When I was in elementary school, back in the 1960s, I was a good student. I learned to read quickly and became a book worm by third grade. I was good at memorizing math facts and algorithms.
There was only one area where I truly struggled. I had really terrible handwriting skills. Every Friday afternoon in the fourth and fifth grades, our class had free time as soon as our Palmer Method handwriting lesson was approved by the teacher.
I was last to have free time every single week.
So you can see that I have some strong feelings about cursive writing.
I was also a teacher for many years. I know how hard it is to fit in everything that kids are supposed to learn under the Common Core Standards. Teaching kids to write pretty, curly words has seemed like a big waste of time.
The Washington Post is reporting, however, that there has been a push in public education to return cursive handwriting to the elementary school classroom.
The article references studies that have shown a connection between cursive writing and creativity, and cursive writing and speed of writing. It also talks about some of the old arguments that we’ve been hearing for years.
For example, proponents of cursive writing worry that no one will be able to read old documents. That’s ridiculous. Those who decide to study those original documents can learn to read 18th century script. Just like the historians who teach themselves to read ancient Greek documents, even though that’s not taught in school.
Or how about this concern: people won’t be able to sign their names? No problem, anti-cursive folks like me say. There is no rule saying that signatures must be in cursive. We can print our names.
It’s interesting to see that the states that have put cursive back into elementary schools are almost exclusively conservative southern states. Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia, and Texas have all decided to teach cursive writing.
This is interesting because historian Tamara Thornton has written a book about the history of handwriting. She wrote that historically, handwriting drills were about teaching children discipline and uniformity, rather than how to express themselves. She has looked at those times when there has been a renewed interest in cursive writing. She said:
“We get very interested in cursive when we feel that our morals are in a state of decline, all hell is breaking loose, people are doing whatever they want. And I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch that the sort of people who believe in the standard model of the family get very nervous when we depart from the standard models of the cursive script. So there have been periodic bouts of hysteria about the decline of cursive. And it’s always when we feel that as a society, we’re going down the tubes.”
Teaching cursive writing is once again being debated in America’s schools. In a time when every adult in the country uses email, when no college would accept a handwritten report, when future success will require technology skills, it seems ridiculous to focus on a skill that was a key part of American education in 1800.
Featured image from Zaner Bloser Company.