The End of Cursive?:
The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the rapidly declining practice of teaching cursive writing in schools. I'm with Kos that this development is a good thing; I tend to think that cursive writing is a fairly silly thing to teach in a computer age, and I'm glad it isn't receiving the attention it once did.
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Orin Kerr: secret Kossack?
10.11.2006 10:57pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Out of curiosity, why link to Kos? According to the article, it seems to be a majority opinion... Hardly seems like the kind of thing you'd have to go out of your way to find agreement on. Equal opportunity linking? Did you think "Hey... I agree with something Kos said... better link him quick while the opportunity lasts?"

Not that I object or anything... I just sort of doubt you're a regular reader.
10.11.2006 11:02pm
Nobody Special:
Don't you know that in high school your teachers won't accept anything that isn't written with a pen IN CURSIVE?

One of the perennial bullshit lies told by grade school teachers.
10.11.2006 11:14pm
Some standardized tests (I can't remember whether it was the GRE or the GMAT where I got hit with this) require you to copy a paragraph of "I promise not to cheat" onto your registration form, and for some reason they require you to write it in cursive.
10.11.2006 11:22pm
nrein1 (mail):
As I was reading that piece my first thought was whether the positive effects they attributed to cursive actually had anythign to do with cursive and rather with writing and forming sentences in general.

In reference to the lead of that article, as someone who teaches SAT prep, I tell my students not to write in cursive because many of the graders have difficulty reading it and may hold this against them.
10.11.2006 11:23pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
LSAT does. I remember my room taking over twenty minutes to finish it. I couldn't remember how to form some of the capital letters.
10.11.2006 11:23pm
liberty (mail) (www):
for some reason my signature came out of a bizarre way i once learned to make a capital G in cursive.. noone else ever could read it... i don't think cursive is ever used in real life
10.11.2006 11:38pm
Le Messurier (mail):
Ahh yes, the uneducated man. If you don't use it what's the point? I know I don't use Algebra so why did they teach it? OK, so you can say that it teaches me to think and writing cursive doesn't. Yes, but by being able to write cursive means I can read it. What a concept! And I can write my name! Personally, my hand writing (cursive) is an abomination, but I'd rather have poor hand writing than look like a schmuck by writing everything in block letters.
10.11.2006 11:46pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
This "look like a schmuck" business is false consciousness.
10.11.2006 11:47pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
Ahh yes, the uneducated man. If you don't use it what's the point? I know I don't use Algebra so why did they teach it? OK, so you can say that it teaches me to think and writing cursive doesn't. Yes, but by being able to write cursive means I can read it. What a concept! And I can write my name!

If I learn Klingon I'll be able to understand Klingon...
10.11.2006 11:51pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
I think we should teach recursive writing, where you never say anything new and just refer to things that have already been said over and over. It would help prepare people for careers in politics and academia.
10.11.2006 11:58pm
I was disappointed that no one seems to have pointed out the benefits of this development to designing a curriculum that doesn't shove a huge percentage of boys toward ADHD drugs. Cursive writing, although not the first, is one of the more dramatic examples of a requirement ill-suited to boys' personalities and, perhaps more pressingly, physical development. It's almost always pushed at an age when girls have significantly better fine motor skills and patience than boys have and usually is taught in a fashion meant to frustrate / humiliate boys who think fast but don't have the motor skills to keep up.

My sample size is, of course, tiny, my perspective is skewed, and so this is largely annecdotal, but many (most?) of the very smart men (and women) I've met have always had horrible handwriting. (Indeed, illegible writing seems to be a badge of honor among high-end professionals, a trait I find pretty repugnant.) Similarly, many of the boys I knew growing up who gave up on school altogether had horrid handwriting and suffered mightily through penmanship courses. (As relevant, I'm 26 years old.)

Like Orin, Kos, etc., I'm pleased to see it taken off the curriculum. I suppose I'd be disappointed if it died as an art, but seeing as how there are still caligraphers, daguerrotypists, etc., I doubt cursive will disappear altogether.
10.11.2006 11:59pm
Not Yet a Lawyer:
Not teaching cursive writing would be a great idea, if we could be sure that bass-ackwards state bar examiners would let you type the bar exam on computer at a test center within a few hundred miles of home. In July, 2006, I had to write my bar exam in cursive, because, you know, these computers are scary, new-fangled, mystery-machines that the kids use for video games and have nothing to do with the practice of law.
*end rant*
Thank goodness I could still write in cursive. Now I just have to hope that the graders can read it.
10.12.2006 12:06am
All I know is that cursive writing goes faster and that helps with note-taking and essay exams. I have lost the ability to consistently write cursive over the years, and my note-taking ability has suffered as a result.
10.12.2006 12:08am
I remember being in elementary school and wondering why we needed to practice this when books were written in print. I was a good kid, though, and did my work. I haven't used cursive for anything in a long time though.

