Writing off cursive

Digital kids can’t read or write cursive, reports the Sacramento Bee.

The world of personal computers, e-mail and texting has rendered the handwritten note an anomaly, something that many of today’s students get only from grandparents. Some parents complain that their middle schoolers can’t sign their names.

Mark Bradley, an English and U.S. history teacher at Rio Tierra Junior High, said students groan when asked to write in cursive.

“It’s a bit like going for a root canal for them,” Bradley said.

On a recent impromptu writing exercise, in which time was an element, of 65 students, only one wrote in cursive. The rest of the essays were in block, he said.

Cursive is important for cognitive development, writes Education Gadfly.

. . . it requires “fluid movement, eye-hand coordination, and fine motor skill development,” explains Frances van Tassell, an associate professor at University of North Texas.

Now that I’m on Twitter (as JoanneLeeJacobs), I wonder if the 140-count limit is teaching users to write concisely.

About Joanne


  1. And most of us have trouble reading 19th century business hands – I made an archive visit in November and read a bunch of letters to an architect from different clients and was reminded once again that handwriting shifts over time – sometimes dramatically.

    I don’t regret the loss of mid-20th century cursive at all.

  2. I agree with Michael. Cursive is particularly difficult for us left handers as we push rather than pull the pen and drag our hands over the fresh ink. I’ve ruined many a greeting card that way.

    As I graduated one of my first thoughts was, thank god, I’ll never have to write another line of cursive in my life. And I haven’t.


  3. Andromeda says:

    So let’s! I was thrilled to learn it in second grade, but I haven’t used it since, and most people’s print is way easier to read (assuming they ever even print…) But more to the point — schools are constantly being asked to teach more and more, some of which is even important, and if they’re going to do so competently, something else is going to have to give way to make room. If we have something it would cost so little to abandon — cursive is hardly the only thing that teaches hand-eye coordination — let’s toss it!

  4. I have become a reluctant convert to the abolition of cursive. It has been suggested before, and I considered it just another sign of decadence. Most of my life I assumed that cursive is considerably faster than printing, so obviously everyone should learn it just as a part of general competency. However a few years ago it occurred to me to actually test that hypothesis, and I began to change my mind. Cursive is not substantially faster than printing, at least for me. Just now I just checked it out again. I first wrote out the following in cursive, attempting to keep it legible,

    1. This is a test to measure the speed of handwriting.
    2. This is a test to measure the speed of handwriting.
    3. This is a test to measure the speed of handwriting.
    4. This is a test to measure the speed of handwriting.
    5. This is a test to measure the speed of handwriting.

    That took 1:48 minutes, or 108 seconds. Then I printed it out, again attempting to keep it legible. It took exactly the same, 1:48. I repeated the whole process and got 1:43 for cursive and 1:45 for printing. Then I tried typing it on the computer. I got 0:44 the first time I typed it and 0:42 the second. So typing is at least twice as fast as either cursive or printing.

    So is their any advantage to learning cursive? Well, it can be beautiful. I have known a few people who take pride in their script. But my script has never remotely approached beautiful. I struggle just to keep it legible, and I doubt if I’m alone in that. So maybe it’s time for cursive to go. Keep it only as enrichment for the gifted.

  5. deirdremundy says:

    My cursive was always unreadable until I learned calligraphy.

    It’s also TRUE that cursive is fine motor skill intensive. So why is it taught at an age where half of the kids (mostly the boys) won’t be able to master it and it will just mean tears and F’s? And why does a ‘D’ in handwriting keep you off the honor roll (happened to me in 5th grade).

    Let them learn it in High School. Cursive is a waste of time. I hardly ever use it…. And I hate trying to read other people’s!

  6. Catherine says:

    While I can see and agree with many of the reasons for not learning to write cursive, it makes no sense for kids not to be able to READ it. This is still an important skill and not a very difficult one to teach (even easier to test – imagine the multiple choice tests!).

  7. They pounded the cursive writing out of me in engineering school and I’ve never looked back. I haven’t been able to write cursive for 25 years. I think penmanship is a throwback that will die off entirely in another generation or so.

    On the other hand, here is a little essay about the “Palmer Method of Penmanship” from the early 1900’s. It includes pictures of both the handwriting and the students doing it. Palmer, by the way, didn’t use fine control of the finger muscles, because this was deemed too tiring for someone who had to write all day. Instead, the pen was controlled by shoulder and arm muscles.

    link: http://roborant.info/main.do?entry=1380

  8. I’m 37, and I feel like one of the few people in my generation who still use cursive. I can only think of two other people I personally know who write in cursive, and they both do it well. Perhaps earlier generations did it because they *had* to, whereas mine does it only if it wants to?

    I detest “I do X and so should you”-type arguments, so even though I use cursive, I’m not a big advocate of it, especially not after reading the above comments. I think we should be more concerned about whether kids read and write *at all*.

