Our country is divided. No, not the red/blue thing, although that’s happening, too. I mean cursive vs keyboard.
I’m a writer, but I don’t write as much as I used to. I type. I text. I tap images on screens. Then I wonder why my handwriting is going to hell. A beautiful teacherly script never flowed from my pen, possibly because I’m a lefty and the letters are designed for right-handers, but it used to be legible. I didn’t used to get stuck on n’s and r’s or finish “ing” words with just a line. But I’m in a hurry. See the chicken scratch in the photo. My printing is neater, but it’s too slow.
Many American schools have stopped teaching cursive, defined by Wikipedia as “any style of penmanship in which characters are written joined in a flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster, in contrast to block letters.” The Common Core State Standards encourage schools to teach typing on computerized devices, as well as printing in upper and lower case letters. But with limited hours in a day, they no longer require that cursive be taught.
In a casual survey of school practices, I found a mix of writing by hand and on machines, particularly school-issued Google Chrome laptops, but a definite leaning toward digital devices. Side note: how much do all those computers cost???
In our grandparents’ day, students spent hours developing their handwriting, often adding beautiful swirls to the ends of capital letters. My own grandparents, who went to school in the early 1900s, only made it through eighth grade, but their handwriting was beautiful and legible.
Now, people say we don’t need it. Who writes by hand anymore, aside from signatures? We don’t write letters. Or checks (I do), or take notes by hand (I do). We grab our phone, tablet, or laptop and type. It’s faster. It’s neater. It can be saved and shared. It’s the way the world is going.
Did you know that Queen Elizabeth kept a handwritten journal? One theory is that no one could hack into it to share her private thoughts in the media.
Me, I used up all the ink in another pen writing a poem yesterday. Eventually I typed it into Google Docs so I could share it with my poet friends on Zoom, but that first blast was on paper. Many poetry teachers insist students draft their poems by hand. Studies show the brain functions differently with handwriting vs. typing, that there is value in the hand-brain connection. They also show that students who take notes by hand are more likely to remember what the teacher says because they have to select what’s important to write down rather than simply recording every word on their laptops.
Some argue that if kids don’t learn to write cursive, they won’t be able to read it, whether it’s the Declaration of Independence or a letter from their grandmother. But, say the anti-cursives, everything can be scanned and translated into computer-speak these days.
People have been writing by hand for thousands of years. Do we really want to make it obsolete? On the other hand, if people can’t read cursive anymore, my handwriting is like a secret code that no one can read unless I choose to translate it.
What do you think? Do you print or write in cursive? Do you write by hand at all these days? What should the kiddos be learning?
If I haven’t put you to sleep by now, let me recommend this book:
The Missing Ink: The Disappearing Art of Handwriting by Philip Hensher, Faber & Faber, Inc., 2012. The Missing Ink is a deep dive into the history and culture of writing by hand with pen and ink. Hensher interviews people about their handwriting, takes us on a shopping trip for the finest fountain pen in London, takes a look at Hitler’s handwriting, tells us how ink is made and describes how the Bic pen took over the world from the 1950s on. He pleads for the preservation of the art of handwriting and offers situations where writing by hand is referable to keyboarding. Fascinating stuff for word nerds like me.
Full disclosure: This blog post was entirely written on a computer.