe still serves as the deep background for (the obviously disintegrating) cursive handwriting instruction in the US — emphasized proximal muscle movements (e.g., shoulder and upper arm) rather than distal muscles on the assumption that fine motor skills would “evolve” from the stability provided by the larger muscles. But as I understand the literature, the relationship between proximal and distal muscle development isn’t entirely clear when it comes to handwriting, and — most importantly — there’s nothing particularly special about a cursive style that facilitates any of the motor advantages that are claimed for it. Handwriting in general is obviously still essential to education, and there are important links between legible handwriting and cognitive development, visual/perceptual acuity, motor control and planning, and academic performance and self esteem more broadly. But while writing still constitutes a huge percentage of what kids do in school, it’s certainly not the only means of developing fine motor skills.
  3. Only an archivist would care. There’s not much to say about this except that the author of this piece clearly needed to come up with a third reason to fret about the disappearance of cursive handwriting instruction. That this is what she came up with tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the severity of the crisis.

Now, I’m sure my views on cursive handwriting are shaped to significant degrees by the humiliation of being exiled to remedial handwriting class for several weeks during the 5th grade. A perennial “C” student in penmanship, I was neither practically assisted nor aesthetically inspired by the therapist’s suggestion that I imagine Mark Spitz gliding through the water as I helplessly stabbed at the paper in front of me. (This was 1981, mind you. How I was supposed to visualize Mark Spitz — who won most of his Olympic medals when I was a year old — during the pre-YouTube era is anyone’s guess. I suspect Eric Heiden would have been more comprehensible to me, at least as a metaphor.) In any event, my cursive skills continued to moulder through the years until at some point in high school we were quietly untethered from the style and allowed to submit our work in whatever fashion we chose. My handwriting continues to be one of our generation’s greater atrocities, but I can’t imagine I would have fared any better a century ago, when my teachers would have clubbed me on the shins for failing to articulate a proper upper-case “Q.”

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  1. wengler says:

    The only value of cursive is that it is a little bit faster. Of course if archaic writing styles are to be required, shorthand would be much faster than cursive.

    I don’t understand why I was required to write in cursive from 3rd grade to 6th. That was the ’90s. Maybe it has changed.

    • Jon H says:

      A little bit faster, but really sucks if you’re writing about computer stuff, where there are lots of MULtiple caps at the start of words, camelCaseWords, acronyms, etc.

  2. map106 says:

    Zaner-Bloser method (with the corresponding pens, if you had the money to buy them), here, and a lefty to boot. Luckily, I avoided the period wherein teachers made lefties become cursive righties.

    Funny you should bring this up. After having gotten As in writing (cursive) from 3rd through 6th grades, I encountered my mother as a teacher, whose job it was to grade student’s cursive writing for 7th and 8th grades, and she gave me, and almost every other student in the class, a B. The only person in the class to garner an A was someone who basically printed very fast. Granted, she threw in a few connective strokes here and there, but her “writing” was printing. My mother’s excuse was that her writing was more legible than the rest of ours. Well, if that were the case, why ever teach any of us to write cursively?

    So, smart seventh graders that we were, we all, individually, started printing, in hopes of raising our grade. This, basically, caused a “constitutional” crisis and prompted my mother/my teacher (there’s a book in that somewhere) to instruct us all, including Betsy (the printer) to start writing cursively again.

    I still got a B. I don’t know what happened to Betsy.

    • NonyNony says:

      My mother’s excuse was that her writing was more legible than the rest of ours. Well, if that were the case, why ever teach any of us to write cursively?

      This.

      I wrote decently in cursive for the 2nd-5th grade (where my schools required it), always got decent grades, knew how to form all the letters, etc. But I dropped it immediately for printing almost as soon as we were allowed to turn in work that was printed.

      Why? Because despite being a reasonably legible cursive writer, my printed work was STILL light-years more legible than anything I wrote in cursive. Ever.

      I honestly have never understood WHY we make our kids learn cursive. And the reasons given above are pointless. So are there any good reasons?