FWIW, my BA thesis involved reading a lot of handwritten stuff from the 1800s, and they didn't really use cursive either. It was some kind of cursive, but not the kind I learned in the 1980s.
10.12.2006 12:24am
Sarah (mail) (www):
Cursive is the only reason I ever took any notes at all in my classes in college. The teachers invariably talked too fast for me to do much more than write a block letter or two (I can write five or six times faster in cursive than block lettering.) If I hadn't already known how to write in cursive, I would have gone and learned shorthand.

But then, my grandmother had absolutely gorgeous, 1920's-Catholic-schoolgirl handwriting, and I always wanted to emulate it. When I began homeschooling I begged my mom for penmanship lessons, and now I do calligraphy (once this academic term is over, I'm going to start up with actual dip pens, as the cartridges tend to explode all over my pens.)

I find that little boys (under 9) do much better with cursive (and printing) if you let them do very large letters. As a bonus, if you have them drawing out 1' letters with a big stick of chalk, they also get some exercise. For the same reason, when I teach Sunday School all of our true/false quizzes involve running back and forth across a room, rather than checking little boxes.

Anyway, it's fairly silly to assert that "in the computer age" we don't need paper based communications at all (which is the assumption at the heart of "yay for computers, cursive is silly" arguments, I think.) I used to get yelled at for misreading my stepmother's bad handwriting (most often displayed in shopping lists -- I bought "cottage cheese" instead of "cat food" once, which is... well, really bad.) And whenever we have a sign-up list at church I end out having to call out "who signed up for October 18th?" and write out the person's name next to where they scribbled it down. It's common courtesy, and common sense, to have these skills at your disposal. Moreover, cursive is an easy way to add beauty to one's daily life (though to be fair, I'm also in favor of clean, well-documented codes in programming; there's nothing quite like an easy-to-read work, regardless of the language or medium.)

In the end, I currently don't have kids, and if I do have any they'll probably be homeschooled, and so my hypothetical offspring will do about as much cursive as I can convince them to do, national trends notwithstanding. But still, I think it's a shame, and likely counterproductive, to just abandon skills like this.
10.12.2006 12:31am
Pro-Cursive Dude:
I'm dissappointed by the lack of support for cursive. There is an element of self-expression and elegance in cursive absent from printing. It is an connection with our past; whose giants used cursive to write out the documents that serve as our country's foundation. What a shame if students could no longer read George Washington's letters, or the Constitution.
The new should sweep out the old when it has something significantly better to offer, but doing away with cursive is needlessly cutting ourselves off from the past. Did so many of you truly find it so oppressive a skill to learn?
Plus, it's just faster than printing. So take that.
10.12.2006 1:26am
Cursive is faster and does not make the hand cramp as fast as block..... It think it is silly to not teach. I agree you will never be able to take good notes with block. When I see an adult write like a 2nd grade student in block well lets just say I question their intellectual ability. I guess for todays children it is too hard as learning the multiplication tables and reading a real clock not to mention tying shoes seems to be. And forget being able to count change back to someone. Only people who know how to do that anymore is a real live human bank teller. I remember when it was rude not to count money back appropriately.
10.12.2006 1:33am
Whatever, it's easier and quicker to write, so I'll just be a caveman and continue to use it, I guess.
10.12.2006 2:56am
bigchris1313 (mail):
I'm an undergrad, and the only thing that I write in cursive is my signature. As far as I know, none of my friends write in cursive. At this point, my cursive (outside of my name) seems like such a hassle to write in that I don't even think about using it. Interestingly, some of my writing blends together certain letters. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is the, in which I connect my 'h' to my 'e.' I can't imagine writing in cursive unless it's on a credit card recipt.

Of course, I can still remember 5 years of Catholic grade school and 5 years of Handwriting books. Dear God, was that subject the bane of my existence.
10.12.2006 3:01am
I gave up cursive in like the 3rd grade. The only downside is that if I'm ever called upon to sign another lawyer's name to something (a common practice), my attempt to write their name looks like something a 3rd grader would generate.
10.12.2006 3:21am
douglas (mail):
I think it's funny how many people think they don't write cursive. Most people do, or at least a bastardized version- it's faster and easier on the hand (as has already been pointed out). I write generally in true block letters, but I'm an architect, it's habit. I can tell you, if you have to do much of it (fortunately, I no longer do) it gets real tiring real fast.
There's also the loss of the sense of craftsmanship and the old fashioned notion that we do things not only for ourselves, but for others- we write so someone can read (theoretically at least). If you write sloppily, you don't care much for the poor schmuck who has to read it, do you?
10.12.2006 3:30am
Joe7 (mail):
I wish I could find the references, but double blind studies find that cursive writing is not faster than other forms of writing.

