Should Cursive Go the Way of the Dinosaur?

Cursive Writing

Photo by JPPI on morguefile.com.

Since Common Core Standards require the teaching of legible writing in only kindergarten and first grade, the possibility of cursive writing becoming extinct has spawned discussion about its value.

As a child, I remember the eager anticipation of learning cursive. It was as if I were being introduced to a secret language, one known only to adults and older children. In my mind, it was second only to using invisible ink.

I learned proper penmanship with the Palmer Method, which if this video is correct, was a Catholic school thing. (I was taught by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.)

To this day, I love the speed and fluidity of cursive. I love the feel of the pen in my hand. I’ve long kept journals written exclusively in cursive.

There are plenty of reasons children should learn cursive. There are even biological and psychology benefits of learning cursive. The New York Times article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” highlights the disparate benefits of learning and using cursive. However, it’s the less empiric reasons given in this New York Times article from 2011, “The Case for Cursive,” that resonate with me.

In the article, a New York elementary school principal asks, “Is cursive really a 21st-century skill?”

Is cursive really a 21st-century skill?

Hard to say, isn’t it? We’ve got eighty-five years to go this century. The world can change dramatically in eighty-five years. Perhaps I’ve watched too many shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Falling Skies,” “Revolution,” and other post-apocalyptic fiction, but you just never know when you might actually need to communicate without relying on a device.

So, is it a 21st century skill? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Is it a HUMAN skill? Absolutely.

The comments made by University of Portland Professor Richard Christen at the end of the article strike the deepest chord with me. He says, “These kids are losing time where they create beauty every day. But it’s hard for me to make a practical argument for it. I’m not one who’s mourning it because of that; I’m mourning the beauty, the aesthetics.”

We cannot quantify beauty, but we know what it is, and we know it has value. After college, I took a community college course on calligraphy. I reveled in using a real pen and ink. In creating the strokes of letters so that their aesthetic beauty matched the innate beauty of their sounds and meaning. Inspired by my obsessive love for S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and its movie adaption, I carefully scripted the words of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” on golden parchment.

Your handwriting – and its beauty – are a unique expression of who you are. Unlike your fingerprints, however, your handwriting is fluid, varying according to your physical or emotional state. I learned this lesson best at the side of my maternal aunt, who was an amateur handwriting analyst.

My mother was one of ten children, but she had only one living sister. My Aunt Ann lived three states away, and her infrequent visits were highly anticipated. One of the highlights of her visits was the time she spent analyzing handwriting. She willingly pored over page-length samples of writing supplied by family members, friends, and even some of my elementary school teachers. As if by magic (as it seemed to me at the time), she could discern personality traits, emotions, and even physical pain through graphology.

What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?

Handwriting analysis even played a significant role in solving the Lindbergh kidnapping. (Scroll down the FBI link for the analysis of Bruno Richard Hauptmann’s ransom notes.)

So, should cursive handwriting go the way of the dinosaur?

Yes, if you consider the dinosaur, extinct  for sixty-five million years and not equipped for 21st century life,  lives on in both in our natural history and our imaginations. (My little boy can attest to that.) Not everything that outlives its supposed “usefulness” should go away. There is value in what has gone before, what is unique and beautiful. There is value in what captures the imagination and gives form to the unique essence of a human being.

dinosaur boy

Dinosaurs: Gone but not forgotten.

5 thoughts on “Should Cursive Go the Way of the Dinosaur?

  1. My children were all required to use cursive through grade 8 (Catholic school). My older son, though, at 23, signs his name by printing. His handwriting is AWFUL. But they all know how to do it. Kids in our local public school no longer learn it.

    I remember a conversation with my older son’s second-grade teacher. She was a Sister, close to retirement age, but she kept up on all the latest educational research and was an amazing teacher. She told me that she used to start teaching cursive early in second grade rather than waiting until second semester as was the custom, because she had learned that students struggling with reading were often helped by learning cursive. I don’t have early-childhood or reading-education background, but it had something to do with seeing linked letters such as digrahs or consonant blends ACTUALLY LINKED when the words were written in cursive. That conversation was a long time ago, but I’d trust Sister on that issue completely.

  2. I remember learning cursive writing when I was in third grade. I wrote papers in cursive. I wrote letters in cursive. I’m out of practice, but I’m trying to get back into the habit. I want my kids to learn cursive. It’s a lost art. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, but I think it’s useful to have.

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