    • Warren Terra says:

      Certainly in my experience, while perfect copperplate Cursive can be a thing of beauty the legibility of Cursive falls off quickly as quality declines, far more rapidly than does the legibility of non-Cursive writing (what is the right term for that? I think it’s “Print”, but that’s ambiguous …)

  3. Matt says:

    In 5th grade my teacher told me to stop trying to write in cursive and just print. The only time I’ve written in cursive in English(*) since then was while taking the LSAT, where I had to copy some paragraph about honesty in test taking (or something- I don’t remember well now) in cursive, even though I never otherwise write in cursive, and printed the other little essay I had to write (that law schools always ignore.) My printing is pretty good, really, and much better than I ever would have been able to do in cursive.
    (*) For some reason I can write Russian basically only in cursive script, and have the print-writing abilities of a two year old. I won’t say my Russian handwriting is great, but it’s better than what I ever did in English.

    • Anonymous says:

      Matt, this may have changes since I studied Russian twentyfive years ago, but back then Russian writing was only taught in cursive, whether you were learning Russian as a second language or a kid in Soviet schools. I was one of the rare US-USSR exchange students back then, and none of my Soviet peers had been taught Cyrillic printing, but all had started with cursive. Honestly, though, Cyrillic is easier to write in cursive than to print.

      • Matt says:

        that’s probably right, Anon- sometimes block letters have to be used on forms and the like, but it’s really, really rare in Russian. I probably learned it (very badly) only in learning the letters at all.

      • Dave S. says:

        That was my experience with learning Russian as well. One evening in college after doing my Russian homework I filed my taxes, and came within a split-second of signing my name in Cyrillic, which “translates” to “Dabug.”

      • Sharculese says:

        Same here. Learning Cyrillic cursive so totally erased the Latin ‘r’ from my mind that on the rare times I write something in cursive, if a word’s got a r in it i have to stop and think for a second.

  4. Scott Lemieux says:

    I can say without hyperbole anyone who advocates the teaching of cursive handwriting is History’s Greatest Monster. It is a major failure of federal law that education funding is not contingent on teachers who teach cursive handwriting being subject to at least a decade of hard time.

    • Cackalacka says:

      Word word, a thousand times, WORD!!!

      It seems that my formative years closely resembled davenoon’s above.

      The closest I came to straight-A’s in grade school was in the third grade. A’s across the board, and a D for handwriting. Incidentally, the council I received from the woman who gave me that D was: ‘Just write slower.’

      Well, I did, the next result was an illegible sentence that took my four-times longer to produce.

      I can juggle five objects. I can play the mandolin. I can type exceptionally fast. Give me an hour and a pen, and I will sketch a precise rendering of whatever environment I am in. Give me 1/2 a day, and I can do the same thing with a paintbrush.

      Point being, I am attuned to fine motor skills and dexterity. But I can’t hand-write for shit. In the world of humanities and social sciences, that makes me, shall we say, a completely undesirable student.

      In grade school, I had to make do with the pissed off English & History teachers who relied on in-class essays. In college, I picked the humanities courses with profs/TAs that graded primarily on take-home essays and not in-class ones. The difference between the two is the difference between a hopeful C or a guaranteed A.

      My handwriting, and the reception I received from the graders who had to read it, certainly played a part in steering my academic path towards engineering.

      I can understand and empathize why humanities graders would get irritated and dock me for having to read my dribble, but having come of age right before the ‘age of ritalin and extended exam time for the “‘”learning disabled folk”‘”‘ I must admit I am a bit bitter at some of the doors that were arbitrarily closed. Shut because I couldn’t draft a cursive-Q on college rule paper that was legible from 5 meters away.

  5. prufrock says:

    I’ve always had horrible handwriting (cursive or printed), so I took a page from my Great Uncle, who also had horrible handwriting; type everything.

    And I don’t even have to haul a manual typewriter everywhere.

