2/18/09

Poor, Sad, Archaic Cursive

Did you know that I was a penmanship leader in fifth grade?  I wrote such lovely cursive that I had the privilege of tutoring classmates with sloppy, sharp-edged, messy, messy, messy penmanship.  Maybe I tutored you!  Did you go to Ventura Elementary School in Palo Alto, California in 1977?  No?  That's ok.  Maybe you have nice cursive anyway.  

No?  You hate cursive?  Then take heart.  I have good news:  Cursive is dead.  I know that cursive is dead because last fall, for the first time ever, I had to stop using my beautiful script in my college classroom.  No one could read it.  The first No Child Left Behind generation has left cursive behind.  And why not?  There is no standardized cursive test.  And we all know that if there is no standardized test for something, it must not be very important.  Plus, with computers, handwriting is, apparently, a bit superfluous.  

Of course, not every one is taking this lying done.  There are books, specifically Kitty Burns Florey's  Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.  There are also outraged teachers who punish the victims (the kids taught only a flimsy version of the cursive signature) by refusing to write in anything but what is to their students an impenetrable flurry of curves and loops.  

The end of cursive is sad in the way that the end of archaic things are always sad.  There is that nostalgia, that longing, that Luddite impulse to hate the new.  This is, of course, especially true for the penmanship leaders among us.  After all, some of us have so few things to feel really smug about.  It seems rather cruel to deny us our flowery penmanship too.  

What do you think?  The death of cursive: the end of western civilization as we know it?  Or a minor blip on the road to mental telepathy?  Pick up your pencils -- make that your keyboards-- and...begin.

20 comments:

Cafe Pasadena said...

No, I'm not surprised you were a penwomanship leader in school last century.

It should be possible to write cursively on a website.

barbra said...

I didn't know you were from Palo Alto! I love it there, but it may have been different experiencing it as a 18-22 year old...

I am feeling smug and lucky that my 3rd grader is learning cursive right now. An unexpected benefit of Catholic school, I guess! She LOVES cursive. I did when I was in elementary school, too. I really can't fathom that there are people who can't read it. Is that really true???

When I was teaching, I remember my 7th graders would ask on the first day of school if they had to write in cursive and I told them it didn't matter to me. They were so excited about that!

Palm Axis said...

I'm over visiting Pasadena Adjacent

Fear not, the Adobe program illustrator has Faux cursive fonts.
Can you go and throw some of your samples on the screen? A friend of mine is a designer and teaches lettering. Cursive isn't dead, it's in art school. Now I have to go and look up luddite. Right, you should have tutored me. Chicken scratch

Desiree said...

Sheesh--the only time my writing is legible is when it's cursive--it's horrid otherwise. In my tutoring center I asked college students to help with cursive--and they all gave me blank looks. It is, indeed, dead.

Susan Carrier & said...

Remember Zaner Bloser? I think they were the company that provided those special tablets for learning cursive.

The irony is that the only professionals that use cursive are doctors, and every last one of them could have benefited from Margaret's cursive writing class.

Funny - You've been teaching "writing" of one sort or another all your life.

altadenahiker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
altadenahiker said...

My writing has always been a senseless mess of printing and cursive. So maybe this is good news?

You know that the first-born or eldest daughter always writes in perfect cursive. And you know who you are.

Petrea said...

Karin that's interesting. True in my family. I'm the middle one.

A couple of years ago I took a workshop at the Huntington on Elizabethan writing. Just for fun. I wonder if there was nostalgia for it as it drifted out of popular use, and if the Luddites hated the new?

My mother was an English teacher and a writer. She insisted on correct usage, but also taught us that language constantly evolves. I guess writing does, too. I used to hear my grandparents talk of things we kids didn't know of and I wondered what I'd know, as an old person, that kids wouldn't recognize. The list is getting longer, fast.

Margaret said...

Cafe Pasadena: Last century. Sigh. Now I feel archaic.

Barbra: Your lucky little 3rd grader -- keeping cursive alive for all of us. Tell her to hold tight.

PA: I love that cursive is in art school. Love it.

Desiree: Even Occ kids can't read it? Now I know it's dead.

Susan: I'd never thought about it, but you're right. My whole life I've been teaching writing.

AH: I'm the youngest of three. Go figure.

Petrea: My grandparents used to talk about drying grapes into raisins. It sounded so exotic.

altadenahiker said...

Quaint English novels (Miss Read springs to mind) tell of "copperplate"

Lynne said...

You were a cursive leader in fifth grade! So was I. It must run in the family!

KateGladstone said...

Current research on handwriting (cited in SCRIPT AND SCRIBBLE) reveals that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive anyway: highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters use print-like letter-shapes, and make only the very easiest joins between letters (skipping the rest of the joins).
This makes it doubtful that we should teach cursive at all, except to teach how to read it (something it takes 15 minutes to an hour to teach, as opposed to the time required for learning how to write it). At least one handwriting style (Italic, covered in the second half of Chapter Five in SCRIPT AND SCRIBBLE) fits the above research recommendations for highest legibility and speed... and it looks beautiful, too.


Kate Gladstone
Founder and CEO,
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works handwriting improvement service
Director, World Handwriting Contest
http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

KateGladstone said...

I'm the eldest daughter -- but didn't even write legibly till age 24. Sorry, "altadenahiker" ...

Margaret said...

Kate: Thanks for the information and thanks for dropping by. I thought the main reason to learn cursive was because it was fastest. I'm glad to know your impressive facts. I'll be sure to check out your website.

Lynne: It must, indeed, run in the family.

Cafe Pasadena said...

Hey, someone else took over MF's blog? A parentnaping!

JCK said...

I never achieved the flourish of the cursive penmanship. No, I struggled. So, I was relieved to be able to get by with printing, which is also bad. Alas, I am doomed to the keyboard, but I do admire the handwriting of others - like you! So, I am sad to see it die out.

Desiree said...

Whoo hoo! Look at that Pho-toe!
Go, Margaret go!

Petrea said...

Ooh, my! Is that a Skye shot? Nice!

J&D said...



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Star said...

The history of calligraphy is fascinating and--believe it, or not--fraught with scholarly dispute and fun. In Italy, in the first half of the 15th century (and, thus, prior to the invention of movable type), cursive was invented to make writing out documents and copies of books faster, yet still legible. I was very surprised to learn of the death of cursive in our schools. While it's true that my once lovely handwriting has gone to pot, since I write things out so seldomly, now, the fact that the kids can't do cursive makes me wonder about how they will take fast, yet accurate and helpful, notes, while listening to a college lecture. Is this a thing of the past?