Ranting on the Loss of Cursive Writing – UPDATES!

So, I found it excruciatingly painful to watch this video clip,. Excruciating because I love and value cursive writing, and I felt really bad for this young woman, and for what is apparently a whole generation (or two) that has been denied the experience of learning to use it. Cursive enhances brain function, helps to develop fine motor skills and gives a student a daily dose of something that is both an art and a discipline.

Ranting about it in social media, I was told that cursive isn’t taught any longer because “with computers and texting it is not required.”

Well, screw that! If something is not absolutely required in life, it’s not worth teaching? Do we not teach poetry? Art? Music? Jumping rope?

I understand that schools spend a lot of time “teaching to the tests” and feel they have no time for some antiquated discipline (although, I must say, Sister Mary Alice Ann, RSM, managed to teach 45 second grade savages to write beautifully in cursive, while also teaching us to read, do sums and learn our catechism, and we did have standardized testing back then); I understand it but don’t accept it. What are schools spending time teaching that leaves no time for penmanship?

Our schools are deeply concerned with “specialness.” They spend a lot of time boosting self esteem and carrying on about how special everyone is. You know what can demonstrate that better than almost anything, and instill a sense of pride-in-accomplishment? Cursive writing! It’s a distinctly individual endeavor, as no one’s handwriting is like anyone else’s. Get them writing their “I am Special” essays in script and let them see exactly how uniquely different (not better or worse but different) every one of us is! It will make a bigger impact than just droning the mantra at them.

And there is more to recommend it, here:

There is always something elegant, intimate and lovely about receiving a hand-written note, but that is particularly true when you can see that the writer has taken the time to really work on his or her presentment. I understood just how real my neurological problems were when I saw lapses in my penmanship that I could not easily control. I still work on it.

[...] Good Penmanship seems like a “little” thing, but to me, it’s always been an indicator of personal discipline and self-worth. The subject that “makes children feel bad about themselves” has probably, in the end, made a great many ex-Catholic school kids feel pretty good about themselves. On a day when nothing is going right, or I feel cruddy about something I’ve done, I can still scrawl a note and look at it and remember one of the first compliments my husband paid me. It occurred the day we met, as I wrote my name and number on a slip of paper. “You have a nice hand,” he said, “Catholic school, right?” I looked up and smiled at him, completely understanding his meaning!

Cursive writing helps to expedite our thoughts to paper, before we lose them! It’s individualistic! It is “what grown-ups do.” I’m just disgusted to learn that it’s not even taught anymore. I wonder if college professors must now print their lessons on white boards? What happens when a message in a bottle is found, or an old love letter? Will they be like hieroglyphics for the next generation?

UPDATE I:
Deacon Greg also has fond memories of a sweet nun who taught and wrote beautifully. He admits:

I’m not exactly the best at penmanship myself—too many years of banging my fingers on the keyboard have made me jittery and impatient with my own hand—but I admire people like my beloved 4th grade teacher, Sister Matthew Christi…

He has a few nice links, too!

UPDATE II:
Cursive Writing Makes Kids Smarter
It’s the Penmanship, Stupid!

First image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • MrsIke

    Hmm…. I think I have to disagree with you on this one to some degree. It is important to be able to legibly hand write something. But, there are some unfortunate side effects of learning cursive if the teacher is a perfectionist. I had to take cursive in grade school from a person who was such a perfectionist that we wouldn’t pass the class if our writing wasn’t just like hers — EXACTLY like hers — which was EXACTLY like the little practice letters. She was the English teacher as well, so all papers had to be handed in written in this exact calligraphy. They took weeks to do. To this day, using cursive is such a painstaking and arduous endeavor that I print everything except my signature. It takes too long to form the letters in the cursive that I was forced to learn. There’s nothing in it that is my personality, it is all the perfect copy of HER handwriting. It doesn’t flow and it slows down my writing, rather than making it a smoother, quicker process to put pen to paper. I dread having to do anything “long hand” because it will take forever! If I hand write a note, I print it…. And I deeply resent that teacher when I see someone with beautiful, individualist cursive. It would take me a long while to unlearn, then reform letters into a personal, beautiful writing.

  • MeanLizzie

    Sorry you had such a bad experience from an EXTREME teacher. She sounds like a nut.

  • Jennifer Hartline

    Is that your lovely handwriting in the “I am special” photo above, Elizabeth? It really is lovely. Beautiful and artful.

  • USKensington

    My handwriting is terrible… :(

  • MeanLizzie

    Yes, it’s mine. It’s okay. Before I had neurological issues, it really was pretty. Now…it’s okay.

