02 May 2013

Is cursive writing doomed?


From an op-ed piece in the New York Times:
Districts and states should not mandate the teaching of cursive. Cursive should be allowed to die. In fact, it's already dying, despite having been taught for decades. Very small proportions of adults use cursive for their day-to-day writing. Much of our communication is done on a keyboard, and the rest is done with print.

Additionally, there is little compelling research to suggest the teaching of cursive positively affects other student skills enough to merit its teaching. While both research and common sense indicate students should be taught some form of penmanship, there is simply no need to teach students both print and cursive...

Given these realities, teachers would be better off focusing on the skills and knowledge that will impact student success in the future. These include printing and typing, but not cursive. As we have done with the abacus and the slide rule, it is time to retire the teaching of cursive. The writing is on the wall.
Not only did I learn cursive, I learned the abacus and the slide rule as well.  Sigh...

Image from Wikipedia, where I also found these interesting tidbits:
While the terms cursive or script are popular in the United States for describing this style of writing the Latin script, this term is rarely used elsewhere.

The origin of the cursive method is associated with practical advantages of writing speed and infrequent pen lifting to accommodate the limitations of the quill. Quills are fragile, easily broken, and will spatter unless used properly. Steel dip pens followed quills; they were sturdier, but still had some limitations.

The term cursive derives from the 18th century French cursif from Medieval Latin cursivus, which means literally running. This term in turn derives from Latin currere ("to run, hasten")

In the Classical Arabic script, letters of any given word are joined to one another by a continuous flowing line. This flowing script inspired the cursive of Medieval Latin, which in turn developed into the longhand script of English [embed at right]

Cursive handwriting developed into something approximating its current form from the 17th century, but its use was neither uniform, nor standardized either in England itself or elsewhere in the British Empire.

In 2012, the American states of Indiana and Hawaii announced that their schools will no longer be required to teach cursive (but will still be permitted to), and instead will be required to teach "keyboard proficiency".

35 comments:

  1. Sad, but probably time. In an ideal world we'd still teach it to every child, along with a musical instrument, drawing or painting, dance, poetry, and many other arts. But, that is not society's priorities right now.

    It is odd to think that historical documents that are just barely legible to me will be illegible to the next generation. Fortunately I don't think we're in any danger of losing the ability to read those documents as a society.

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  2. Indiana's curt dismissal of cursive came about as a result of policy decisions made by former DOE State Superintendent Tony Bennett. In this intensely Republican state, Bennett was about the only candidate beaten -- and fairly soundly -- by a Democratic opponent. But don't cry for Tony. He took a job in Florida -- where he'd lifted most of his policies, anyway -- at a _steep_ increase in salary.

    Unfortunately, Glenda Ritz, the new state Superintendent of Education backed by -- I think -- every teacher in Indiana, is being gleefully hampered by our state legislature. 'Cause, you know, those lazy teachers are overpaid. That's why the schools are "so bad," and why Indiana students can get vouchers to go to charter schools, FURTHER depleting funding for public education. And why the core curriculum is being used as a club, rather than a foundation.

    Charter schools are not a better way to educate. Much like for-profit companies running "correctional facilities," it's just another way to transfer public monies to private pockets...

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  3. I work in the education industry (educational website). My husband is an engineer. We do not write. We type. Emails, requirements documents, engineering specifications, and on and on. The only thing I write is my signature on cheques and any other legal documents.

    The most useful class I took in high school was typing. I took loads of other courses, I truly enjoyed -- however the only one in which I developed a skill which I have used day in and day out was typing.

    Cursive writing is dead. Let's teach our students skills that will help them succeed in the 21st century.

    --gem

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  4. I agree that cursive is, at this point, dying, and is a minimal-loss death at that. Unlike cuts to music or arts programs, I don't think the ability to write cursive conveys any real advantage to students, practical or personal.