    I’ve seen semicursive styles – are these catching on, or will they die out shortly after cursive perishes?

    What is the status of cursive in Europe? When I studied Russian, we were required to write in cursive Cyrillic – no big deal for me since I like cursive, but looking back, I wonder how other students fared. Writing was easy, but reading handwritten Russian from the 30s isn’t. (It could be worse. At least I don’t have to struggle with prerevolutionary spelling.)

    Does any society have generally good penmanship?

  9. My kids haven’t been held to the cursive they were taught and their skills are extremely rusty. Whenever they practice their spelling words, I make them use cursive. My son was so mad about this he burst into tears. But then at a parent teacher conference I mentioned that I thought the lack of cursive was a problem and told them about the spelling and now the teacher is making all the kids do their spelling in cursive.

    My daughter tried to take notes from a movie shown in class and failed miserably. In a real world situation where there isn’t a prepped note sheet with fill in the blanks, kids can’t keep up.

  10. I’m not even close to legible.. An interesting discussion, though….

  11. I agree with Richard. As a lefty, I say “death to cursive.” I gave it up years ago. Good riddance. I was always faster printing anyway. Truth is I type more than write now anyway.

    It is a waste of time to teach this to kids who mostly will not need or use it. Want kids to learn fine motor skills? Teach them keyboarding or piano. Those would be useful skills.

  12. mollo,

    In a real world situation where there isn’t a prepped note sheet with fill in the blanks, kids can’t keep up.

    Is this because they can’t write fast enough, and/or because they’re not used to writing more than short answers in any script?

  13. linda seebach says:

    To Richard, above, and other left-handers: if you have that kind of trouble writing, it’s because some cretinous right-handed teacher made you tilt the top of your paper to the left, which is correct for children writing right-handed. Tilt it the other way — so the long edge is parallel to your left forearm — and all those problems with pens and ink disappear.

    I had a big fight with my second-grade teacher about this (in 1946!) which was only resolved when my father showed up and started making lawyer noises. (He was so incensed at her bad teaching that he ran for the school board and won. After that I didn’t need to have big fights.)

    It works for calligraphy, too, something that astonished my calligraphy teacher in China, who had never taught a left-handed person before.

  14. Linda, now you tell me. By the way, we were in the second grade together, but I guess not at the same school, Pleasant Hill Elementary, Austin, TX. I wonder if it still exists.


  15. I write most things longhand first (exam drafts, notes for teaching, journal article manuscripts, etc.) I find that writing cursive – as messy and terrible as my cursive is* is less tiring on my hands and wrists than printing is for me.

    I’d say, teach the kids some kind of cursive method, then let them decide what is best for them (provided both are legible).

    But if cursive must be dropped, please for the love of all that’s holy, don’t allow text-speech to become acceptable for formal communication, at least.

    (*In fourth grade they pulled me out of class for “special help” sessions on penmanship because my handwriting was deemed so terrible. I was the only kid in the entire fourth grade subjected to this. Of course, the main function of the sessions was to give the other kids yet another topic to torment me about on the playground. I do think now they could have at least done it after school or at recess time when it was less “obvious” I was being culled from the herd.)

  16. Richard Nieporent says:

    I am another old Lefty. When I was in the second grade (in 1949) in New York City we had to use fountain pens. No we didn’t use an inkwell, although the desks still had a place for it, but a fountain pen with a bladder that you filled up at home. Since the ink in a fountain pen does not dry immediately the bottom of my hand would act as a blotter. As I wrote I proceeded to smear the ink. I am only surprised that my hand wasn’t permanently stained blue!

    To Richard, above, and other left-handers: if you have that kind of trouble writing, it’s because some cretinous right-handed teacher made you tilt the top of your paper to the left, which is correct for children writing right-handed. Tilt it the other way — so the long edge is parallel to your left forearm — and all those problems with pens and ink disappear.

    I always thought that a better solution was for Lefty’s to write from right to left, as in Hebrew. That would have solved the problem of smearing the ink. Too bad if the rest of the people couldn’t read what we wrote!

  17. I once had an 11th grade lefty who taught himself to write downward. He turned his paper so the lines ran vertically. He did not use cursive, and when I asked him about it (out of curiosity, not requirement), he said he could never manage it. It was amazing to see how he’d taught himself to “draw” his letters down the page, which I was originally concerned about. But he could do it very quickly, and his writing product was excellent. He was a pretty amazing kid though – an emancipated minor who worked two jobs to pay for an apartment and went to school full time. I had him in my classes for 2 years. I’ll just never forget how amazing it was to watch him write *downwards*.

