Teaching kids to write in cursive is on the decline.

At least according to this Indianapolis Star article:

Learning to write in script is a time-honored tradition. But in today’s time-starved classrooms, some around the country are questioning whether, given everything else vying for space in the curriculum and the increasing use of technology, teaching these children cursive is even necessary.

Local teachers say, if nothing else, its emphasis has diminished in recent years.

“Historically, we teach less cursive now,” said Webb, whose class works on handwriting for short periods two to three days each week. “It seems we have more and more standards we need to cover. The emphasis is on science and reading.”

[…] Lisa Jones, who teaches third grade at Edgelea Elementary, said she’s noticed that consequence of the de-emphasis, not just by schools but by society: “The most difficult part for me is that now they can’t read it, because they don’t see it anywhere.”

Like Webb, Jones said she isn’t teaching as much cursive as in the past. Not emphasizing it as much at that grade, however, means by the time they hit fourth grade, they’re not able to write as well.

“I don’t think it will be used as much,” Jones said. “When I was in junior high and high school, our final copies of work had to be handwritten in cursive. Now it’s typed.”

Can’t say I’m too upset by this trend because I’ve never been overly fond of writing in cursive. About the only thing I ever write in cursive is my signature and it’s damned near illegible. As a child I absolutely detested having to learn cursive writing. I can recall asking what was wrong with printing, which I was quite good at, and being told that it wasn’t “proper” writing or something along those lines. That made printing into the underdog, and I have always had a soft-spot for the underdog in any fight, which only made me that much more determined that I’d print whenever I could get away with it. I think part of why I got into computers was so I would have an excuse not to write in cursive and could fake it with a quick font change if need be. These days I print automatically out of pure habit. Though I can, if I sit down and really focus on it, write in cursive that’s readable. It’s a painfully slow and annoying process though so I only tend to do it when challenged to prove that I can.

It seems to me most folks are rubbish at writing in cursive which makes reading anything written in it almost as annoying as writing it myself. Sure there’s some folks who have wonderfully beautiful cursive, but most folks’ efforts at cursive are just this side of being a good reason to through them in a padded cell for fear they’re clinically insane. As far as I’m concerned it’s a writing style that can’t die out fast enough, but then I’m biased toward the underdog.

26 thoughts on “Teaching kids to write in cursive is on the decline.

  1. Can’t say I’m really surprised, just disappointed.  Also, it wasn’t all that good when I was going to school mumblemumblemumble years ago.  I managed to get all the way into college with incredibly terrible handwriting alternating cursive and print depending on my mood.  Even then, I finally had to take it upon myself to practice my cursive handwriting to get better.  I don’t recall any teacher really caring that much as long as I got my message across.  Just about that time, computers became common.  Once computers made it into business, suddenly no one had to handwrite anything anymore.

    If things have deteriorated from THAT, then it’s really bad.  Then again, education has generally deteriorated in the last few decades, so focusing on handwriting doesn’t seem real constructive.

  2. I agree.  Cursive needs to go.  My mother and aunts all use it, and I can’t read their damn writing to save my life, and I was fully indoctrinated into the crap in elementary school, so it’s not like I’ve never seen it.  I think it’s actually a 19th century hold over that just held on because they didn’t have anything better to teach kids in 3rd grade for several months.  I mean, isn’t it better to be able to communicate clearly by using proper spelling and grammar? Oh wait, those are apparently on the decline as well from the way half the people on the internet write.

  3. Cursive was great when everyone wrote with a quill pen and literacy rates hovered around thirty percent. Children’s hands develop at different rates, and I am of cold fury toward those who browbeat children whose fine motor coordination has not caught up, that they cannot write at all unless it’s in cursive. Away with it!

  4. I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad thing for cursive to not be taught anymore, but along with it is a general lack of any writing skill (as opposed to typing) and THAT is a problem, along with a generally lower quality of all education.

    I’m living proof that cursive should not be used unless you know what you’re doing, but writing skill requires a certain amount of manual dexterity beyond simply copying the labels on keyboard keys.  I’ve seen kids who try to print with a pen or pencil who have never had to do anything other than type.  It’s not a pretty sight, but the bottom line is that you have to communicate by writing when you don’t have a keyboard.  Some form of written communication should be emphasized in school, and that is in danger.  I consider that a Bad Thing.

  5. In my school we were taught cursive in 7th grade, IIRC, as part of English.  I do not write well in cursive and got Cs, the only time I’ve ever gotten so low a grade in English.  Obviously I wasn’t trying hard enough, according to the teacher.  We were told that we needed to learn cursive so that we could take notes faster in our other classes – begs the question of why we weren’t taught shorthand, then, but I’ve been out of that mean bitch’s classroom for a long, long time.

    Part of my legibility problem is that I think a lot faster than I can write, so I write letters wrong because I’m no longer thinking of the t but the r, for instance.

    I only know one person with really beautiful handwriting.

