I Can’t Write Cursive…

… and apparently that makes me some kinda idjit.

Here’s all I have to say about that:

UPDATE: I should clarify that the comments weren’t directed at me personally, but on various conversations I’ve seen more than one person say it is not possible to consider yourself literate unless you master cursive.

I don’t disagree with The Anchoress on this. I think cursive is nice. So is flower arranging and cabinetry. I can’t do those things, either. Some people are just taking it too far, and making it a sign of a character flaw or a lack of literacy. In my case and my son’s, it’s frankly a motor defect.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Jakeithus

    People have been really giving you a hard time about this? I haven’t had anyone comment on my not writing in cursive since Grade 3, when my C+ in handwriting stood out amidst what was otherwise all A’s. I don’t get what is so attractive about writing in a slower, and more difficult to read style when I’ve developed a perfectly fine way of expressing my written thoughts.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    There were some debates about this on Facebook a month or two ago, and this Zimmerman trial thing has kicked it all up again.

    I think cursive is nice: like calligraphy.

    PS: I don’t write in calligraphy either.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    That’s about what my handwriting looks like. In this age of computers, I don’t think having nice penmenship should be a huge priority in school.

  • Christine~Soccer Mom

    I think “can do” and “can read” are two different things. If pressed, I’m sure you could at least *read* cursive. We’re mainly lamenting the idea that this young woman got to 19 without being able to decode someone’s handwriting, no matter how neat it is.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    I can not only read script, but Greek and various medieval hands as well. That’s part of what I do, but if it wasn’t, it’s not something I’d need.

    Mankind will probably see the end of handwriting at some point. (Our experience of universal literacy and penmanship is very brief.) We’re in a transitional stage, and cursive is the first casualty. I’m sad to see it go, since it looks nice. I don’t think it’s anything more than that, however: aesthetically pleasing. That’s important, but no hugely so.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    I think it only makes sense that if you’re not writing it, you’re going to have trouble reading it.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    People have been giving me a hard time about my handwriting since the 1st Grade.

    Which is why I went into a career where I could type everything.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    What does the Zimmerman Trial have to do with cursive calligraphy?

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    There was a witness who had allegedly written something and then couldn’t read it on the stand because she couldn’t read cursive. It was one of those Perry Mason moments: “Are you saying, madam, that you cannot read a note you allegedly wrote?!”

    Something like that.

  • Maggie

    I can kinda write cursive. My handwriting has always really sucked, though, so it’s rarely pretty. I prefer printing to cursive and typing to either, because I am a quick and accurate typist. Also, I press too hard with the pencil/pen and my wrist gets tired.

  • perpper


  • cminor

    I thought I could read cursive, then you went and posted that page of Aquinas. And relax, there are lots of us out here with that motor disability. I suffered through penmanship in school; when I got to college, knowing that I needed to write fast enough to take notes, I adopted that blocky all-caps style popular with draftsmen and engineers. I’ve never looked back!

  • KateGladstone

    If you have not learned to write cursive, you usually don’t know how to read it either — because usually one is not taught to read cursive, only taught to write it (thereby to figure out how to read it). However, it is possible (and indeed is easy) to teach even a five- or six-year-old to read cursive writing, as soon as he or she can read other writing. (The way I’ve done it is to sketch, for the child, how each of those dauntingly complex cursive letters evolved — or devolved — step-by-step from some earlier, actually comprehensible form. Demonstrating it in this way takes a minute or two per letter: after which, the students can read cursive. This has, I’ll admit, discomfited some parents who found that their notes to other adults were no longer secrets from their children … )

  • KateGladstone

    Cursive, of course, is not the only handwriting that looks nice, Itwlic looks equally nice — and is far easier to understand.

  • KateGladstone

    For what it’s worth:
    The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

    And the abandoners of cursive inhabit some _very_ unexpected venues.
    In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    It’s not about pretty writing. It’s about the brain, and how learning to write cursive, which is a repetitive looping motion that requires finely-tuned motor skills and hand-eye coordination, helps to develop the area of the brain also responsible for planning ahead and impulse control. The use of it as an adult is less important than the process of learning it and using it as a child.

    Personally, I think it is important to be able to read historical documents that have been written in cursive, too. My own script is quite bad and I write in a hybrid when writing for myself.

  • terentiaj63

    The issue with the Zimmerman trial witness is that she had just testified that she wrote the letter, then couldn’t read it when asked.

  • Manic Doodlings

    I remember way back in second grade learning to write in cursive. It was one of the few things besides art I actually enjoyed in school. Of course the things I didn’t enjoy (such as math) have come in handy later in life but I still think we marginalize things like writing in long hand (or judge as not being useful) at our own peril. But fear not, all you luddites! A generation or two from now a bunch of hipsters will probably decide to start writing in long hand again because it’s cool…

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    I learned to do “joined-up” writing (as we seven year olds called it) in First Class. My sister, two years younger than me, and my brothers (five and nine years younger, respectively) didn’t because, apparently, by the time they came to learn how to do it, teaching had moved on for some reason so that being able to write block letters was good enough.
    I think the idea was that you would pick it up (possibly from your parents, possibly from the hand-writing fairy) once you were old enough. I don’t want to call anyone illiterate or the likes, and it is certainly not your fault if you weren’t taught it in school, but it is the mark of learning to write like an adult not a child.
    And now that I’ve insulted everyone who can’t or doesn’t write like that, I will depart :-)

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    But some brains just can’t manage it. Mine can’t, but I’ve managed to master quite a wide array of knowledge on several subjects, and have decent planning and impulse control. This disconnect is common with some conditions, particularly ASD.

    I worked with my son for years, and observed that he could form the letters or form the thoughts, but not both. (He was part of a study that conducted multiple FMRIs on his brain, and they gave us a detailed report on his abilities and disabilities.) It’s pretty clear that some brains just have a disconnect between motor functions and thought.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    Very true. I still think the majority of schoolkids, those who don’t have the disconnect, should learn (NOT taught by a scary perfectionist, though). However, I don’t think the ability to read or write cursive classifies anyone as more or less literate.