    However, since the abacus was also mentioned, I'll point out that there are developed nations who do teach it, and that skill can be a boon to know. Flash Anzan [a game invented in Japan, where they do teach abacus - http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/flash-anzan-an-amazing-new-number-game/ ] competitions show folks adding 15 three-digit numbers in less than 2 seconds. The speed might not be necessary, but as an engineer, having read that I've seriously considered teaching it to myself.

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  5. I did a post on Cursive (as well as fonts) on my blog - http://baileysbuddy.blogspot.com/2012/03/conversation-with-jon.html

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  6. Then tell me why my kindergarten student is not being taught the "manuscript" way of writing her letters but a more cursive way? I too thought cursive was on the out but here in my region (south Texas) when children are learning to write they are being taught in a way that is more easily converted to cursive later on. For instance the letters are forward slanting finished with a forward reaching "tail."
    This is a relatively new development too as she is my fourth and child and the only one taught this way. Is this the bastard child of manuscript and cursive that will be the only version taught I wonder?

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    1. Perhaps they are teaching her "italic script" -

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italic_script

      I don't know.

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    2. I was taught a print style called Denelian, which had the tail you describe. It was supposed to make transitioning into cursive easier, but it really just doomed my handwriting for years (the tails make 6-year old handwriting look even sloppier, and I always figured my ideas were more important than how my handwriting looked. Hence, it looks awful). When I took the SAT in...2004? 2005? We had to copy a statement about how we pledged not to cheat...in cursive. Which resulted in the whole room asking each other "how do you do a capital g?" And "really? That's what a cursive z looks like?" Even me, and I went through a phase at 15 of learning actual calligraphy (despite the terrible everyday handwriting).

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  7. In Russia, by contrast, cursive writing is very standardised and taught to all schoolchildren.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_cursive

    I think there's a lot to be said for standardised handwriting, whether cursive or something less florid. While it's true that the use of handwriting is rapidly declining, it's never going to die out completely. If everyone's writing looks roughly the same, interpreting a particular scrawl becomes a lot easier.

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    1. Good to know. I dropped cursive in English when I was in the middle of 4 years of Russian. Cursive for Russian; print for English. Trying to do otherwise meant I kept getting my scripts confused.

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  8. Three cheers to Anon re the writing in Russia; we won't always have access to either a printer or an internet connection and being able to easily read someone's writing could be important in some situations. I recently purchased a book about the brain, which I have lent to someone and therefore cannot access it to confirm what I am sure I read: that getting people with motor skill degeneration to write in cursive script had the effect of stimulating that part of the brain that controls the muscles in the lower arm, with the result that the degeneration was reversed in some individuals. Use it or lose it. And I can't wait to see the court cases in which employers start getting sued by employees who have repetitive strain injury from spending too much time typing at work. This would be surely increased by the time spent typing at home.

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  9. I grew up in Texas, I remember getting an award for handwriting in the second grade, I feel if we teach our children the basics instead of how to take a test, they'd have the time to learn cursive. Yes, it is something that many do not use, just like it's not really necessary to learn to drive a standard transmission car because most are automatics. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't learn to drive a standard, it might come in handy sometime. Our society is getting lazier and lazier, we want it easier, cheaper and now. We have a three year old at home, my wife is home schooling him, he's learning to read, do math and show promise in having his Dad's handwriting skills verses his English mother...., I think this is something we need to continue.

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  10. Contrary to Wikipedia I have never heard anyone in Australia call it "joined-up writing". I see there's already a "citation needed" tag on that claim, which is as it should be.

    In my part of the world, the abandonment of the traditional cursive style occurred at about the same time that I started school, which was in 1983. In fact, I was part of the first wave of students who were not taught it: students one year older were taught traditional cursive, but we were not.

    Different Australian states have strikingly different approaches to handwriting. Via Google Books I found some interesting comparative notes in "Handwriting of the Twentieth Century"" by Rosemary Sassoon -- see page 177 and thereabouts of the 1999 edition in particular (there's a newer edition, but the relevant pages aren't available for preview). I'm from South Australia, so my comments pertain to handwriting in South Australian schools.

