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Cursing Cursive
February 1, 2014 9:34 AM   Subscribe

No longer swearing by cursive writing
Cursive handwriting: Seven states fight for cursive writing in school
Learning Cursive Is a Basic Right
Cursive writing could become part of Common Core
posted by the man of twists and turns (196 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I learned cursive in third grade and switched back to printing by eighth grade. Then again, I was a budding font and letterform geek.

Today, I can write my name in cursive and can forge my father's and wife's signature if called upon to do so. Oh, and I can write a capital Q in cursive (it's basically a 2 with a loop at the top instead of the bottom).
posted by infinitewindow at 9:41 AM on February 1


I for one find the lack of instruction in wood-block printing in our schools a travesty.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:42 AM on February 1 [49 favorites]


Itaxpica, I think requiring adults to carve their own chop for official documents would be pretty cool.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:44 AM on February 1 [9 favorites]


A form of writing that is both harder to read and fails to save any noticeable amount of writing time whatsoever? Yeah, whyever would we want to let that one die a quiet death.
posted by kyrademon at 9:47 AM on February 1 [35 favorites]


I hated learning cursive, thought it was slow and ugly. I can still write in it, but painstakingly and my cursive still looks like a thirdgrader's.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:47 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


"The signature, the ability to sign one’s own name with grace and confidence, has long been an essential marker of society. Today more and more I meet high school students who, though they can read, sometimes well and sometimes poorly, are ashamed whenever they are confronted with the need to sign a document. [...] Cursive has become a status marker."

I suspected that one of the first things I'd see in these links was a nonsensical appeal to classism, and I was not disappointed.

You can graduate from high school without understanding how software, political theory, statistics or money work, and that's totally fine! We can't have the underclass actually understanding how the world works, or anything. But by all means let's keep cursive in the program, along with sock-darning and navigating by sextant, and not make room to give kids the tools to they need to be an effective part of modernity.
posted by mhoye at 9:48 AM on February 1 [42 favorites]


I have no dog in the fight of keeping cursive relevant, but I am still glad that I know how to write in it, even if I have very little reason to do so anymore.
posted by Kitteh at 9:49 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


My signature is a meaningless scribble, I had no idea this marked me as a lowly pleb but I am somehow glad it does.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:49 AM on February 1 [10 favorites]


Wonderful. I mean, it's got everything: it's a great life skill to make all that handwriting of things just a little faster, it positions our student's skillsets for global competitiveness, and it expands and challenges their minds. What's not to love?

I never wasted more time on a more useless bit of drill.

Obligatory FYI for non-US folks: "Cursive" isn't just "joined up writing." It's joined up writing with some special letter forms.
posted by tyllwin at 9:49 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


I teach cursive, because if they learn it so thoroughly in third grade, it's kind of unfair to tell them in sixth that they don't have to use it ever again or that they shouldn't have to have legible handwriting. I suppose if they stop teaching it in third grade I'll stop teaching it too. It really takes only a tiny amount of time out of my English curriculum - I combine it with spelling instruction. What bothers me more is that my kids can't tell time on an analog clock.

I have made money as a calligrapher, plus I take Gregg shorthand (got me through my field work in graduate school) and can write the Feanorian phonetic script from Lord of the Rings. But I don't necessarily think any of that is useful. It's more entertaining.

Most important is that one of my secret missions as a teacher is to be countercultural and subversive. Everyone should have an arcane skill, and everyone should know how to do something other people don't.
posted by Peach at 9:50 AM on February 1 [26 favorites]


No longer swearing by cursive writing

whenever i want to swear at someone in writing, I always use cursive so no one can understand me. I mean, why else would they call it 'curse-ive'.

pony request: special metafilter cursive font
posted by ennui.bz at 9:51 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I for one find the lack of instruction in wood-block printing in our schools a travesty.

Edgy.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:54 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Yo kids just start a protest movement and fill that SAT shit out in print.