Beyond that, most people have adopted some mutant form of cursive. Even people taught in the "good old days" didn't necesarily have good writing. My mom's cursive is inscrutible. My grandmother's was better, but not by much. My [scientist] dad writes using a block scrawl. I commonly use something in between (I learned that when I wrote really fast in cursive, even I could read what I just wrote.)
10.12.2006 3:37am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
What John and others said -- you need some kind of writing where you don't lift your hand, be it Palmer cursive, or some personal uncial if you're going to be writing quickly.

With my children in elementary school, I find cursive to be very useful in writing notes to teachers -- it's clear that a parent, and not a student, wrote the note. The rare times I write an actual ink-on-paper letter I try to go all the way and use a proper cursive. (I went to public school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so the teachers mostly gave me "Needs Improvement" in penmanship and went on, but eventually my eye-hand coordination caught up and it's not so ugly now, though it's not as nice a proper library hand, or the proper Palmer that my parents learned, or whatever JB's authors did with dipped pens.)
Drafting was a required course in my high school, and eventually I learned a proper block print. It's moderately slow, but folks can generally read things that I print -- now if they'd only stop crossing the 'l' in my last name for me.
FWIW Massachusetts is in a "back-to-basics" mode in education (thanks in good part to John Silber and his MCAS) and my kids are still learning cursive. My left-handed boy is having particular trouble, but my wife is also a southpaw, and I've found that when I have to forge his writing and I use my non-dominant left hand, which lacks the muscle memory, not only does it look like his writing, but I also trace some of the forms "backwards".

I've always found orthography interesting, especially the relationship between block and script in non-Latin alphabets. There is usually some sane explanation for how strokes and pen-up movements in the block became the script such as in an aleph or a Cyrillic н.

My 2nd grade teacher couldn't remember how to make a cursive capital Q (it looks like a numeral 2) and used a cursive capital O with a tail -- I've usually used that form, and it's what my children are taught.
10.12.2006 4:06am
andy (mail) (www):
I'm all for its continued teaching. It only takes a few days to teach, and it's not like there is anything *that* valuable that needs to be pushed off. It's good to teach kids that there is more than one style to something as fundamental as even the written word....okay maybe i'm getting philosophical...but I'm all in favor of keeping it. i hope the written (AND NOT TYPED) word does not disappear from human existence.
10.12.2006 4:58am
pro-cursive gal ha ha:
If it wasn't for cursive, my disabled daughter wouldn't be able to write. She doesn't have the fine motor skills to continually lift her pencil between letters. It'd be sad if children in the future were denied that option.
10.12.2006 5:12am
All through grade school I was forced to write in cursive. Since Junior High the only think other than my name that I've written in cursive is the aforementioned block of text on the LSAT. I've always found printed letters to be easier to write, faster to write and easier to read. But then again, I'm left handed, so the whole "don't have to lift your hand" thing doesn't work when using ink.
10.12.2006 5:51am
Public_Defender (mail):
I frequently regret my inability to write cursive legibly and quickly. I can do it, but it takes time.

People who refuse to learn to write cursive are only hurting themselves. A note written in nicely-written cursive can be far more effective than a typed memo. An emailed or printed thank you note just looks wrong. In a business context, it's easy to email an atta-boy, but a hand-written note shows that the writer really meant it.

Also, with email or typed correspondence, you don't know who really wrote it (did the boss write that emailed attaboy, or did his secretary?). By contrast, very few people can copy someone else's cursive, so you know that a cursive note came from the hand of the person who signed it.

I don't often take the time to write a cursive letter, but when I do, the recipient can tell it was something I thought was important enough to do right.

Cursive is a useful communications tool. You may not use it every day, but it's just stupid to deprive yourself of that tool.
10.12.2006 6:54am
Public_Defender (mail):
The people who refuse to learn cursive remind me of the more people who refuse to learn to use a computer. Both are irrationally depriving themselves of a useful communications tool.

(Sorry for the double post.)
10.12.2006 7:17am
Ken Lammers (mail) (www):
I got a large amount of written correspondence over seven years as a criminal defense attorney. My experience may be atypical, but the quickest indicator of intellectual ability I found in leters was whether they were written in cursive or block letters. I'm not sure that anyone other than those in jail/prison even write letters anymore. Still, if you have call to write a letter I'd suggest using cursive and it would be shameful if we stop teaching it.
10.12.2006 7:18am
Federal Dog:
The bar exam killed my cursive. It was so potentially illegible (when writing quickly) that I didn't dare risk points by writing the exam that way. I even call my block lettering "bar hand" because that's how I got into the habit of writing that way.
10.12.2006 8:21am
The argument that it's a "form of communication" of which we should not "deprive ourselves" is utterly idiotic. There are at least two forms of graffiti letter writing (both reproducible by pen and paper) that are striking and distinctive. They, too, are "forms of communication." Are those who don't know them "depriving themselves" just as much as if they were unable to use a computer? Surely not.