  6. mark f says:

    Might people who write only by printing — in block letters, or perhaps with a sloppy, squiggly signature — be more at risk for forgery?

    When I was a student I was a cashier in a record store. When people used credit cards we would need to verify the signature on the receipt vs. the one on the back of the card. If they didn’t match we’d have to check the customer’s ID. Once I had a guy tell me he never signs the same way twice because “it’s harder to forge that way.”

    Doesn’t beat the lady who told her kid he couldn’t buy the CD with the “explicit lyrics” sticker because she didn’t want anything “profound” in her house, but it’s a close second.

    • Josh G. says:

      Today this is very unusual. Some places don’t even require a signature any more (Target, for instance, doesn’t have me sign on the pad for my low-dollar purchases using a credit card.) And of those who do, I almost never see the cashier taking anything more than a cursory glance at the signature. And of course there’s online shopping which has no written signatures at all. I don’t believe the signing requirement provides any effective protection at all against forgery today.

      • mark f says:

        That’s true. I also scan my own card probably 50% of the time now, and a lot of times when the cashier swipes it I sign on an electronic pad the cashier doesn’t look at anyway.

        But mainly I thought it was funny that the guy thought that not having a distinctive signature was somehow to his advantage. That would just make it easier for me to forge his name in my handwriting.

      • les says:

        Added, the scrawl on an electronic signature pad (at least in my case) bears roughly no relation to my “signature,” or any other form of communication that I can recognize.

    • Ken says:

      Ha. My signature never looks the same way twice, and I’m not even trying to make that happen. It’s basically been reduced until each name is an approximation of the capital letter followed by a squiggle.

      The odder thing is when I have to sign a legal document and use the full “Kenneth” instead of “Ken”. It starts out as the usual mess, then I hit the “neth” and have to start thinking, and out come these neatly-formed fifth-grade letters that look absolutely ridiculous attached to the squiggle.

  7. JMS says:

    I have fantastic handwriting, to the point where I won a national prize for the best handwriting of all the 4th graders using the Rinehart Functional Handwriting System–and even so, I think it’s useless nonsense. So I don’t think it’s your bias talking!

  8. delagar says:

    What prufrock said. Seriously, how much call is there likely to be for handwritten documents in the near future? Already almost all the work my students do is composed and turned in electronically (the exception being in-class exams, and if I could figure a way to do those on computers I would).

    Standard disclaimer: We went through about four years of battle with my kid’s Montessori teacher over this, because the kid, like her father, has terrible handwriting. (Though, oddly, she draws beautifully. Don’t ask me.) My argument, just let her write everything on her laptop and email it to you, was met with horror, as if I had suggested burning the flag or the like.

  9. Greg says:

    I do a lot of data entry in the course of the political work I do (petitions, sign in sheets, and such) and cursive handwriting has definitely lost elections. It should be banned.

  10. Warren Terra says:

    I thought the topic of that article was amusing, and so I clicked on it, but got bored once it was clear that the only excuse for its vapid lack of ideas having been so blatantly and painfully stretched out to several hundred words was that the Times wasn’t going to pay the author just to write “these kids better get off my lawn”, nor would the editor look kindly on the copyright infringement and plagiarism of the piece if, when handed in, it turned out to be composed entirely of Grandpa Simpson quotes.

    In related news, the equestrian arts really are in a shameful state among the youth of today.

  11. Anderson says:

    Is there a class element here? Are students at a disadvantage if they don’t learn cursive, in the eyes of employers who *did* learn cursive?

    … I also wonder how this anti-cursive argument carries over to spelling and grammar.

    • Josh G. says:

      How would the employers know? Modern resumes are composed on a word processor, not handwritten. Even many application forms are done online today, and of those that aren’t, I don’t believe I have ever seen someone fill one out in cursive. Nor do I believe that HR would appreciate having to read someone’s illegible cursive scribbling instead of neat block letters.