I think if they give you any shit you've actually got yourself a good hook for college admissions.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:55 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I've come to the conclusion, having been involved in a lot of arguments about whether kids should learn cursive, that this basically comes down to an issue of educational philosophy. Defenders of cursive tend to be people who believe that there is great value in requiring children to do mindless, repetitive tasks until they have achieved mastery of those tasks. They believe that among the really important goals of elementary school are to teach children self-discipline and submission to authority, and the task of learning cursive is one way to impart those virtues. I think that's mostly unstated in discussions of cursive, but it really does seem to be there.

I haven't seen any other defense of cursive that doesn't just boil down to pointing out that people are required to write certain things in cursive. That could be easily fixed by no longer requiring those things to be written in cursive, which is surely what would happen if most kids stopped learning to write cursive.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:55 AM on February 1 [30 favorites]


you know, when a sizable percentage of the population is illiterate, it seems that we have bigger problems than being able to write cursive
posted by pyramid termite at 9:57 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


If you want kids to be able to write very quickly, it would be sensible to start by replacing the QWERTY keyboard with one that isn't stupid. At least line the keys up in columns properly.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:59 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


My old last name was ten letters long and very awkward, so my signature ended up [firstname] [lastname letter one, letter two, swoopy line, last letter] and nobody ever called it wrong. Now that my last name is four letters long, I can sign the whole thing more or less exactly the same way even though the letters are totally different, and nobody ever calls it wrong. Thanks, cursive!
posted by davejay at 9:59 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Most important is that one of my secret missions as a teacher is to be countercultural and subversive. Everyone should have an arcane skill, and everyone should know how to do something other people don't.

"Cursive is Subversive"
posted by davejay at 10:01 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I used to teach a variety of AP and IB classes that required my students to practice in-class essay writing to prep for their end-of-year exams. Even though they were all taught cursive, more than half of the students wrote their essays in print. I had operated under the assumption that cursive was faster than printing (it was for me), but when I asked why the students printed, they told me that they wrote faster in print. Different strokes for different folks, it seems. Those printed essays were always easier (and therefore faster) to read though.

In the end, I really don't care if it is taught or not. Content trumps format.
posted by Groundhog Week at 10:01 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I for one find the lack of instruction in wood-block printing in our schools a travesty.

Regressive hogwash. Why do some people refuse to adapt to new technology?
I for one have taught linoleum block printing in our schools for years.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:01 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I disagree. Defenders of cursive do not fit so neatly in the box of "mindless, repetitive task" instruction, nor are they all "submission to authority" martinets, though there are some of those still lurking around. It's often considered a cognitive language-related skill. I agree that very few are like me (I consider it a way of giving kids cultural capital) but your characterization of teachers who like cursive is pretty much an imaginary straw-man construct.
posted by Peach at 10:02 AM on February 1 [16 favorites]


Also, early on, I had to switch writing my commentary on their papers from cursive to print, so it was easier for them to read.
posted by Groundhog Week at 10:03 AM on February 1


there is great value in requiring children to do mindless, repetitive tasks until they have achieved mastery of those tasks

Y'know, I'm not wholly unsympathetic to that argument. Some things are hard to learn, and the experience of pushing through and getting it down pat isn't a horrible one to guide kids through. Proof that practice will give a skill they once found daunting isn't an insane goal. A few goals like that may not be all that bad. But there are surely better things that edge could be sharpened on. There are lots of bits of rote memorization that could be taught instead. Maybe... I dunno, touch typing? Identifying the countries of the world on a map? Cooking a pot of rice? What wouldn't be more useful?
posted by tyllwin at 10:04 AM on February 1 [15 favorites]


My younger cousins can't even change a vacuum tube or replace a typewriter ribbon. What is this world coming to?!
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:05 AM on February 1 [10 favorites]


(Full disclosure: I had a really hard time learning cursive and ultimately had to see an occupational therapist who helped me learn it well enough to pass the third grade. My school did not require students to learn to type, but my mom felt very strongly that it was an important life skill and made me and my siblings take a summer typing course, which my parents had to pay for out of pocket. I have never used cursive since elementary school, and my typing skills have been of great value in literally every educational experience and pretty much every job I have ever had. I feel that it was borderline abusive for my schools to put so much focus on a basically useless writing system and not put any emphasis at all on the method of communicating that basically defines the modern world.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:05 AM on February 1 [33 favorites]


If you want kids to be able to write very quickly, it would be sensible to start by replacing the QWERTY keyboard with one that isn't stupid.