    The style taught in South Australia since 1983 is called South Australian Modern Cursive, which is described and demonstrated here (that document has been superceded, but the changes are mostly if not entirely to do with teaching advice and other commentary rather than the style itself, and the older document is more concise and easier to browse). It's a cursive style in the sense that there are links between letters, but it's not a traditional cursive because many letters are not linked (see pages 28-29) and there are very few loops.

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  11. In the school district where I teach (which is large), an all-employee e-mail was sent out asking if we thought cursive ought to be taught in our district. The email specified that you should only reply if you had a strong opinion one way or the other. I replied something like, "Of course we should teach it- what the hell is wrong with you, anyway?" but more politely so. The next day there was another email wherein the sender from the district office had had a sufficient amount of responses, thank you, and she was very surprised at how many responses she got! Well, duh. Honestly, the end of civilization is nigh when we don't teach children how to write right. It's an art. That's why they don't want us to teach it. Everything has to be standardized, mechanized, they want us to make children turn out like carbon copies of each other. People should have their own handwriting. It's like a signature-- wait, it is a signature. How will anyone sign her name without knowing cursive?

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    1. Signatures will be digital encrypted keys in the future, not written words. The technology has existed for a while but, there are many dragging their feet preventing it from becoming a standard. It's the same group of people that keep the antiquated fax machine alive. Sorry but, cursive will die as a general skill no matter what you do to try and prevent it. Of course, like Latin, Aramaic and other skills, there will be a small part of the population that will retain the skill where it'll never truly die. I'm 36 and never learned cursive in school and it has never caused me an issue. There simply is no value in it in the real world.

      There is one area I do agree with you though, standardized testing must die... NOW. Every year we wait to kill it, we release thousands of "adults" whose only skill they learned in school was how to memorize for and beat a standardized test.

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  12. NOTE: The link in the final paragraph of my comment above is broken because I accidentally included a quotation mark (") at the end of the URL. Remove the errant punctuation and the link works.

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  13. I was given formal permission in 4th grade (in the mid '90s) to never use cursive again. Our assignments were required to be written in cursive, but mine was illegible. My print wasn't much better! I rarely have used cursive since and still have bad handwriting. It is true that my typing proficiency is an important skill in our modern world, but I value the fact that I am able to READ just as fluently. This includes cursive! I cannot fathom the supposed merits of what would effectively be a reduction in literacy. Just what we need...more dumbing down. It's not like cursive's even all that hard or would take that much time to teach. It's not Japanese!

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  14. In the late 19th century Ruy Barbosa argued that the elimination of drawing classes from high school education (both from the classical and the scientific curriculae) would damage the thought capacity of children in regard of planning and analysis. Nevertheless, economy always gets to remove any technique from circulation as soon as it is no longer profitable... I mean profitable, not useful. To me it seems handwriting is being progressively removed from curriculae since the invention of the typewriter.

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  15. I remember learning cursive. We used an unusual size of newsprint paper with pale blue lines, both solid and dotted. There was not an instruction book but an envelope filled with lessons for each week. I found it to be much like art instruction so I enjoyed it.

    But for my children, it was the bane of their existence. We moved frequently due to my spouse's career and different districts around the country use slightly different forms of cursive. My son in particular was always getting in trouble for using the "wrong" cursive.

    All of us are now adults. And all of us type or print our words. Will we still need our signatures? Surely we have many other ways of identifying ourselves.

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    1. Current signatures will eventually fade. Digital encrypted keys will be used instead. The technology has been available for some time but, adoption has been slow. With everyone now having cell phones, that is probably how it'll take shape. Our phones will carry our signatures and we'll use some hopefully secure method of commanding our phones to transmit it.

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  16. You say that we call it "joined-up" writing here in Australia, but when I learned it, we called it "running writing". In Year 4 (or thereabouts, I think - about age 9 or 10) we were granted a "pen license" when our handwriting had progressed far enough that we didn't have to use a pencil for schoolwork any more.