  6. If you think cursive is bad… We were taught both cursive and Sütterlin. *retch*gag* Hated the teacher, hated the class.

    On the upside, once we were out of elementary school after 4th grade, the only thing that mattered was whether or not our teachers could read what we wrote and not the writing system. I’m doing a mixture of cursive and printing for as long as I can remember…

    I never understood the point of cursive, other than that it’s a writing system that minimizes the amount of time you have to lift the pen off the paper. Of course, dotting the occasional i and in my case, all those pesky German umlauts moot any advantage cursive may have. I don’t know if it’s faster to write than (pure) printing or in any case faster enough to make a difference in classroom, say, but Neoncat is right—I doubt anybody can keep up with a speaker unless they use one of the shorthand systems, which for obvious reasons isn’t taught in elementary school…

  7. Yeah, shorthand would be the way to go, but of course, it probably would be better if the teacher of the class actually cared enough to go slow enough for everyone to keep up.  I dropped cursive about a year or two after I learned it, though I can still write it if I try (like Les), but I never had any problems keeping up with printing, and I’m left handed! Luckily I did not get to experience the lovely thing where left handed students have to learn to write right handed.  I probably would have been considered an idiot and held back a few grades because I can barely print legibly with my right hand, so cursive would have been way beyond me.

  8. In the days before the invention of the ball-point pen, cursive script was, by far, the best way to write. With a fountain pen, you want to minimise the amount of lifting and lowering because it is at those points where the nib meets or leaves the paper that the majority of blots, splodges and variations in ink density will occur. Furthermore, a well-balanced fountain pen will glide across the paper, requiring really very little effort to write for long periods of time.

    I still write far more legibly in cursive script with a fountain pen than I do by printing with a biro. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be taught, I do see why it shouldn’t be a requirement. Children should be exposed to many different subjects and then be encouraged to excel in those at which they show promise.

  9. I hated fountain pens. We had to use them in elementary school and I got sick and tired of having ink smudges all over myself. Sadly, I can still remember the smell of the stick we used to erase ink.

    You made me look, though. I found one of the two that should still be floating around the house. No ink, which is perhaps just as well.

  10. I write legibly but inconsistently in cursive, which probably has more to do with my training in art than anything else these days. I certainly don’t write in cursive, though occasionally my print can maintain a certain cursive quality or use strangely identifiable cursive-like characters as replacements for less recognizable characters or slower characters in print. Like lower case r’s, they tend to become hatchet-like sometimes in print when I’m writing quickly and I’ll find that I’ve written half of a cursive r, just enough to identify it.

    I took shorthand in high school as well, and while I honestly can’t remember much from that mind-numbing class it’s possible my “cursive shorthand” is actual shorthand. I wouldn’t know these days. What I do know is that invariably people can read my handwriting and considering how little I actually write anything out by hand that’s probably pretty awesome stuff right there.

  11. Printing non-cursive (non-joined) quickly enough and it becomes cursive naturally. Hopefully kids are still being taught how to write with pen(cil) on paper. Lot cheaper than computers…

    Also, fine motor movements and thought-hand-sight connection rubs the brain in nice ways.

  12. I can’t remember ever not writing in cursive (if cursive means what I think it does). It takes about twice as long for me to print, although the results are marginally neater.

  13. I spent a year in the American school system when I was 7. The cursive lessons were utterly baffling to me. In Britain, we learn ‘joined up’ writing, but the letters are drawn basically the same as in printed writing. With cursive, I had to learn arbitrarily different shapes for letters, something I found pretty difficult! In Britain at primary schools, some time is devoted to handwriting lessons, but with more an emphasis on making writing readable than pretty.

  14. A couple years older than Les, not old enough for quills.

    What I’d like to know why we had to learn that $@#%#@#$ Sütterlin. It had already fallen out of use for about twenty years, only of interest if you wanted to read old letters, and other than some incorrigible old people, nobody wrote it anymore.

  15. What I’d like to know why we had to learn that $@#%#@#$ Sütterlin.

    For the same reason I had to learn Cobol and Pascal: To teach us what torture was like. smile

  16. What I’d like to know why we had to learn that $@#%#@#$ Sütterlin. It had already fallen out of use for about twenty years

    My guess would be that, if the education system in Germany is anything like the one here, society changes around it, and it never quite catches up.

  17. What DOF said. In our case, the teacher was elderly and I wonder if this class wasn’t a make-work assignment.

    We did Pascal in high school in an elective computer science class. Cobol was a mandatory course in college and yeah, I was so much <sarcasm>fun</sarcasm>.

  18. Swordsbane: What Les said – I took Cobol and Pascal the same semester in college.  I dropped my Comp Sci minor, since it was all Cobol based, and after getting my first job, I removed it from my resume.  I don’t list Cobol, RPG, or JD Edwards on my resume – it’s like saying you were in an abusive relationship and would like to have another.