Surely a cursive keyboard would be the best of both worlds, doubly inefficient.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:06 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Surely a cursive keyboard would be the best of both worlds, doubly inefficient.

Doubly inefficient? A recursive keyboard?
posted by howfar at 10:08 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Oh yeah, and: Sometimes rote memorization of something provided tangible benefits. My father made us learn to touch-type, and thank goodness; I can't count the number of times I was between jobs and got accepted by a temp agency because I could type more than 80wpm. You can argue that something might be out of date and useless, but rote memorization still serves a useful purpose, because many useful/desirable things can only be mastered through daily practice (typing, sewing, playing a musical instrument, etc.) The trick is to teach kids how to engage with daily practice rituals and develop persistent habits. Which admittedly is difficult, and certainly doesn't happen by sending kids home to practice -- better to have the kids practice every day together in very short pledge-of-allegiance-length bursts (so it isn't boring) or utilize engaging tools (like game-based typing tutors.)
posted by davejay at 10:09 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


along with sock-darning and navigating by sextant

"First door on the left, put cursive on the shelf next to these two, beneath Latin and Greek".

I have no problem offering or even requiring kids to have some time spent in school developing real skills in a moderately difficult area that has little practical value, but opens them up to a world of study and practice for its own sake, and has deep historical or traditional ties to them or even to another culture. But make it something richer in its own right than than cursive writing, which is now an archaism on the more relevent skills of printing and typing. Wood block printing or Latin are actually far better candidates than cursive.
posted by fatbird at 10:11 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


From the first and second links:
(1) Some educators claim that cursive writing plays a role in brain and overall academic development, but others disagree and say what the studies actually show is that any form of hand lettering, including print, engages more of the brain than keyboarding does.
(2) Cursive advocates cite recent brain science that indicates the fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye coordination and develops fine motor skills, in turn promoting reading, writing and cognition skills.
Can anybody here comment on this (or related) research on the benefits of cursive writing?
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:13 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Somehow I've managed to live a productive life for 49.5 years without learning cursive; I'd have a hard time convincing a kid that it's a necessary life skill. In my personal and professional life, I might scribble a few words on a post-it note to myself but that's about the only thing that I ever use a pen for these days.
posted by octothorpe at 10:21 AM on February 1


Italic is easier, more attractive, and legible even if you haven't been taught it. It actually has a prayer of being maintained after the point where you stop being required to write in cursive. Contrast with the completely opaque and utterly useless Zaner-Bloser Q and Z. As long as we're probably going to need to teach kids to write by hand to some degree, that seems a far more sensible way of doing it.
posted by Sequence at 10:22 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Everyone should have an arcane skill, and everyone should know how to do something other people don't.

er, fountain pen anyone?
posted by infini at 10:26 AM on February 1


I don't get the hate for cursive. I'm a complete free love, do-what-you-want hippy and loathe repetitive, mindless tasks, but I wanted to learn cursive. To me, it meant I was finally able to read and write like an adult and was entering a new stage of life. I have to say that I have a gut feeling that cursive is like music... students who study music learn better at other subjects. As MonkeyToes said in #2, it has to enhance hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and I believe it really must help improve reading and cognition. Then again, perhaps not, but why the hate and derision?
posted by PigAlien at 10:26 AM on February 1 [15 favorites]


Then again, perhaps not, but why the hate and derision?