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    1. Was about to make the same comment. I've never heard of "joined-up" writing before, it was always called "running writing", and in fact i still call it that. I didn't know what "cursive" was until i saw Billy Madison, either.

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    2. My daughter tells me when she was taught to write, it was called "cursive". She's almost 18. I guess we're showing our age, calling it "running writing!"

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    3. Well, i'm only 27... Maybe the American trend is taking off? So many other American trends are, after all... I occasionally hear the term "cell phone" bandied about by younger people on trains, as well as "candy" (not lollies) and "eraser" (not rubber). Unheard of when i was a lad.

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  17. (I've deleted the "joined-up" sentence from the Wikipedia citation.)

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    1. It could well be true of other places, but i can say at least in Sydney it isn't.

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  18. I hated writing in cursive. It was torture for me for whatever reason. I much prefer print, and I even find it can be lovely. So this doesn't seem like a big loss to me. However, the angst and humility I went through as a sloppy writing probably had some kind of positive influence on my character. Oh man! Now I don't know what to think about this.

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  19. I learned cursive in grade school, but rarely use it today aside from signing things. I do, however, remember that I had to really think when I was learning to *read* cursive. I could see that being a big help to anyone who later decides to learn to read a language in a different alphabet.

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    1. Yeah. And if for that reason alone, we should teach it.

      Of course, we should teach lots of things with limited practical aspects because how else will students figure out what they want to learn if they're not taught it exists?

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  20. I had abysmal handwriting as a child due primarily to my dysgraphia. To this day I write almost exclusively in block capitals when I don't have a keyboard handy. I still have difficulty with lower case printing because too many characters are left-right symmetric and I tend to reverse them (although as an adult I can see that I reversed them immediately after writing them). Cursive never helped me much.

    In fact the two biggest lies teachers ever told me about the "real world":
    (1) You will be expected to use cursive (in pen) for everything in the adult world
    (2) You won't have a calculator in your pocket at all times when you need to do a quick calculation

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    1. The biggest lie teachers ever told me was that there was this thing called, "The Real World"!

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  21. They don't even teach PRINTING in our school district. Not formally, as in "here is how you make the letter "Aa", practice". Students are expected to just pick it up however they can (same with how to hold a pencil...VERY FEW students in my child's class hold a pen correctly, and form letters in any standard way.)

    It's good for brain development to use a pencil. Not everything is done with a digital format, and somethings just work better with a pen and paper.

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  22. Ok, so let's say civilization/electrical power grid were to permanently fail.. then where will you be with your "digital encryption keys"? But then again, if civilization fails, I guess cursive writing will be the least of our worries. However, I think it's backwards and wrong to not teach kids how to write and only type.

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  23. Frenchman here, under 30, though I am not sure it changes much
    Cursive, though most often referred to as "écriture attachée" (joined-up writing)
    is one of the basics.
    While in preschool in France, you will use print, but because it is easier to trace individual letters. From Primary school on, you are expected to use cursive. I do like writing words in one go. Though the Ts have to be crossed and Is dotted, but that is very quick too.
    One thing I noticed while speaking with foreign friend is that our writing paper is quite different. Our standard is the "large squares". 8mm by 8mm, but also lined, every 2mm, making it easier to write said cursive. Most letters are only one line high, but the t is two lines high, while capitals and letters with loops on top are three lines high.
    http://www.toutallantvert.com/pt/1297_DSCF2068.JPG.thumb_600x603_8c2e8cb66167ad929ac0f9b8e52d804e.jpg

    Then again, I know many people whose handwriting is bordering on illegible, and who look at mine in disbelief. I heard "How did you do that?" too many times for comfort.
    It can be a problem, as quite often covering letters are supposed to be handwritten. (And there aren't any red or green squiggles under the spelling or grammar mistakes! You have to check in dictionaries!)
    I don't write as much as I once did, what with those fancy computers everywhere, but when I need to make a lists, write down an idea or anything important, I do like paper. It doesn't require batteries, and it's fast.

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