  12. jsmdlawyer says:

    “Several weeks of remedial handwriting”? Pshaw. Talk to me when you’ve spent several years in remedial handwriting, as I did from 1971-75 (I only got out when I got to junior high, presumably because they had despaired of me ever getting better). I haven’t written anything in cursive other than my signature since, and my signature looks so much like a remedial handwriting student’s that it couldn’t possibly be forged.

    In law school (1988-91), I got permission to type all my open-book exams in the computer lab, because I could produce twice as much by typing as by writing. If it could be done then, it surely can be done now.

    • Sharculese says:

      I’m in law school now and almost all exams are typed, open or closed book. You bring your laptop to the exam room and the school provides a program that locks you out of everything else on your computer from the time you hit start until you submit. If it’s take-home, of course, everything is done through the internet.

      I still hand-write my exams, even though my handwriting is mediocre, because they segregate all the kids who hand-write, and since there are so few of us you get more space to spread out and a much quieter environment.

  13. Murc says:

    … am I the only person here who CAN’T print?

    Well, I mean, I can. I’m not incapable of it or anything. But I actually feel uncomfortable and wrong while doing it and its significantly shittier than my cursive writing.

    As far as teaching it goes… the best argument I can think of for teaching it is this. There are two systems of writing by hand using the roman alphabet, both still in common usage; printing, and cursive. If you’re going to teach people how to write, it seems like a good idea to teach both, right? And while you’re teaching them both to require you use the relevant style for the relevant instruction.

    That seems like it makes sense to me.

    • malraux says:

      It seems to me that the time spent teaching cursive would be better spent teaching something more useful though. Sure, absent of time, money and attention constraints students learning cursive is better than students not learning cursive. But students learning cursive instead of learning typing seems backwards looking. Heck, home ec classes seem more useful to me than cursive.

      • Murc says:

        People don’t learn typing in grade school?

        I went to grade school back in the late 80s and early 90s and we had a couple years of it. One would think that it would be an even bigger part of the curriculum NOW.

    • NonyNony says:

      If we’re going to be forcing kids to learn an encoding for the English language I’d like to see evidence that both encodings actually are in use today, rather than one being in constant use and the other being useful almost entirely for the reading of archived documents.

      Is cursive in heavy use these days? Enough that we should be spending time over a 5 year span teaching kids how to do it rather than spending that time teaching them something else?

    • Warren Terra says:

      I’m not sure that Cursive still counts as common usage.

      There are languages where a Print and a Cursive script are both used (I’m familiar with Hebrew), but I suspect Cursive is vanishingly rare in the daily American experience. Firstly because little handwriting of any sort is required, and secondly because those people I’ve met who seem to prefer it tend to be over 55 and in any case use a sort of hybrid script.

  14. Mudge says:

    This reminds me of Matt Yglesias’ continuing battle with spelling and his general assertion that bad spelling doesn’t matter. In both cases, important aspects of education in the baby boomer generation (and beyond) are de-emphasized. We’re growing increasingly bitter. You young ones have stolen our music (let’s say The Beatles), want to rape our retirement and now you denigrate two things we hold dear, spelling and cursive. The noive (B. Lahr.

    • Warren Terra says:

      I realize you’re joking in at least most of your comment, but I don’t think it’s much like Yglesias and spelling. Yglesias’s frequent problems with typos, homonyms, and missing words interfere with the apprehension of his meaning. It is a credit to his talent as a blogger that people read him despite knowing they’ll frequently have to work around these problems. The decision of a culture to stop using one of two fully functional styles of handwriting is not comparable; there’s no information loss in ceasing to use Cursive.

      • Mudge says:

        I agree with you. I pointed towards his defense of his mis-spellings, not the intrinsic problem with comprehension due to bad spelling. I take issue with his seeming assertion that it is unimportant. Regarding cursive, this is the age of the keyboard/typepad. I never learned touch typing and have suffered for it. Only the secretarial inclined took it in high school. That is a much more important skill for grade school kids than cursive. I use cursive to sign my name, sort of. I never use a capital “L’, though. There are few other public uses (I make notes to myself) of cursive. I have constructed maybe three hand-written letters in the last decade. I do put notes on cards.