It strikes me that the cursive advocates have a threefold fallacious argument. (1) The ad hominem attack that people who do not write cursive ARE stupid, which is put to lie by the fact that most high-level professionals write in shorthand, not traditional cursive. (2) The conflation of education with intelligence that claims that people who write in print APPEAR stupid when, at most, they would appear uneducated. (3) The argument from tradition that since we've always used it, we should continue to.

None of these is remotely persuasive. The cursive students are taught to write in school hardly resembles the script used in the 18th century. I can read the Constitution -- or a Shakespeare folio) far better than could the beautiful penmen and -women I've met over the years. Cursive opens no new avenues of learning to you, regardless of how elegant an art it may be.

Second, regardless whether it's faster (which is debatable), most students now take notes with computers (or, if not, by shorthand), and encouraging verbatim notetaking is silly anyway.

Third, and most importantly, teaching cursive wastes valuable class time and turns students off to learning. If you want to teach them another means of communication, teach them a foreign language. If you want to teach them an art, make it an elective art class that gifted students can skip to learn how to use computers. While the cursive writers are illegibly scrawling their way through time, smart kids can stretch their minds, not their hands.
10.12.2006 9:10am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
PD: No one's "refusing to learn" cursive. It's still taught in gradeschool, isn't it? If not, it's not due to any refusal on the part of 3rd graders. The trouble is people just don't find it useful anymore and don't use it. Since I haven't written anything in cursive since about 7th grade, I can no longer do it. It's not a skill I'll particularly miss, but best of luck to the preservationists.
10.12.2006 9:11am
Those complaing about learning how to write (writing is the correct word for what one does with cursive; printing is not the same thing) remind me of the old Beach Boys song about surfing: "Those who can't just have to put it down."

I had poor marks in handwriting as a child, and continued to have awful handwriting through most of my life. Every time I had to write an inscription in a birthday card or a thank-you note this would bother me, until I decided to practice writing until my penmanship improved. This paid off because it occurred at exactly the time in my life when I met my wife and suddenly wanted to start sending love letters.

Actual writing is becoming rarer with the continued expansion of computers and email, but that just makes a written letter all the more special. Why wouldn't you want to be able to send one?
10.12.2006 9:13am
I hated writing in cursive. To this day, I print when I have to write by hand, and I don't think it ever held me back from effective note-taking in school.

Interestingly, when I learned Russian, they made us write in cursive, and I had no problem picking that up quickly. Our prof emphasized that "Russians are proud of their penmanship", and thus graded us on ours.
10.12.2006 9:35am
MDJD2B (mail):
Hospital charts are still handwritten in most places. Ilegibility is a problem-- for doctors more than for nurses. Meidcal information systems that allow computer entry of notes are expensive and slow. It takes time to upload the right part of the right record. On our OB service, we recently installed a computerized medical record. The notes turn out to be sketchier, and loading up the place on the computer record to make the entry takes a lot of time. Furthermore, you never can install enough terminals to accommodate all the doctors who are trying to make rounds a the same time. Maybe the hospital record will remain as a sanctuary for the continued employment of handwriting.
10.12.2006 10:00am
Anyone who's upset that cursive isn't being taught to their kids can just teach their kids how to do it themselves. You know, God forbid parents should try to teach their kids something outside of school. Problem solved.
10.12.2006 10:37am
Spartacus (www):
NotYetALawyer: I refused to type the bar in July 2006, and I printed every word of the essay components (which are extensive in my state). Not block print--I do use upper and lower case. Do they require you to write the whole exam (in cursive) if not typed in some states?

Also, I can write comfortably, quickly and legibly in cursive, which I learned in grammar school, but prefer print, which I can do more quickly. I'm glad I learned cursive, and still use it for style on, e.g., business Christmas cards. I don't really care what they teach in school, because if I deem it important enough, I will teach it to my kids myself. Anyone who relies heavily on (public) schools to teach their children anything is deluded. They are essentially state-sponsored day care.
10.12.2006 11:37am
Spartacus (www):
I see FantasiaWHT pre-empted one of my latter comments before I posted.
10.12.2006 11:39am
musterion (mail):
Ugh, cursive. I gave it up when I couldn't read my own. As opposed to a few previous comments, I can write MUCH faster printing than I can cursive. I took notes in college printing.
I'm sure everyone has anecdotal evidence on both sides, your (or mine, for that matter) experience isn't normative. By all means teach how to write, but teach how to do it legibly regardless.
10.12.2006 11:48am
Houston Lawyer:
After working almost exclusively on a computer for the last 16 years or so, I can't compose a sentence in long-hand. I just looked at my notes and determined that I print about half the time and write in cursive the other half.

My hand-writing has always been bad, and I was sometimes forced to print my exams as far back as high school.

