Has cursive writing outlived its usefulness?

Published 12:17 pm Thursday, September 8, 2016

By Chuck Witt, Contributing Columnist

There has been a good deal of discussion lately about the value of cursive writing, whether or not it’s important to continue to teach cursive in today’s world of computers.

Arguments are made that since students are learning keyboard at such an early age, in conjunction with their skills with computers, that the art of handwriting is passe’ and no longer relevant.

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There are still a good many people alive who can recall — with fondness — the cursive alphabet that adorned the tops of chalkboards in every elementary classroom in the country, and the time  spent drilling young students in the correct method of forming the letters to create complete words.

There is little argument the loss of cursive writing will not be the end of civilization as we know it, but there are other issues which deserve some attention.

Some people say teaching cursive and typing is an unnecessary repetition, but it was not so long ago  students who had been taught cursive writing in their early school years and then went on to learn typing — on manual and electric typewriters before the advent of computers in the classroom — were not denied a full education because of the time necessary to learn both.

A recent New York Times opinion piece describes the evolution of handwriting and seems to suggest that, since that evolution served to make handwriting less and less important to the general populace, taking it from the realm of a practice limited to scribes and scholars, the continuing diminution of the practice will do nothing to halt the progress of mankind. This is most likely true.

What is also most likely true is the following statement in that same article: “Debates over handwriting reveal what a society prizes and fears; they are not really about the virtues of literacy levels of children.”

And yet this comment skirts other issues in the subject. One very simple fact is the use of handwriting expedites note taking. Consider what many experienced in college courses before the lack of cursive became prominent. Classroom lecture notes were typically taken using cursive and cursive is much speedier than the hand printing of each individual letter. How will this ongoing change affect the level of comprehension of college students? Of course, there are other methods available to these students, such as the use of laptops in class and even the availability of recorded sessions from which students can take notes at their own pace, stopping and starting the lectures as they choose.

There are many other arguments within the numerous arguments both for and against continuing cursive training and impossible to consider very many of them in this short column.

Ponder just a couple.

One, cursive is highly individual, much more so than manual printing. There are those whose handwriting is horrible, virtually indecipherable. And there are those who take great pride in their ability to write legibly, taking pains to create notes of beauty. And the ability to even read cursive opens up additional worlds of exploration, such as being able to read the actual words in the Declaration of Independence.

Going back to the comment about revealing “what a society prizes…” it is also true society prizes many things differently over time, such as art. Yet we do not simply discard those aspects because they may be replaced by something more current.

And will anyone argue that a handwritten note of thanks or congratulations or condolence does not evoke more favorable reaction than one cranked out on a computer keyboard?

Cursive can be easily taught alongside the many other subjects in today’s classrooms. There is simply no sound reason to toss it into the waste bin of history.