Handwriting on the Wall

cursiveIs the art of writing cursive dead? Does it matter? This was the subject of a Boston Globe article yesterday titled “Cursive, Foiled Again.” As I type this — it’s hard to blog on yellow legal pads — I genuinely don’t know how I feel about the issue. 

Emotionally, it makes me cringe. What if John Hancock didn’t use cursive? Getting autographs from athletes might be more readable but a lot less fun. The major challenge of a pharmicists’ work — decoding the chicken scratch on perscription pads — would be eliminated.

But logically, shouldn’t our kids be spending more time with computers than learning how to make a script “j?” Perhaps cursive will go the way of the feather quill pen but there is something wonderfully personal about it — especially in this era of e-mail and texting. To get a handwritten note with flowing loops is a great joy. Even if I can’t decipher half of what it says.

Oddly, I never learned how to print letters — it’s a major gap in my education. I switched schools in Baltimore between third and fourth grades. In the one school they taught cursive first and then moved on to printing. In the other they taught kids to print before delving into script. The upshot is that I can write in block capitals or I can write in cursive — something my boys find hilarious. When they were just learning to print they often offered to “teach me.” But I’ve made it 40 years without the skill and I’m just not interested. Of course my handwriting is horrific but I can’t blame that on my teachers. Or maybe I should.

In the Book of Daniel, a hand appears and foretells the demise of the Babalonian Empire. This is, of course, where we get the expression about “seeing the handwriting on the wall” as an omen of doom. No word on whether the hand wrote in cursive. Perhaps a modern translation of the Bible will change “handwriting on the wall” to “text on the BlackBerry.”


2 Comments on “Handwriting on the Wall”

  1. Should come as no surprise that I think teaching cursive should be sustained (and remedial classes offered for those with awful handwriting). Here are some reasons why:

    1) It takes time and patience to learn how to write script and to write script legibly. Patience is something in precious short supply these days, perhaps because we/they don’t provide opportunities to learn it?

    2) Cursive writing can be viewed as an art form. We might learn how to shape letters but eventually, the writing becomes our own — our signature, so to speak. I’m all for providing opportunities to create art.

    3) Cursive writing offers a tactile, kinesthetic experience quite different from banging keys on a keyboard. Plenty of research to show that the brain absorbs information differently when that information is inputted kinesthetically. I think the heart learns through touch and movement as well.

    4) Handwriting is slower. We could all stand to slow down a bit. Seems to me, learning how to write by hand is preferable to drugging the living spunk out of kids.

  2. Scott says:

    Well said, Meredith. My mother, born in 1917, was a teacher before becoming full time mother of three impossible boys. Her cursive was uniquely beautiful. I saved many of her letters to me. Writing a letter today is a wonderful gift for someone. I hope to devote some time to do just that. Thanks for the thoughts, Tim.


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