A number of years ago, a good friend of mine lost her pregnancy. I searched in vain for a card expressing my thoughts and gave up and bought some stationary. After about seven tries, I composed a thoughtful hand-written note that met with my satisfaction. That note would have looked juvenile if it had been printed. So I equate cursive writing with good manners. You can get by without it, but you shouldn't.
10.12.2006 12:17pm

The only downside is that if I'm ever called upon to sign another lawyer's name to something (a common practice)

Nice to know lawyers take it upon themselves to forge signatures on a regular basis.
10.12.2006 12:17pm
fplass (mail):
May I offer the reminder that the relevant question is not whether cursive writing should be taught or not,...

...but whether there is some other skill that students should possess and that is not being taught because the time is used up by teaching cursive writing.

Surely we can all imagine instances in which cursive writing may be tremendously useful. But is cursive writing more useful than other things that could be taught instead?

Ah, the simple but always useful concept of opportunity cost.
10.12.2006 12:21pm
Colin (mail):
Nice to know lawyers take it upon themselves to forge signatures on a regular basis.

Hey, other people's checks don't sign themselves.
10.12.2006 12:38pm
Surely we can all imagine instances in which cursive writing may be tremendously useful. But is cursive writing more useful than other things that could be taught instead?

The point of the article is that something is being lost by NOT teaching cursive:

The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better -- a lifelong benefit.

Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George's County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills.

Perhaps one could argue that there is a better way to develop these fine motor skills and cognitive abilities, but it seems clear that keyboarding skills should take second place to writing at the early ages.
10.12.2006 1:03pm
My cursive is abyssmal. I use it infrequently because in order to ensure its legibility, I need to slow down to the point where I could block write just as quickly.

But there is something about a form of written communication that is both formal (more formal than block printing) and personal (more personal than a typed note). It is valuable to learn that style for the times when you will want to, say, write a thank-you note, or send a condolence card.

Just as there is a literary style between what is highly appropriate for IM culture (even though I avoid it myself, I recognize something like "how r u" to be a legitimate style of communication) and a business letter, there is an intermediate penmanship style.

And someone else said that if you don't learn it, you can't read it. Enough people who speak and write the same language still use it with enough regularity that it's worthwhile to at least understand it.
10.12.2006 1:05pm
bob montgomery:
Public schools teach so much stupid crap that it is amusing to read the vehemence of folks that are opposed to kids learning cursive - a skill that, though certainly not essential, can be useful and beautiful. Unlike 75% of the other stuff that elementary schools teach, which is neither essential, useful, nor beautiful, but at best time-wasting and at worst state propaganda.
10.12.2006 1:08pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I stopped writing cursive when I couldn't read my writing anymore. As for taking notes, I agree. In the middle of college I stopped taking notes and started listening. I developed the habit of listening well to what the professor was saying, instead of trying to write it all down, and did better. I didn't take a singe note through all of law school, and if I had, I wouldn't have been able to read any of them by semester's end anyways.
10.12.2006 1:13pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
For the ones who don't lide the idea of losing a "form of communication": isn't it a shame that they aren't teaching morse code and semaphore?
10.12.2006 1:16pm
Cursive is much faster, but the same can be said of learning short-hand.

More interesting perhaps is that modern cursive is really a 20th century creation. Most schools teach "American Standard Cursive" which dates to the 1920s.

This is why--in case you've wondered--why many only cursive documents are nearly illegible.
10.12.2006 1:43pm
Sigivald (mail):
DJR: I submit that marking letters on a page is "writing", no matter the letterforms used. The Romans wrote, and did not use cursive.

Bob: I assure you I'm also opposed to teaching all that other stupid crap. I'm surprised by the vehemence in favour of cursive, which realistically is never essential anymore, and in practice is almost never beautiful, since the vast, vast majority won't care and don't keep in practice. Unless the entire educational system requires beautiful cursive, there's no incentive for the vast majority to put that sort of effort into it... and I don't think such a requirement is going to happen.

Jeek: Nothing in that study seems to indicate that it's the cursive nature of the handwriting practice that made their speed and other benefits accrue. I submit that an equal amount of time spent on making their block-writing faster and more regular, or teaching them shorthand, would most likely have a similar effect (time for a new study).

(Those who favor cursive for its speed should favour teaching shorthand, no? [Full disclosure: I know no shorthand at all, so I'm not pushing it as a convert or anything; it just answers the objection well.]

The main strength, that I can tell, of cursive is that - if done very well - it's quite attractive. The problem, of course, being that in practice nobody but a dedicated few do it very well.

I don't see that as a great reason to require everyone to spend time learning and practicing it, any more than I think everyone should be required to learn calligraphy, even though I did so for fun, and quite enjoyed it.)
10.12.2006 1:45pm
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick (www):
This is anecdotal, I realize, but I know several 1Ls who were SHOCKED to find out that they were supposed to have written that part of the LSAT in cursive, and not print it. Nonetheless, they (being 1Ls) obviously passed the LSAT, and I think it's clear that they don't care.
10.12.2006 2:11pm
Colin (mail):
isn't it a shame that they aren't teaching morse code and semaphore?