        • That’s one of the stranger things I’ve seen, or at least one that pops out at me – Americans actually writing their names out for signatures. As an English person, I’m used to signatures being unique illegible squiggles, and the first time I saw my wife actually write her name rather than put down a squiggle, it really threw me.

          My signature is derived from my first initial and then my surname, but about all you can make out is is the initial M and the fact that there’s a g in the surname.

      • rea says:

        Yglesias’s frequent problems with typos, homonyms, and missing words interfere with the apprehension of his meaning

        It is an iron law of the internet that any comment criticizing someone elses spelling or grammar will contain an error. Comprehension, not apprehension.

    • map106 says:

      I understand what you’re saying (or in Matt’s language, what your saying). Christ, I spent my entire childhood learning which adjectives were regular (i.e., made their comparative and superlative forms adding -er and -est). Back in the day, the irregular ones were those that needed “more” and “most.” Now, using more and most is de rigueur.

      Nobody gives a shit about split infinitives; in fact, they’re preferred. My own personal “get off my lawn” moment is the “to not” versions. For some reason, they grate on my ears. We have an historical (that’s a joke) to keep us in our places: To be, or not to be. What could be simpler than remembering that.

      Which brings up another problem: no one (including front page writers on this site) seems to know the difference between “than” and “then,” and it’s pathetic.

      • Warren Terra says:

        Speaking of the evolving language, I wonder about the effect of phenomena like iOS’s spellcheck, which insists there’s no such word as “its” and transforms all instances to “it’s”.

      • Josh G. says:

        The nonsense about split infinitives comes from Latin snobbery. Since you literally can’t split an infinitive in Latin, and classicists insist that Latin is a “perfect” language, they came up with the ridiculous notion that you shouldn’t split infinitives in English either.

  15. Josh G. says:

    This argument:

    “And what happens when young people who are not familiar with cursive have to read historical documents like the Constitution?”

    is basically the same as the old arguments in favor of retaining Latin and Greek as mandatory parts of the curriculum. The answer, in both cases, is straightforward: these are niche interests. If someone needs to know the text of the Constitution, they look it up online (or, if they’re old-school, in the back of a textbook). Just as if someone wants to read Aristotle or Cicero, they can read a translation. Only historians and people specializing in certain parts of the humanities actually need to know how to read dead languages or dying forms of handwriting.

    As for fine motor skills, there are many better ways to learn that than cursive. I’ll bet that texting and video games do a better job of honing these skills than cursive ever did.

  16. asdfsdf says:

    I guess there’s an argument for basic instruction in cursive, in that it’s still used from time to time and you should be able to read it.

    As to signing your name, a good signature shouldn’t really be cursive, either. It just needs to be a squiggle which you always draw the same way. Attempting to write your name in cursive simply gives you a framework to define this squiggle.

    • Tom Allen says:

      The other argument would be that you need to teach children to write legibly in some manner. To do that they need to practice, and to practice they need guidelines. Cursive was the educational fad when I was in grade school; something else will no doubt take its place.

    • Sue McC. says:

      A good signature should be legible. In many hospitals, chart notes are still hand written and it’s very irritating to find an illegible note, then not even be able to determine who wrote it. How much effort can it be to practice those few letters enough to make the signature something that doesn’t require training in sanskrit to decipher? The nurses get used to those scribbles, but sometimes even they are stumped.

  17. Davis X. Machina says:

    We’ve got a hundred juniors a year who are about to take the SAT’s, including an essay — handwritten — and while I know the graders are supposed to grade the contents, and not the package, I still wonder how much it helps to have a respectable looking exam paper.

