Demise of Cursive and the Decline of Civilization

One of my students told me that I have nice handwriting.  I realized very quickly that she was referring to the fact I was writing in cursive, which isn’t taught as ardently in schools as it was when I was in elementary school back in the 1990s.  I remember sitting in Mrs. Labastida’s second grade class practicing my letters.  Capital Q always got me.  That, and capital Z and sometimes the L.  And heaven help you if you didn’t form your letters exactly as they taught you.  

Cursive is on its way out of the curriculum.  It’s seen as a waste of time given how much time we spend on our computers.  I watched another student struggle to write two sentences in cursive on an exam.  She is 17, and it took five minutes to write two sentences in cursive.  I look at how students (and some adults) form their letters with a variety of upper- and lowercase letters.  It’s strange that so many people have arrived at the same writing style independently of each other.

The fact that this student thought my handwriting is nice is amusing.  When I was in 6th grade, my father teased me mercilessly because I received a “Needs Improvement” in handwriting on my report card.  I had straight As (and went on to graduate valedictorian in high school) but I had issues with handwriting.  My father thought it was funny that I had a low grade in handwriting; handwriting was the only thing he ever got an A in (of course, he went to school with Catholic nuns, so go figure).  My hand can’t keep up with my brain, hence the shoddy penmanship.  However, it’s still cursive.  Friends begged to use my notes in college.  Not only were they thorough, they were very nicely written.

I think that the demise of cursive being taught in schools has greater and more far-reaching implications.  I think it’s great that students are allowed to develop their own writing styles.  But the next step in this evolution is to transition everyone into using computers to such an extent that they won’t have a need for handwriting.  I know it sounds extreme, but in a few decades, cursive will be a thing of the past the way calligraphy is now.  How many people do you know who can successfully use a fountain pen with the little quill-thingy at the tip?  I’ve seen them in fine pen stores (because yes, I do shop for nice pens…that’s a whole other story) but I haven’t a clue as to how to use one.  I remember seeing my grandmother’s phone book.  Her writing was beautiful.  In fact, everyone in my grandparents’ generation had good penmanship. It’s sad to think that will all go away.

We all develop our own writing style, but our style tends to develop out of a customization of cursive and regular handwriting.  Without learning cursive, future students will lack that piece of the puzzle. There will be very little by way of notes, letters and handwritten documents that future generations of historians can refer back to.  It will all be digital, and if it is written, it most likely won’t be the kind of penmanship you see when you read letters exchanged in the 1940s.  As a history major, this is sad to me.  Watching a 17 year old struggle to write two sentences is sad.  

With all of this in mind, I’m basking in the fact that my student thinks my crappy penmanship looks nice….