Saturday, July 9, 2011

First The Quill, Then The Fountain Pen. .and now Cursive Writing?

A few days ago, I caught part of a national news broadcast, informing the viewers that Indiana was no longer going to require their public schools to teach their eager young learners the art of cursive penmanship.  This puts the roster up to 44 states, I believe. They are leaving it as optional studies, dependent upon the guidance and whim of each school and/or teacher.

While I know that teachers have a lot more to cram into a school year, than when I was in those primer grades, and more basics are being dropped by the wayside each year, for some reason, this news left me stunned. It touched my soul so deeply that here I am, days later, still mulling it over, with the distress churning inside me.

The proponents of this move claim that teaching cursive takes a tremendous amount of time that could be better spent learning to use a keyboard in preparation for higher learning. This sends chills down my spine for so many different reasons, practical, and aesthetic. 

I haven’t been in an elementary classroom in years, so I may be way off base here, but when my kids were in school, they were taught how to do math. Without a calculator.  Later on, they were taught how to use a calculator, but first, they had to learn the principles. One doesn’t always have a calculator handy, plus I think that one should know what that machine is doing!

On one of the practical notes, I look at teaching cursive and learning to use a keyboard in the same way. First you learn the way to do it yourself, THEN you learn how to use that application.

And the biggest practical concern of course, is how these students, as adults, are ever going to be able to sign any documents, legal and otherwise, if they don’t know how to write their name? Not print, but write.  It wasn’t too long ago that it was a matter of personal pride when one could sign their name. Not make an “X”, and have two witnesses sign it, saying that you made your mark.  How will they be able to record their own “John Hancock”?

If educators think that children are going to learn cursive on their own, they had better rethink that theory.  They are much more likely to spend time on their computers, using that keyboard that the schools want to teach them to use, where in fact, they are already on their way to being quite proficient in its use.  Plus, we had typing classes in school. It was a perk to learn the proper use of the keyboard, but that didn't stop us from learning to write, too!

I can’t help but wonder too, if students can’t write in cursive, how that affects their ability to read it. So much of our history is written out, both national, like our founding documents, to personal, such as family recipes, old journals, diaries and love letters. I would like to think that these things will still be important to at least some of our future generations, but how will they gain the full importance of such writing, if they can’t read it?

When doing research on our Victorian home, I actually perused county record books, looking for dates of sales and purchases, each huge ledger page written. .not printed, but written with a fountain pen, back through the 1800’s. I could tell when some other clerk was filling in the information, just by the change of the very ornate writing styles. It gave me a thrill that the efforts of those people, taking time to write out each transaction, was reaching across the years, helping me in my search, in 2006.  It made it more real to me, seeing and touching (I wore white cotton lintless gloves) a person’s script, than reading it off a film, or computer screen.  But if you want to see just a taste of what I savored, go to and look at some of the old census records, all written by someone’s hand. It adds a depth of meaning to your quest.

On the aesthetic side, I can’t help but think that this is another chip in our efforts of self-expression.  Are we to all become a homogenized populace, dependent upon pre-printed fonts to define us? Yes. I find it ironic that I’m using a programmed font to share my thoughts with you, but believe me, I love to write, outside of using my computer. 

I used to practice my cursive, looking at it as an art form, long before I ever knew what calligraphy was, and wound up with two styles of handwriting. One that I used outside of school, and one that wouldn’t be marked as incorrect by my teachers.  I could hardly wait until the day when I could openly express myself, in my own true hand, without ridicule or worrying about what kind of grade I was going to get based on how the tails of my “y’s” looked.  BUT, they launched me into my own style, by teaching me the right way to begin!  And of course, by the time I was able to write freely, we were required to type all papers and reports. Except for in Advanced English class. We wrote essays. Sometimes, two a week. And she wanted them written in our own hand. She loved romantic, flowery language. This was back in the 60’s, and she was in the autumn of her years. An old fashioned woman who didn’t feel that type written pages were the proper setting for essays of emotion.

Cursive CAN be romantic, or express anger or whimsy. So many emotions can be wrought with the curve of the flow of ink. Not only in the words that it forms, but in the way that it is written.  Study a book of calligraphy, and you will feel emotions coming from each style. 
And if you should deviate from any set style, to form a very personal style of your own, there are handwriting experts who will delve into each crossed “t”, dotted “i”, and curlique, analyzing your deepest desires, and what makes you tick!