    • Warren Terra says:

      My own SATs predate the essay component, and so I’ve never looked into its format or its grading. I’ve often wondered how you could truly standardize essay grading; I worry that the result will be essays that follow a prescribed paragraph structure, avoid major English mistakes, and contain a few (possibly) relevant facts – and are in truth unreadable bilge.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      As a grader of AP US history exams, I would say that handwriting has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the grading. It is nicer when someone writes legibly, meaning never writers in cursive, because I can get through the hell that much faster, but I don’t think it matters in the least.

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        I’ve graded Latin AP exams, and while I’ll tell you I don’t think I let sizzle — or its lack — distract me from the steak, I just don’t know… people are such complicated things.

  18. Ken says:

    And what happens when young people who are not familiar with cursive have to read historical documents like the Constitution?

    Um, they go to Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg or any of a million other sources, where it’s in ISO8859 text that they can display in whatever font and pitch they find most legible.

    Not only that, but they can do the same to read the text of Beowulf, or Shakespeare’s plays, or Goethe’s works. One single method works for all; they don’t have to learn tenth-century Anglo-Saxon uncials, or seventeenth-century English roundhand, or nineteenth-century German Sutterlin.

  19. steelpenny says:

    I support the mandatory learning of the Sütterlinschrift

  20. cpinva says:

    the best reason i’ve ever heard for learning how to write in cursive was given by my daughter’s school principal: so you can read other people’s cursive handwriting.

    many years ago, i was dragged up to DC, to prep for trial. to my chagrin, i discovered my inability to read my own handwriting, as i reviewed my workpapers on the case, written a couple of years before. it was like attempting to decipher a foreign language. fortunately, the individual in question, having finally secured the services of a real attorney (vs his buddies in the office), chose to settle out of court, saving me the embarrasment of having to testify.

  21. dsn says:

    I used to think cursive made no sense. Then I got a fountain pen, and discovered that it is basically just a simple set of modifications to printing to make it easier to do with a fountain pen. Not sure why anyone would write cursive with a ball point tho.

  22. Western Dave says:

    Okay, I flunked handwriting from 2nd grade to 6th grade (although it was called “Improving”). I was given clay to knead to develop my fine motor skills. The gave me small chalkboards to write on, on the theory that the firmer surfaces would somehow give me the feel for the letters better. There was a set of shape drawing exercises in 7th grade. My grandfather gave me a fountain pen. Nothing worked. In 9th grade, I went to see an optometrist who realized I had a funky version of lazy eye. I only used one eye at a time and switched to the other one when it got tired but never used both at the same time. Consequently, I had terrible depth perception and doing something like copying letters off a board was an invitation to disaster. I went to vision therapy and learned to use both eyes together, finding out, in the process, that Viewmasters were 3D – who knew? Anyway, I finish the therapy and say, “look this is great, I’m no longer getting hit in the face with flying balls I’m trying to catch, and can turn into a doorway without hitting it, but what about my handwriting?” And the doctor said, “Well, we can break your fingers, put them in a cast for 6 months and then re-teach you how to write, or you can learn to type.”

    On my AP exams I skipped lines. It helped enough to keep my handwriting somewhat legible. I recommend it to students with bad handwriting and it seems to work. But I do have to set aside 10 minutes after I give back a test or quiz to make a quick circuit of the room to explain the cryptic squiggles on the paper.

  23. Jon Hendry says:

    I learned cursive, and my signature is pretty much just my name in schoolboy cursive. (Oddly, I have a print of a photo of 1950s Chicago, by someone with practically the same name (John instead of Jon) whose signature on the matte is almost the same as my signature.)

    But I’m no good at reading it.

  24. md rackham says:

    I agree that the reasons given in favor of cursive aren’t very persuasive, but the reasons given against teaching cursive seem to all devolve to “it’s hard!” and “I’m not going to use it!”

    Sorry, but those are the same arguments given against having to learn algebra, geometry, or most any other subject in grade/high school. They aren’t convincing reasons in any of those subject areas.

    And talk about self-selecting samples: take a group of people who choose to express themselves on a keyboard and ask them about longhand cursive writing. Gee, wonder what the results will be?