Old is bad. Youth is good. Forward march uber alles.
posted by infini at 10:28 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


NYTimes: Room For Debate: Should Schools Require Children To Learn Cursive?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:28 AM on February 1


That's interesting, the man of twists and turns. I would not have expected the "director of the world handwriting contest" to have such a sensible take on this.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:40 AM on February 1


Cursive has become a status marker.

Oddly, that is something I've noted on the other side of the spectrum. In my experience the folks that I see signing their name in painful, carefully looped cursive are older, less educated and less wealthy.

I think cursive is a neat trick though, and I think that learning cursive as a 2nd grader gave me the skillset I needed to learn italics and confidently address calligraphy, greek lettering, etc. Learning cursive taught me to relax my hand (not clench my pencil with a death grip) and let the words flow onto the paper rather than scratching them in letter by letter. I think I might go as far as to say it was good brain training for me, too.
posted by arnicae at 10:43 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I have to say one of the best things my grandparents ever made me do was to take a typing class in high school back in the 80s (so it was on electric typewriters and not computers quite yet). I'm a very fast touch typist now, making a living and performing a lot of my hobbies with fingers on the keyboard. Hated the idea at the time.

I found cursive, back when I did more handwriting than typing, to be "faster" in the sense of more flowing, without having to pick the pen up from the paper. But I don't think nowadays kids should have to learn it, as long as they can print clearly. Replace the cursive with touch typing, but for the love of god integrate it into the curriculum and don't make it a standalone, boring-ass thing.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:43 AM on February 1


The obvious response to "kids need it to decipher old documents and things written by their grandparents" is to create an app that does exactly that. We should preserve the knowledge of it (though it's not so different from print that a reasonably intelligent person couldn't decipher it.) but otherwise, move on.
posted by emjaybee at 10:44 AM on February 1


Man, I learned to touch type to avoid being headshotted while talking smack to my opposition while playing FPS games. None of this rote bullshit. I also hated the equivalent of cursive in my country, and I'm glad I knew it was a waste of time then. My signature is an illegible but mostly repeatable set of squiggles that I made up one day, and it has served me fine. Maybe you can teach cursive in an optional art class but don't jam it down kids throats.
posted by Joe Chip at 10:49 AM on February 1


There is a wonderful lecture in the Masonic ritual that goes on for six pages and must be delivered by a single officer by memory. It serves two purposes. First, it includes in one lecture all the fundamentals of the liberal arts that a learned man (of the 18th or 19th century) would be expected to know. It is why so many Masons know so much about classical Greek architecture, for example. As such, it serves both as a reminder to those who have already mastered these fundamentals of the things that were necessary to their further education, and as a introduction to the candidates of those things that they would need to master on the onset of their journey.

The lecture's second purpose is more prosaic. Since it is given by the highest-ranking Junior officer it serves as a sort of gateway or proficiency test. If you can memorize and present this lengthy piece of ritual, the thinking goes, then you have demonstrated your proficiency sufficiently so that the members can have confidence that you will be able to move on to becoming a Senior officer of the Lodge, and eventually become Master yourself. In other words, it's both important for what it does as well as for what it is - which, frankly, is an archaic and difficult thing to learn.

It strikes me that learning cursive performs similar functions in western society at large.
posted by Curious Artificer at 10:50 AM on February 1 [9 favorites]


The obvious response to "kids need it to decipher old documents and things written by their grandparents" is to create an app that does exactly that.

Heh, you should see how badly OCR does with any pre-20th century print, and handwriting will be a vastly tougher nut to crack. I think it's clear that eventually all non-print handwriting will fall into the domain of palaeography, and requre special training to read, just like 16th century script does now. As someone who teaches with special collections, I'll regret not being able to show students a handwritten letter and coach them through reading it. But that's a ludicous reason to make it mandatory instruction for 3rd graders.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:53 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Then again, perhaps not, but why the hate and derision?

I have a bit of an emotional reaction because my experiences of learning it were... very unpleasant.