  18. I write cursive for the most part. I prefer it because it’s more efficient. But I don’t give it any thought, and I usually have some words in manuscript mixed in. I have my kids (homeschool) do a year of cursive, but after that, they don’t have to. So far none of them likes to write in cursive. In Russia, I think cursive is the way they are introduced to writing. Maybe in the old days we also learned to write only in cursive.

  19. Hey Joanne,
    I’ll share with you a post from my Tweenteacher blog as a response to this, if you don’t mind.
    In my post, “Is Cursive Really a 21st Century Skill or is it just History?” I write:

    Look, we all agree, that our job is to prepare our students for their future by teaching 21st Century skills, right? Well, then why is cursive even a continuing debate?

    We can no longer afford to spend time on classes whose most valuable contribution is that they are traditional. How can we be debating the necessity of more time devoted to greater wide-spread technology use and internet literacy, and still be spending time teaching the antiquated subject of cursive?

    We see headlines about music programs cut, PE programs cut, standards struggling to be met with the time allotted, and yet, there’s still a debate about teaching cursive?

    Look, my husband took cursive for five years and I still can’t read his notes on the fridge. On the other hand, when we lived in separate cities, we wooed through yahoo.

    If Evelyn Waugh were alive today, he would not be picking up a pen to “correspond.” He would get a Twitter account.

    Practicing cursive does not a good writer make. But it does take time from other forms of necessary learning.

    (By the way, I am left-handed too)

    Take care and thanks for your article.

    aka Tweenteacher

  20. Deidremundy –

    I took calligraphy, too – my parents hoped it would improve my handwriting.

    I learned to write italic reasonably well enough that I made money addressing invitation and announcement envelopes in college, but all it did for my everyday handwriting was put a lot of loops and serifs on letters that were previously more legible!

  21. speedwell says:

    My handwriting is connected, but by no means cursive. My cursive (which I have to think these days to produce) is wispy and Spencerian-inspired, and my block printing is even and straight, but I discarded both of them in favor of a legible, freeflowing hand of my own that gets enough compliments to be embarassing. Maybe kids should be informed early that they are expected to have their own idiosyncratic handwriting that nevertheless needs to be legible and clear.

  22. A lefty here too. And I love cursive. It’s not the cursive that causes the ink smears, just lefties who haven’t been properly taught how to tilt the paper or hold a pencil. I don’t think being left-handed really is as much a problem in writing as many of us lefties seem to think.

    My daughter is learning cursive and although I didn’t see the value before I’ve certainly seen it now. Especially in math where her notation is becoming neater and more ordered.

  23. Devilbunny says:

    Haven’t used cursive since 7th grade, which was the last time a teacher required it. Haven’t looked back, either. It’s no longer relevant because we rarely hand write anything longer than, say, a thank-you note in real life, and so a writer’s-cramp-free style isn’t needed, and the time saved (quite a bit, if I recall second grade) can be used for other educational purposes. I’m leaving school exams out of this because you don’t write very many of them, relatively speaking.

    It would not be bad to spend a bit of time teaching students to read it, but they needn’t be able to write it.

  24. I have beautiful “teacher” handwriting, and I am one of the few teachers at my school that do. Most of them either print on the board or use overhead projector.

    When I did my teacher training in 1988 I had to write on a blackboard as one of the assignments. Wonder if they do that any more?

    Of course, I also write in shorthand and make very fine forms. My shorthand teacher years ago said that if only I could type as well as I could write shorthand, I would have it made. My typing is very good, but I think my handwriting may be even better.

  25. My husband learned Italic, rather than Palmer penmanship, and he’s fast and his writing is legible. But there’s plenty of ways to develop hand and eye coordinations needed for cognitive development. Knife skills, embroidery, painting, braiding– all of which have very useful payoffs IRL.

  26. I’m a righty, not a lefty, but I’ve always hated cursive. Writing with a pencil just hurts my hand and fingers, and by high school I had a callus on the side of my middle finger. So I switched to fountain pens to ease the pain, which somewhat aggravated my math teachers because I would do my math in ink–with no cross-outs. Fortunately I was good in math.

    As for English, writing was so painful that I never did a rough draft; my first draft was my final draft, which is never a thing of beauty.

    For note-taking, I developed my own style of speed-printing, which gave me some insights into how certain letters developed into cursive (the “s”, for example). Speed-printing was much easier, legible, and faster than cursive.

    Personal computers happened along after I finished law school, but I transitioned into word processing seamlessly, and I simple love being able to move around block text when I edit my work. I have become a much better writer because of abandoning cursive for the keyboard.

    The ONLY thing I use cursive for nowadays is my signature.

  27. Speed-printing was much easier, legible, and faster than cursive.

    Maybe this could be taught in school. It would benefit those who wouldn’t necessarily reinvent what you discovered.


  1. […] Blog  Joanne  Jacobs wonders if we still need to teach cursive.  Be sure to read the more interesting discussion in the comments section that follows the post. […]

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