... . -- .- .--. .... --- .-. . / .. ... / ..-. --- .-. / .-.. --- ... . .-. ...
10.12.2006 2:12pm
Randy R. (mail):
I can't believe the hostility to writing in cursive! This is quite a surprise to me. I guess everyone assumes that everyone in the world uses computers all the time for everything.

That simply isn't so. Perhaps in the middle class of America, it is going that way, but we still have a ways to go. Even at my old job as a lawyer for the gov't, the judges would write notes in the margin of my memos. It's very efficient, and better than having them type out something.
Someone mentioned medical records being written. This is also true.
But what about people who don't have access to computers all the time? Yes, Virginia, it's true -- some people don't use or even like computers. Go around the world sometime, and you will find that the majority of people don't type, and still handwrite their words.

Teaching cursive is an important part of learning hand/eye coordination, and I'm not sure that merely typing achieves the same effect.

I'm all in favor of the old fashioned arguments that people think are silly, but it's really the practical ones that I'm concerned about. What do you do when the electricity goes out? Do you really want to type out a note, print it out, and then post it on the fridge for the wife to see? How much simpler to just write it!

People have grown up with the notion that anything on the computer must be better, faster, easier, more effficient, more accurate, whatever. In some cases, that's true, in other's, not.
10.12.2006 2:28pm
Randy R. (mail):
I suspect that we will continue on this way for some time, though. Writing cursive will become obsolete, and few will use it. Then there will be inevitable revival, and it will become fashionable again. Once we completely give over to computers, you can bet that at some point, it will become tres chic to write a paper in cursive.

One thing I have found, though, is that writing in cursive is slower than typing. I think that's a good thing -- it forces me to think more carefully about what I'm writing. Any idiot (and we've seen that countless times on the VC) can type out sentences that go on and on. But the intelligent writer composes his thoughts carefully while committing them to paper.

(The above statements should no doubt prove that my typing falls into the 'any idiot' category. Oh, if only I could cursively write out my invective! Then you'd all be convinced beyond doubt.)
10.12.2006 2:34pm
Randy R. (mail):
And we haven't even gotten to the joys of writing with a fountain pen!
10.12.2006 2:35pm
NickM (mail) (www):
My cursive is significantly faster than my printing. It's narrow and angular, but legible (I'm a lefthander and learned Palmer method in school).

I do far more typing than writing, but there are plenty of times when typing is impractical.

I think handwriting is too important a skill not to teach.


All through college and law school I took notes directly into the margin of the textbook (or on the handouts). It saved me from writing down things that were already printed there (highlighters worked well for that), and
10.12.2006 2:38pm
I developed the habit of listening well to what the professor was saying, instead of trying to write it all down, and did better.

Yeah, but I listen better if I take notes - taking notes tends to prevent the mind from wandering.

I submit that an equal amount of time spent on making their block-writing faster and more regular, or teaching them shorthand, would most likely have a similar effect

Oh sure, I don't think cursive is necessary to improve neuromotor skills, just "writing by hand" of some sort or another.

What do you do when the electricity goes out? Do you really want to type out a note, print it out, and then post it on the fridge for the wife to see? How much simpler to just write it!

The lights are out, so it's too dark to write. =)
10.12.2006 2:39pm
Ben Brumfield (www):

At least some of the hostility to cursive comes from those of us whose natural manual dexterity is abyssmal and who struggled through cursive instruction and required cursive throughout school.

I can't speak to anyone else's experience, but submitting papers and exams in cursive was required through high school Only the word processor rescued me from the slow and frustrating effort required to produce a scrawl so illegible it became legendary. Teachers actually warned each other about my writing. Reading this thread reminds me how much I hated writing in cursive, as I find myself wanting to descend into profanity to describe it.

My cursive cannot keep pace with my thoughts, and is never, ever legible. Print may be just as slow, but at least I can read it the day after I wrote it. "Cursive is more expressive"? Feh. The English language is expressive, not the hand that records it. Furthermore, lettering offers more tools for expression than even well-executed cursive does. Just try using uppercase for emphasis in cursive, and you'll see what I mean.

