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“Happy for cursive writing to go the way of the dodo”

In a June episode, we asked you whether you thought cursive should be taught in schools. In an age where keyboarding classes are more common, and hand-writing anything beyond a signature seems to be a rare event, is there a place for the Palmer Method? Will cursive (also known simply as handwriting, or, in the U.K., joined-up writing) go the way of the copybook?

I was surprised there weren’t more responses in support of teaching handwriting. Typical is this tweet from Nancy Robinson in Houston: “Cursive is art! Not relevant or necessary to everyday communication!”

Dino Sarma in New York City agrees:

Personally, I see cursive writing as one of those annoying vestigial organs of our collective experience that is fading quickly (and I’m heartily glad of it).

When I was in grade school, and we were being taught cursive writing, it was my least liked subject. The problem comes (for me), because I read more than one language fairly easily.

In Hindi, most people’s writing is actually in print letters. If you’ve seen handwriting for Hindi, it’s very beautiful, even when a “normal” person is writing it. It’s all in print. In Tamil, however, which I also read, there is a cursive form, and it looks disgusting.

I’m used to the neat, rounded letters that I learned to use while growing up, as are most of the people in my generation. They’re not huge fans of my parents’ generation’s cursive , which looks rushed, and ugly.

The same goes for English, which is difficult enough to parse without having all kinds of letters that look the same (is that a small L or is that a huge E?), while still wrangling the various silent letters, implied cases, and fairy magic that tends to make up English language (and make it interesting). Most of the type that we read today is in print letters, and I’m happy for cursive writing to go the way of the dodo.

Even at its most beautiful (which implies that it’s not being written with any great speed, which defeats the purpose of it in the first place) cursive writing is still more difficult to read than print letters. At the end of the day, it defeats the purpose of the job that writing is meant to do in the first place: convey ideas in a manner that others find legible too.

Like many other listeners, Rachel Rohm, who recently graduated from high school in Delaware, shared a story of how not knowing cursive can cause problems in the classroom:

I went to public high school, where we never used cursive in class. There were a few times in English class where the teacher would write something on the board in cursive, expecting us to be able to read it or even copy it in our notebooks. Because my mom does the same thing when she wants to write quickly (and because I had actually been taught cursive), I could read it with no problems, but most of the class had to have her read it out aloud in order to decipher it! Also, it is still a requirement of the SAT to copy a statement on the back of the answer booklet in cursive. Many of the people in my testing room BOTH times I took the test (once in my own high school, once in an area high school) ran out of time or gave up entirely. Personally, I don’t really care much for cursive writing, although I do still want to be able to read it — mostly for old letters and such.

Erin Brenner, who edits the Copyediting newsletter, tells us her boys, ages 11 and 9, are learning cursive and keyboarding at a small Catholic school. She adds,

You mentioned the beautiful cursive older generations wrote that younger generations don’t use. This might have been the Palmer Method. In the late ’70s and early ’80s I learned the Zaner-Bloser method at the same school my boys now attend. I’m not sure which method they’re now learning, but the capital Q looks more like a printed Q than a fancy 2.

More to say on cursive writing? There’s a conversation already underway in the forums, or leave your remarks below.

Photo by Tyler Burrus. Used under a Creative Commons license.

More on the Subject

Freeman, Frank N. Current Methods of Teaching Handwriting.The Elementary School Teacher, vol. 12, no. 9. May 1912.

Palmer, A.N. Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing. Western Penman Publishing Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 1894.

Plakins Thornton, Tamara. Handwriting in America: A Cultural History. Yale University Press. 1998.

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