On the one hand, perhaps I shouldn't allow my views to be tainted by that personal bad history, but my experiences rote learning "my times tables" were nearly as bad, and I have less of a grudge there. None, anymore really. That may be because "cursive" overshadows it, but I think it's more because I feel that at least I got something of some value out of the multiplication tables, but I got really nothing good at all out of cursive.
posted by tyllwin at 10:54 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Kids are in the classroom for a finite amount of time, so question is bound in a triage context.
Any pro-cursive people now?
posted by davel at 10:56 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


All this talk in the articles about traditional looped cursive, but what about italic?
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:57 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


In my experience there's a fair amount of overlap between the "stunning handwriting" group and the "I never learned to type as a political statement" group. So I'm aware that it's mostly my exasperation with the latter that drives my hatred of the former.

I learned many styles of handwriting: technical, italic, cursive, architectural and what I use, when I have to use it, is my own current mismash of the four. The thing was I picked up most of them because it was part of my job, but I was expected to learn them on my own. I'd probably bristle at someone telling me I had to learn something utterly unrelated to the field I was pursuing just to satisfy their inner desire for "rightness" in education. So, when this issue pops up every few years (as it inevitably does) I shrug, say good riddance and marvel that my nephew is learning basic computer programming in 1st grade instead of those stupid loops and whorls.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:57 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


School time is best spent on teaching things children actually need to know. Cursive should be available as an after-hours elective.
posted by evil otto at 11:03 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


It's funny, I guess it's just my background in history and ethnography, but I was imagining the argument for cursive to go in a completely different direction. Not being able to at least read cursive makes many important historical documents inaccessible; the same goes for modern-day international documents, since cursive is still widely practiced (and not just forcibly taught) in a lot of other places in the world.

From my own personal experience, I can't imagine doing what I do without the convenience of a quick cursive scrawl. Printing all of my notes in block lettering would be so much more time-consuming, and there are times when I don't have access to a keyboard for taking electronic notes.

But I guess an upside of this is that cursive will someday become a secret code for me to write covert messages to my geriatric comrades.
posted by LMGM at 11:05 AM on February 1 [17 favorites]


I went through four years at a university using a Smith Corona electric typewriter that had a cursive typeface. It had been my mother's. No one complained about my papers. Meanwhile my handwriting which did that switch back from cursive to printing is illegible. In high school I had a science teacher who could not write legibly on a blackboard. After one year of teaching science he moved to the art department to teach calligraphy. In Russian they only teach cursive. Everything is ironic.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:06 AM on February 1


For some reason all the female Asian friends I had growing up wrote in the same style of print. As someone with a mangled hybrid of print/cursive writing, I'm in favor of learning neat, clear print instead of cursive.
posted by book 'em dano at 11:07 AM on February 1 [13 favorites]


Picture from this Reddit thread.
posted by book 'em dano at 11:08 AM on February 1


As someone who teaches with special collections, I'll regret not being able to show students a handwritten letter and coach them through reading it.

Haha yeah I was trying to work on a 19th century letter last week and while it was beautifully written, I think there was something about a crocodile and then something else with too many syllables to deal with. Very beautiful though.

the same goes for modern-day international documents, since cursive is still widely practiced (and not just forcibly taught) in a lot of other places in the world.

Oh, interesting-- does anyone know where this is a part of the curriculum? I heard last week from a local college that one interesting problem their international students were facing was in fact their lack of cursive, since their professors would often write in it.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:09 AM on February 1


I'd largely reverted to printing by 9th grade, I think. But if we're going to teach "script" it should be something more awesome like this.

Disclaimer: I couldn't read half of what my more-elderly-and-now-generally-deceased German relatives wrote me...
posted by Slothrup at 11:09 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I speak in cursive all the time. Some people call it singing but they know nothing.
posted by srboisvert at 11:09 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


I was taught cursive, then transitioned into a mutant cursive/plain writing style, which I then forced back into complete cursive. I have two history degrees, and perhaps, also, it's looking at old hand written documents, like court documents or census pages, where someone with a beautiful hand wrote its contents...and it's beautiful. I see it as an art form, when done correctly, is easily read and a pleasure unto itself to gaze at. Handwriting does make an impact. I had a colleague once, in a legal setting, actually say he wished he didn't have to involve someone with disciplinary litigation entirely because they had such beautiful handwriting.