I'm not opposed to cursive itself -- though I do find American Standard unlovely compared to Hebrew cursive or Suetterlin -- but I'd prefer students do the rope climb each day over requiring cursive for schoolwork. I'd have found that just as painful and humiliating, but I might have actually acquired a useful skill.
10.12.2006 2:59pm
Do you think there's no point in teach arithmetic since we have calculators?
10.12.2006 3:23pm
timekeeper (mail) (www):
After 19 years in the military, in which *everything* has to be written in block letters (excepting one's signature), it is second nature for me to write most corrospondence and personal notes in such a fashion. However, unlike most of my co-workers, whose illegible scrawlings drive me to distraction, my block writing is neat and precise (albeit small). My cursive writing (on the very few occasions in which I employ it) is not nearly as easy to read, even though I write in a fashion very similar to what I learned in school in the 1970's. Careful block printing is often easier to read than cursive, which is one of the reasons the military is so big on using it for watch logs and other documentation.
10.12.2006 4:35pm
anonymousblogger (mail):
Am I the only one who writes his name in cursive, and even then has trouble? I always worry when a bank or whatever checks my signature against an original, because it never comes out the same.
10.12.2006 5:13pm
Just as an aside... Students who are dyslexic are generally taught cursive because it is a lot harder to mix up b's and d's or p's and q's... Also students with language based learning disabilities on the autism spectrum do learn words faster when taught to write them in cursive because they pick up on the kinetics of each word easier than of each letter... I've known lots in the latter group who can write words quite well, and who can read and explain them, but can't spell them...
10.12.2006 5:15pm
Holy crap! I've been offending everyone with my juvenile, printed thank you notes for decades. I may as well have burped at the dinner table and folded my napkin neatly when I left the table.

I challenge any of the people saying that writing in cursive is faster than printing to a duel. How could it possibly be faster to include a bunch of superfluous flourishes and loop-de-loops?

I don't know if you simians can't move your hand and pick up and put down a writing implement at the same time, but I can. Oh yes, you'll get your comeuppance.
10.12.2006 6:24pm
Also, I'd say that many or even most people don't sign their name in cursive. It's more of an abstract insignia, or one legible capital letter followed by a squiggly line, at best.
10.12.2006 6:28pm
A Guest:
I was so happy to read this article and realize that I was ahead of the curve. Back in about 1974, when my elementary school teacher was teaching us to write in cursive, I refused. As a second grader, I thought it was completely ridiculous to have to learn another way of writing when we had just finished figuring out printing. I never changed my mind, and never learned cursive. The only thing I sort of write is my signature, which is well-nigh illegible.

A funny codicil to this is that when I went to close the mortgage for my first house, I signed, as I always do, with my first and last name. The escrow person told me I needed to include my middle initial as it was on the mortgage docs. I had to ask how to write that letter ;-)
10.12.2006 6:39pm
Cyrus (www):
Nice to know lawyers take it upon themselves to forge signatures on a regular basis.

JohnAnnArbor, it's not forgery, so long as you clearly note that you're signing on their behalf, and you have the authority to do so. It's standard practice, and accepted by the courts, and there's no funny business.
10.12.2006 7:50pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
In the spirit of this thread, and in honor of Columbus Day, everything but the quoted material is in Italic...

I submit that marking letters on a page is "writing", no matter the letterforms used. The Romans wrote, and did not use cursive.

I agree, but apparently some people get all worked up about that distinction. (I thought printing is what you do with movable type. And is "block printing" sans-serif all caps, or is it [as used in this discussion] just the type of writing, with minuscules and majuscules that aren't connected [except for a few ligatures]?)

Also, I'd say that many or even most people don't sign their name in cursive. It's more of an abstract insignia, or one legible capital letter followed by a squiggly line, at best.

Yup. I can write my name in cursive, but my "mark" is a squiggle based only vaguely on those forms. I often print my name somewhere near the signature. I ran into a problem with this, which I reported on the 'net in 1990 -- follow the link for the entire affair, and thankfully I posted that before I started using "x-no-archive: no" which Google (unlike Deja) treats as though I'd meant to say "x-no-archive: yes", back in 1983:

DC: Hi! Now that I shaved and got contacts I no longer look like the picture on my license, can I get a new picture taken?
RMV: What for?
DC: Well, the last two times I tried to cash a check, I had trouble.
RMV: Your license isn't for ID, it's for driving.
DC: OK, can I have a photo ID please?
RMV: No, it's against the law to have a driver's license and a photo ID.
DC: Then maybe I should have another picture taken.
RMV: OK, sign your name here.
DC: (Signs name)
RMV: Hey! This doesn't match the signature on your license!
DC: Right. This is my signature, but last time I was here you said my signature was illegible and made me write my name in cursive.
RMV: Well, match that.
DC: (Writes name)
RMV: Where's the S? You didn't sign the S!
DC: I never sign my middle initial.
RMV: But that's your name, sign it.
DC: OK, here it is.
RMV: Good, now fill this out, and then we'll take your picture.

I think I ran into that on my mortgage also, having to sign my middle initial, and my ux had to sign as maiden-hyphen-married, a form she almost never uses otherwise.
10.12.2006 8:52pm
FYI, the cursive "I will not cheat" on standardized tests is there so that there will be handwriting evidence to nail you if you pay someone else to take the test for you. You don't have to write good cursive for this: a really bad approximation of cursive will identify you more effectively than perfect calligraphy.
10.13.2006 12:43am
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
I write almost entirely in an idiosyncratic cursive, with occasional block letters at word-initial and word-terminal positions. (That's something of an oversimplification: I've noticed, on reading my handwriting, that I have about five slightly different forms of "f", for instance. I've never entirely figured out how rule-governed the unconscious choice among them is.) But having had to deal with reading MSS. written in Sütterlinschrift, I can sympathize with anyone who chooses legibility over individuality.
10.13.2006 6:33am
Public_Defender (mail):
I have bad handwriting, but I carefully wrote the bar exam in cursive with a fountain pen. I did just fine.