    • Warren Terra says:

      Well, a couple of points:
      1) There are good arguments in favor of learning algebra, geometry, etcetera, to counter the arguments you deride.
      2) By your own concession, there don’t seem to be good arguments in favor of Cursive.
      3) There are arguments in this thread other than those you deride – for example, several people note that badly written cursive is far harder to read than badly written block letters.
      4) Regarding your claims about this being a community of people who use keyboards: How do you know I’m not dipping my quill pen into the finest India ink before scribing my message onto a beautiful piece of vellum, which I then roll tightly before entrusting it to a pigeon, who faithfully carries it to a telegraph office, eventually resulting in its transcription onto the internet? On the Internet, no-one knows you’re a Victorian gentleman.
      As you may have guessed, I am in fact using a keyboard. But I also write things by hand, and I see a lot of people who do so, and few use cursive – fewer, when they want anyone else to read their writing.

    • N.C. says:

      Sorry, but those are the same arguments given against having to learn algebra, geometry, or most any other subject in grade/high school. They aren’t convincing reasons in any of those subject areas.

      At least for algebra and geometry I can think of a few specific convincing reasons for every adult to learn them. From geometry, it’s important to learn how to calculate area, perimeter and volume, how to find real distances on a scale map, and how to find indirect measurements; from algebra, reading 2D graphs, using proportions and understanding exponents (i.e. interest rates).

  25. Linnaeus says:

    I still do a fair amount of handwriting, especially when I’m taking notes on something I’m reading. I don’t have a laptop, so when I’m away from my home, I have to handwrite my notes anyway, but even when I am near a computer, I prefer to take handwritten notes because I can hold the book open with one hand on a table and write with the other hand. If I’m typing notes while trying to read, I usually have to do some kind of awkward weighting down of the book’s pages, or reading then stopping to type, then reading again because both my hands are occupied in typing. And when I do write, I usually do it in cursive. It’s just easier that way for me.

  26. GeoX says:

    I’m not gonna lie: I liked learning cursive in elementary school. It was elegant, and there was a certain pleasure in its rhythms. It’s true that I very rarely use it today…but that just puts it in a class with a goodly percentage of everything I learned in elementary school. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that any school spend an inordinate amount of time teaching it, but I have a hard time envisioning such teaching as a great plague o’er the land, either.

  27. Murc says:

    Random thread observations.

    I’m a relatively young man; I went to grade school in the late 80s/early 90s and high school from ’95 to ’99. I never had a single class or course on penmanship after elementary school, and by the second year of middle school (the 7th grade for me) we were in fact expected to know how to do things like assemble the structure of a proper essay and identify things like thesis statements. We were expected to already KNOW how to form letters and words.

    Moreover, I can’t recall anyone being forced to write in cursive except for sometimes in the middle chunk of elementary school (grades two through four, or thereabouts) when we were being… taught how to write in cursive.

    Is it really the case that people are, or used to be, graded on penmanship all the way through high school and into college? There’s a long rant attached to one Scott’s comments up above from a guy who says he was actually denied opportunity at the collegiate level because he couldn’t write in cursive quickly and legibly… that happened? Does that still happen? Because that’s mind boggling.

    I mean, admittedly, I not only was taught cursive and print in elementary school, I was taught touch typing as well. And by the time I got out of High School I had teachers who were agitating to be allowed to REQUIRE students to type things, so they could ban handwritten submissions entirely. If I were to have tried to hand in anything handwritten in college I would have been laughed at. So maybe this is a generational thing? I dunno.

    • Josh G. says:

      Many college classes now require the use of Turnitin.com or another similar service, which means that assignments must be composed using a word processor and not written by hand.

  28. MikeN says:

    When I first started teaching in Taiwan 20 years ago, junior high school students learning English would spend hours practicing cursive writing; now, it’s been totally abandoned- younger students ooh and aah if I write their names on the whiteboard in cursive.

    Some of the girls learn it on their own because it’s so pretty- ke-aiii!!!- and has a cliquish snob appeal.

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