Whether you put any stock into such readings or not, your personal handwriting is a reflection of you, even if you don’t care about it at all! My Hubs, for example, has horrible handwriting, and could care less. He dashes off his name just because he absolutely has to, then promptly forgets about it, whereas I “feel” each letter as I move the ink, each one having a rhythm and flow of energy into the next.  He looks at it as something practical, and I look at it as art. Now how often to you find something that fulfills both needs so precisely, yet remains so personal, too?

Is this one change in today’s society the marking point of me being “over the hill”? And indication that something that I apparently have held much more dear than I ever imagined, is no longer useful? My stars, I hope not!
Hopefully, cursive will still remain a viable part of our communications, and live on, not only in the talents of calligraphers, but in everyday transactions, by ordinary people, who will continue to put their own personal touch in that moment in time, when they sign their name, or write out that envelope for a card or letter that they are sending to friend.

To those of you who have hung in here throughout my rant, I wish you a beautiful weekend, and say a simple,  


  1. I couldn't believe it when I heard this! Total state of shock. Like you said, first you learn to do the math, then you learn to use the calculator. First you learn cursive, then the keyboard. Can you imagine getting a thank you card printed off of a computer? I still write my mother in law a real letter at least once a week with a couple of real pictures inclosed. Even though my mama lives right here in town, she still loves getting a note tucked into a card in the mail. I guess this will be one more thing that grandmas are going to have to teach their grand babies. By the way your hand writing is just gorgeous! It it truly an art!


  2. I have mixed feelings about this issue. On the one hand, I know just from my own life how little I actually handwrite anymore compared to even 20 years ago. The rise of personal computers has really made handwriting anything pretty obsolete. Yet on the other hand, I love beautiful cursive handwriting too and am personally quite good at it! Oh, the hours we spent practicing it in school! Learning to write cursive well was a big, big deal in those days.

  3. I'm like Debra - I have mixed emotions. Today's world does revolve around the ability to use a computer and yet people do need to learn how to read and write cursive. Personally, I think what is being taught in schools needs to be re-evaluated. Too much emphasis is being put on teaching the kids how to pass the annual tests that they take - these tests are supposed to evaluate how much the kids have learned. Consequently the kids are not really learning anything but what the Gov't. feels is 'necessary'. Even at the college level, many unnecessary classes HAVE to be taken by the students. If this unnecessary stuff was removed from the curriculum, then there would be room to teach cursive writing!

  4. I do NOT have mixed feelings.
    I am totally with you on this.
    I love this post and I think you should send it off to the Board of Education or whoever has the power to decide these things. But I am guessing it's much too late. This world has become a place where priorities are all out of whack. I have to leave notes to my employees who work in the evenings and on the weekend.. I can't imagine "printing" everything out. But all the notes back to me are printed and in "shorthand" as if they are texting me! I understand that we all use computers and cell phones now but give me a break! Why can't there be cursive too. It's like going to a store and if they sales total is $10.55 and you hand them a twenty and a nickel, they can't figure it out! I'm tired of explaining that I want 2 quarters instead of small change. They say that they want the kids to learn MORE and yet we are becoming surrounded by a bunch of dumb kids. Kids that are taught that being a reality star or a sports figure is the way to making big bucks.
    Thank God my nieces are smart enough and care enough to learn math and cursive...thanks to their parents, NOT their teachers.
    Anyway...why does everyone always want to take the easy stupid way out.
    :D - Cindi

  5. I am horrified and speechless. As a primary school teacher I really don't know what to say.

  6. I can understand your thoughts, especially when it comes to genealogical research. I have seen a few instances where someone misreads Daniel as David, or Samuel for Daniel because of fading ink and unfamiliarity with script.

    I stumblebrowsed into your site. Usually I am listening to the radio through the computer and exit sites with music, but when I recognized the first notes of Summertime, I was hooked.

  7. I absolutely love handwriting! I posted letters to my best friend in High School and now I post letters to my little sister who also loves to write, there's just something about reading the words that you know came from that person, a typed letter can be anyone but a handwritten letter does have emotion and depth. You can just FEEL that other person writing that page. It's magical. :D


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