You aren't "offending" anyone by writing in block letters. But block letters don't have the elegance of a well-written cursive.

Block printing isn't the end of civilization as we know it, but the ability to write in cursive gives you the ability to add a little elegance to a communcation when needed.

At least some of the hostility to cursive comes from those of us whose natural manual dexterity is abyssmal and who struggled through cursive instruction and required cursive throughout school.

I am one of those people, too, but I consider that a weakness.

Actual writing is becoming rarer with the continued expansion of computers and email, but that just makes a written letter all the more special. Why wouldn't you want to be able to send one?

10.13.2006 6:58am
Yankeewombat (mail) (www):
Oh my goodness. What different experiences people have over this skill. I'm mildly dislexic and computers liberated me from trying to compose in cursive. My problem was I thought faster than I could write and I would start editing and lose my thread. It would take hours or days to get it back. For some reason - divine grace perhaps - when I compose at the keyboard my thinking and composing seem to fall into synch - partly because I know I can edit it as much as I want later so I can separate composition and editing. Prior to computers only my wife and the secretary of a sympathetic boss could read my cursive - often when I couldn't. I can still use cursive but its risky - when I want to make sure I print. Even though cursive has been been a negative experience for the most part I'm not sure I want to see it eliminated. I think the points made about differences between the sexes at the age it is commonly taught is worth attention. Boys need fine motor skils too for such things as reassembling cars, and safely diassembling IEDs. And such.
10.13.2006 11:45am
lucia (mail) (www):
... that just makes a written letter all the more special.

The written letter is special to whom?

Rare things aren't necessarily special. Beautifully legible cursive handwriting is rare because few value it. I don't value having it and I don't admire good handwriting in others. Send me a typed letter anyday.
10.13.2006 6:05pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Rare things aren't necessarily special. Beautifully legible cursive handwriting is rare because few value it. I don't value having it and I don't admire good handwriting in others. Send me a typed letter anyday.

Now that's just silly. Good handwriting (especially cursive handwriting) is a skill. I admire people who can make beautiful music, create beautiful artwork, or make delicious meals. Why wouldn't I admire and appreciate a beautifully handwritten letter? Why would I not value the fact that someone went out of their way to make a point.

And, as I said above, if I get a handwritten letter, I can be pretty sure who wrote it. If I get a typed letter, the only thing the author may have done is scrawl his or her name at the end. And a secretary or signature machine might even have done that.
10.13.2006 7:43pm
Randy R. (mail):
Okay, Okay. I get it. I understand how hard it is for some people to write cursive.

I guess my analogy is playing piano. It takes a lot of work and dexterity to learn to play with two hands simultaneously. Some people get it without a problem, others with a struggle, and some never, no matter how hard they work at it.

So to force those who can't do it would probably fall under the new guidelines for torture.

But for those who can do it, why not teach it anyway? Just because some people can't play the piano doesn't mean we should destroy all pianos for everyone.
10.14.2006 10:28am
lucia (mail) (www):
Now that's just silly. Good handwriting (especially cursive handwriting) is a skill.

How is it silly to say rare things aren't necessarily valued? It's simply true.

The fact that something is a skill and requires practice to do well not only doesn't cause people to value that skill, it shouldn't.

Playing the bagpipe well is a skill. Shooting clay pigeons is a skill. Alligator wrestling is a skill. Walking on stilts is a skill. Winning at video games is a skill. Who values everything that takes skill?

For the most part, people value skills only when they value the product itself. When people don't value the product, they consider time spent developing the skill wasted.

You have, however answered my question "hand written letters are valued by whom?" You value them.
10.14.2006 2:49pm
glangston (mail):

Peter Quinn who was a technical consultant for the movie "Gangs of New York" writes in longhand on yellow legal tablets. It took 1000 pages to write his latest book, Hour of the Cat. He tried and failed to adapt to a typewriter. Even though his specialty is History his books are fiction. Asked if he had trouble writing fiction he said no, "most of my previous experience was speech writing for politicians"

I enjoy reading letters in long hand. Well written ones are strangely moving.

Maybe it is in a cycle and will return to favor. Or maybe we'll adapt to reading minds.
10.14.2006 4:41pm
Public_Defender (mail):

You say you would not appreciate a handwritten letter? You are the first person I've heard say that. And failing to appreciate an effort someone makes to show you consideration would be, well, downright inconsiderate.

The skill of writing such a letter may be waning, but that only increases its value.
10.17.2006 6:24am