  • Anthony

    So you’ve grown up, get over it and do your own thing. Sounds like you’ve learned that teacher’s perfectionism

  • Truly_Southern

    As a Palmer Penmanship alum, myself, I feel your post should be mandatory reading for every parent, teacher, and child who is of age to understand the art, not that today’s generation would understand it. This is a much-needed “rant.” Thank you. Even in the text of my letters, my penmanship is my signature, even if I should, for fun, change my style. Someone else can come close, but cannot duplicate it. Even a friend who works for a credit card company told me a secret in where they look when a signature is in question. I was hard on my children and grandchildren about its importance, even though we live in a “so-what” world. They tell me you can write faster, printing. Not necessarily. I also stress it would be helpful if they didn’t press so hard, then writing in cursive wouldn’t be such a “chore.” It IS indeed an art form, and we need to do all we can to keep this intact.
    My daughter teaches first grade, and while cursive isn’t really taught until the second grade, she says first grade teachers stress blocking letters, preparing for the next level. What these children learn in the classroom, be it penmanship or grammar, which in itself, is another posting, should be reinforced at home.
    After my father-in-law passed away, I found a suitcase of letters dated in the early 1900s, and spent the next two days reading them, not as much for the history they held, as to behold a time when cursive was the ONLY way one would write a letter. I even framed one written in high German. Exquisite!
    Silly question, but is there a movement out there, a society for penmanship, to preserve this means of communicating? Please don’t let this die.

  • Val

    I remember learning in Catholic School. I was an original lefty ut was made(forced) to use my right hand for cursive. he sister would guide my hand with the ink pen. I’m sure that doesn’t happen anymore.

  • JK

    In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles a request to enter the
    diaconate as a candidate must be sent to the Archbishop. This request is not
    typed and signed at the bottom, rather it must be hand written. I know many
    deacons who had to make multiple attempts at the letter before they produced
    one that they thought were acceptable.

  • Jennifer Hartline

    It’s far better than okay! I think it’s poetic and beautiful! Can’t imagine how it could have looked any better!

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

    LOL, there was a time I would be cheering such a decision. My cursive writing was terrible, and I suffered in penmenship grades for it. I don’t know how many times I got points taken away for something I wrote for poor penmenship. It still is poor. I never really got the hang of it. My signature is about the only pure cursive I do. But i think there is a loss that goes with abandoning cursive, though I’m not sure why. I’ve gotten along pretty well in life without it, and i’m a fairly creative and disciplined person. I don’t think any of your arguments are very convincing. However I do think there is a beauty associated with cursive writing that should applauded. But don’t grade kids on it. It’s meaningless. ;)

  • Adam Frey

    My daughter is entering third grade and hasn’t gotten much in the way of any kind of handwriting education. Her teacher admitted that they don’t have much time for it in the curriculum–there’s a little bit of instruction, but it’s literally minutes of the day. This shocks me, as I remember having printing and handwriting workbooks for my first few grades as a kid with repetition.
    I’m compensating for this with a lesson from my mother-in-law. Every night, I go to this website (http://www.handwritingworksheets.com/flash/printdots/paragraph/index.html) (Elizabeth, I hope you don’t mind a link!) and I print out 2 pages: a blank one, and a “tracing” one with a verse from Proverbs, Wisdom, or Sirach. My daughter is instructed to trace one and then freehand the same verse onto the blank one. This way, she’s getting some dual instruction on handwriting and scripture.

  • Truly_Southern

    My husband is a retired engineer, and before computers, he printed every word he wrote. While I did author the post above, I prefer he print, so I can read his handwriting. : ) There ARE exceptions to the use of cursive. Have a good day.

  • Barbara Bowman

    I first knew that cursive wasn’t being taught when I wrote in cursive on the whiteboard in my classroom and realized only a couple of students could read it.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Handwriting was the first version of bigotry used against me by teachers. I didn’t know it until I was 30, and finally diagnosed with autism, that disgraphia is a common co-morbid condition with Asperger’s.

    Every failing grade in my first four years of school, was handwriting.

  • David

    Elizabeth, that’s a beautiful piece of penmanship. My wife has excellent penmanship, and a rarity for an MD. Though I have decent skills, mine is like a scrawl compared to hers. But, we made it a point to teach cursive with our daughters to supplement what they learned in Catholic School.

  • perpper

    I had horrible experiences in school with handwriting and compensated by either writing with a quirky backslant or in a kludged print-write concoction. Later in life, pushing on 40, I decided to give it another try and I used the Getty-Dubay Book G to re-teach myself the art. Now I have nice-looking and legible handwriting with practically no fuss no muss. So if your grade school experience was bad, wait a couple of decades and try it on your own. What can it hurt?

  • Peg

    I admire good penmanship. When my son was 8, he asked me to teach him cursive writing because adults were in the habit of writing notes, etc. that he could not read. His school did not think it necessary because “everybody uses a keyboard”. The teacher was one of the adults who unthinkingly wrote notes in cursive that the kids could not read.

