“Please Print”

Detail, Declaration Of Independence
Hancock, you are such a showoff…

Maybe it’s the clicks they want: every so often there’s an article about the ‘death of cursive’. You can count on dozens of people weighing in about what a shame it is that kids won’t be taught how to “write”.

This time it’s Smithsonian magazine, asking “Is Cursive Handwriting Going Extinct?” But for the first time that I can recall, the article pretty much says; “Yeah, probably, but what difference does it make?”

If you go back in time, learn to do this

I like that.

Cursive handwriting started as a necessity for writing with Quill pens. Which is to say, a pen cut from a bird’s feather. Making them was a necessary skill for Carolingian script of the eighth century. Quills and cursive persisted without anyone really questioning them until practical ballpoint pens were made in the 1940’s. By 1960 the price had come down, and shortly thereafter, articles moaning about the death of cursive became a cottage industry.

During those same 1960’s, a kid in Iowa was struggling to learn cursive, and not doing very well. He had survived spinal menningitis in 1961 and his fine motor coordination was scarcely functional. He was told repeatedly, in an abusive way, that printing was not “real” writing. Trying to shoehorn his motor ability into the curls and connections of cursive had little effect other than emotional trauma and a delay in the ability to begin expressing himself in writing.

I’m still a bit crusty about it.

When one of my own kids had trouble with cursive, a teacher expressed concern that the child in question would never be able to get a job, if he didn’t learn cursive. His mother quipped; “Then why does every job application say; “Please Print or Type?””

(That one got a snort from the principal, while the teacher looked a bit uncomfortable.)

Today, Illinois is one of a few states that has given up on cursive in favor of keyboarding skills. Frankly that’s all to the good. Different children develop motor skills at different rates, but it simply isn’t relevant to the need to express oneself in writing.

In colonial times, which are often referenced by cursive lovers, illiteracy ran about thirty percent among adults, with handwriting being an even less common skill. Obstacles to literacy should be given the gimlet eye before they might be allowed in curriculum.

Write in cursive, don’t write in cursive, I don’t care. But don’t waste children’s time and attention while they’re learning in early years. Offer a calligraphy class in high school for those who might be interested.

NOTES:

  • Once my fine motor coordination improved, after my senior year of high school, I did practice calligraphy. But I still use a keyboard if I have a lot of writing to do. In fact, I’m quite particular about keyboards.
  • I have seen the argument that “Kids need to learn cursive so they can read our founding documents”. Yes, really. As if they couldn’t look at the period handwriting and work out that a lower-case “s” looked like an “f” back then.