    I stopped writing in cursive when I went back to college a few years ago.  When I make a mistake, I try to rewrite it, but considering that cursive requires more “mileage” on the paper, it was slowing me down.  The first time I was in college, I had a manual drafting class (probably one of the last taught in engineering) where we were taught how to print for drafting.  Certainly a lot of engineers (and others) would benefit from it.  I can write faster, more legibly, and with less errors in print than in cursive.  Not to mention my cursive gets sloppier the faster I go.  Makes my notes a hell of a lot cleaner. 

    In elementary school, learning cursive was a kind of milestone, in that you could write things that the younger kids couldn’t read, and made you feel older.  Come to think of it, so did using ink pens.  We weren’t allowed to use ink pens until 6th grade, IIRC.  Once that happened, EVERYBODY used pens, since it too was a mark of being older.  Paper-mate erasable pens were still new at the time, so they were a big thing.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I was back to writing with a (mechanical) pencil due to math and physics. 

    I hated the handwriting books we had to write in in elementary.  They were made of crappy paper that didn’t take pencil lead too well.  My fifth grade teacher always chewed my ass for not writing dark enough.  As a result, to get a dark mark I had to sharpen the pencil to a needle point, which then had a tendency to rip the paper(points off again), or constantly wet(lick) the lead if the point was rounded.

  19. Joined-up writing – whether it be cursive or Sütterlin – is an artefact of the tools used to make it.

    Babylonian needs a wedge shaped papyrus in clay.

    Oggham needs a knife and a tree trunk (which is why it is written vertically).

    Ideograms need a brush or a stick.

    Runes need a chisel.

    Braille can be written with the end of your nose??

    Given these tool dependencies, I’ve often wondered why Klingon is not “written” with an battle-axe.

  20. Cursive is kind of therapeutic for me.  Depends on my mood whether I use it or not for normal things but sometimes it feels nice to just glide the pen across the paper to form words.  I have tons of scratch paper with miscellaneous things written on them because it just felt like something I needed to do at the time. 

    That said, I don’t know how much emphasis should be placed on it in schools but I think it should be offered.  I don’t see too many parents sitting down to teach their kids what could be considered a form of art.

  21. I’m one of those weirdos who after I was taught cursive in 3rd grade or so used nothing else…

    For a long while I damn near was incapable of writing in anything else but cursive.

    Having said all that my cursive has never been neat nor totally legible. I just enjoy using it because it’s much faster and has the added benefit of although being readable it takes some effort. I swear high school teachers and college professors must have looked at my densely scribbled in-class essays and thought something like “Wow! I can’t give this guy a failing grade because it is readable but at the same time I sure as hell don’t want to read it… B+”

  22. I used to have the most beautiful cursive handwriting (circa age 10), but those days are long gone. Now I just embarrass myself every time I have to sign my name. It often looks like the hand of someone suffering a stroke. One time I was staying at a hotel and had to sign my name for verification purposes. Well, I ended up losing my key and, because I did not have identification on me, I needed to resign my name for the desk clerk to compare handwriting samples. Well, guess what? I failed. Since I write in cursive so infrequently anymore (and because I’ve all but completely forgotten how to form a good percentage of the alphabet in cursive), my signature changed over the course of a few hours to the point that it was unrecognizable.

    Ooooon the other hand, it’s always sad to see a beautiful art form fade into oblivion.

  23. You learn something new every day… I had no idea American schools wasted so much time missing the point so spectacularly.

  24. Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter?

    Legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility.
    Further research shows that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia or dysgraphia.
    (Sources for all research are available on request.)

    The fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. Highest speed and legibility in handwriting belong to those who join some letters, not all: joining the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

    Reading cursive still matters — but this is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Simply reading cursive can be taught in just 30-60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There’s even an iPad app teaching how. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download: appstore.com/readcursive )

    Teaching material for more practical handwriting abounds.
    Some examples, often with student work: BFHhandwriting.com, handwritingsuccess.com, briem.net, HandwritingThatWorks.com, italic-handwriting.org, studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html )

    Educated adults are quitting cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a cursive textbook publisher. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    When even most handwriting teachers don’t use cursive, why exalt it?

    Cursive’s devotees sometimes claim that cursive justifies anything said or done to promote it. They state (in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it lets your brain work, that it creates proper grammar and spelling, that it teaches etiquette and patriotism and reasoning, or that it does anything else educationally imaginable. Some invoke research: citing studies that turn out to ne misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    That eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are made — under oath — in testimony to school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. Proposals for cursive are, without exception, introduced by legislators or others whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — though investigative reporting does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill. (Documentation on request: I’m glad to speak to anyone interested in bringing this serious issue before the public.)
    By now, you probably wonder: “What about signatures?” Brace yourself: in any nation, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over other kinds. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
     Questioned document examiners (specialists in identification of signatures, verification of documents, etc.) tell me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Calling for cursive to support handwriting is like calling for top hats and crinolines to support the art of tailoring.

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

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