    BTW, my husband learned to write in a public school and left-handers were made to write with their right hands. This is usually used as an example of the unreasonable burdens inflicted on children in Catholic schools. I read an article that said the reason was that using the Palmer Method with a fountain pen held in the left hand resulted in a smeared mess. The left-handers in the family all attest to it.

  • Dale

    OMG 4get cursive its dead

    ;)

  • March_Hare

    Ah, penmanship–the bane of my grammar school existence! I remember well those Palmer workbooks, which we were required to copy using a fountain pen (Schaeffer cartridge pens are still my favorites). In eight years, I don’t think I ever received higher than a “C” in penmanship–it was the only “C” that my parents waived.

    In high school I realized I had better be able to take notes rapidly and, more importantly, be able to read them later. I developed my “style,” kind of a connected printing, combining elements of cursive and printing. Family and friends immediately recognize a letter from me and I have received many compliments on my “good” handwriting. (So there, Sr. Michael! LOL!).

    Imagine my surprise when my oldest brought home his first workbook for writing–it was D’Nealian, which ends up looking a lot like the way I now write. I was merely a generation ahead of my time!

  • Jeannine

    Speaking as a college composition teacher, I am starting to see students who can’t read my written comments (in cursive) on their papers. The alternatives, hand printing or typing, take much longer for me, a serious problem when I have to grade 75-100 papers.

  • Stefanie

    I had beautiful Catholic -school handwriting until I went to college and took shorthand. When I realized I didn’t have to write every letter, that ruined it for me as a discipline. (the timing was right, of course — the rebellious college years)
    Now I do a weird kind of writing which is partially printed lettering and partial cursive. It took me years to learn to writing my married last name and after 31 years at it, it STILL looks like I used a stick to write it.
    I just tried to remember how to really write cursive — it was a trial. I have forgotten so many letters! Especially the capital letters!!!!
    That being said, I do “handwrite” all my notes everyday (in my bible, prayer book, when I don’t have a computer available — like when I’m doing research at a bookstore or coffee shop). It’s just not the proper cursive style.

  • Joe

    I hate to tell you but I found this out about 5years ago while attending a leadership class with our local city and ran into my 8th grade english teacher and she said at that point they hadn’t been teaching cursive in classrooms for sometime … now I am also a genealogist along with your statement about messages in a bottle … what will they do about old documents … they won’t even be able to sign their own name. But in public schools they are teaching elementary students that being homosexual is perfectly accepted as and a choice they will be faced with in their lives … now when I went through elementary school they were just starting to teach sex ed at that level and you had to have your parents read the material and sign off … not anymore and this new way of teaching is now being done without the parents awareness

  • KyPerson

    Penmanship was the bane of my existence in grade school. I was naturally left handed, but forced to write with my right hand (a common practice back then). My cursive was and is very hard to read. As soon as I could, I began to print and continued to do so to this day. I must say, my printing is easy to read and has my own individual style too. I am no cursive worshipper.

  • Nan Jay Barchowsky

    There is another “cursive,” that draws comments about its fine appearance. It is called italic cursive.

    One of the rules for conventional cursive is that one must not lift the pen within words. Look again at the “I am Special” sample, and note where the pen made small lifts. If just this one rule were deleted, it would become far easier for students to achieve good handwriting. Although I am a specialist who advocates the italic method, it would also help if children started out with conventional cursive so that there would be no need to learn two diverse systems of movement.

  • Will

    Back in the old days, I often made several attempts at typing papers correctly (without whiteout) before I got it right.

  • Cathy J

    Take heart: my 5th grade was taught penmanship in the 2nd and 3rd grades–the Zaner-Bloss method, if you want to know. Massachusetts is apparently one of the few states left that still requires it. It was lovely in 2nd grade, but she’s slipping a bit, we need to work on it this summer.

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

    Too funny! Especially with the acronym and shorthand and lack of punctuation. Not sure if that was intended, but it was a brilliant touch. :)

  • Nicky

    As an amateur graphologist, pretty is not necessarily an attribute and I think the many variations of one’s hand are so interesting when “changed up” as we mature. Anchoress, I am a devotee of your writing but just saying…

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I’m going to go do a victory dance now. I’ve been arguing with parents for years that cursive was important–both for brain development and because students should be able to read original historical documents. Our local school district here does teach it, but few teachers after third grade require students to use it, so their skills degrade.

    When I still taught in a nearby district, not only did parents tell me how useless cursive was, they also told me how silly it was to spend time teaching spelling. After all, computers have spell-check! *sigh*

  • Jo

    I guess at the very least, paleography won’t be dead yet for many a generation :)

    If you want to take in a fun read about handwriting culture, I highly recommend Philip Hensher’s “The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting and Why It Still Matters.”

  • Citizen Director

    I learned the Palmer method too and am forever grateful to and admiring of the teacher who made us do those circles “with your whole arm” over and over. Loved it and I like my own handwriting, although have to spend more time on it thanks to keyboards replacing my handwritten strokes!


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