It then turns to the signature. I am a firm believer that every person should take pride in their signature, and that it should be something that is easily read (if not the latter, then at least the former). Anyone can be just a bunch of wavy lines that simulate writing, but every person can have a unique, legible name with any type of personality thrown into it.

In an age when everything is printed off a computer and the only organic and natural element is the signature, I at least want mine to be something that someone lingers over and hopefully appreciates.
posted by Atreides at 11:10 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I don't get the emphasis on a good signature; if I could get away with putting an X on whatever it is that requires a signature these days, I'd do it.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:13 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


  Obligatory FYI for non-US folks: "Cursive" isn't just "joined up writing."

aka "that weird-ass form of illegible scrawl that Americans are inexplicably all het up about" to most of the rest of the world.
posted by scruss at 11:14 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


The signature, the ability to sign one’s own name with grace and confidence, has long been an essential marker of society. Today more and more I meet high school students who, though they can read, sometimes well and sometimes poorly, are ashamed whenever they are confronted with the need to sign a document. [...] Cursive has become a status marker.
Working at a law firm and seeing all manner of legal documents (though nothing impressive/prestigious), I've noticed that (a) most lawyers have handwriting on par with a stereotypical doctor's, (b) lawyers in their mid-thirties or younger type as opposed to dictate [with a bunch of 40+ lawyers also getting in on the game], (c) that signatures by not just lawyers, but secretaries, paralegals and notaries as well, are almost all just quick squiggles on a page.

I started looking up signatures of "people of status"; it looks like most, but not all, fall into one of two categories. The first group of people have two signatures, one for when they sign something important (a piece of legislation, a landmark court decision) and another quick squiggle since they sign so many things each day. The second group seems to just have a squiggle.

(Besides, aren't we all moving to electronic signatures too?)
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:23 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I was sick a lot during the cursive years at school, so I had to learn cursive on my own years later (I pretty much just winged it in school). I saw an example of some older German style of handwriting in a book and went with that as my style of cursive. The lowercase d is my favorite letter to write.
posted by Redfield at 11:26 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Oh, interesting-- does anyone know where this is a part of the curriculum? I heard last week from a local college that one interesting problem their international students were facing was in fact their lack of cursive, since their professors would often write in it.

A lot of French people believe in handwriting analysis.

Which is stupid.

But, it does mean they make good paper and pens, so I'm really ok with them believing in it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:30 AM on February 1


why the hate and derision?

I don't think it's hate an derision toward cursive qua cursive, but toward teaching it - because teaching it means a student spending hundreds of hours drilling and drilling to gain a skill that has little-to-no use in the adult world, and will be largely irrelevant by the time the student hits High School. This in an age of standardized testing when there's not nearly enough time spend on actual learning, and far too much on drilling on stupid things mandated by law to begin with.

I, for one, learned cursive, had shitty handwriting for years, and then got shittier handwriting when I hit college and had basically no need for it any more. My typing class in 7th grade, on the other hand, still serves me well, since I can dash off words at a large fraction of my speaking speed.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:31 AM on February 1


I don't know about the younger kids (I'll have to ask my sister about the nearly- 5yo nephew) but my generation learned to write with the cuadernos Rubio. I write in a very stylized version of that with letters from print (the r's and s's, mostly) and a few weird ligatures.
posted by sukeban at 11:32 AM on February 1


I went to an elementary school which did not teach printing.

When I was in fifth grade, my brother took pity on me and showed me, on a sheet of paper, that I could print letters.

Which meant I could read my own writing. It was wonderfully liberating.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:33 AM on February 1


...Wait, it seems that now they still teach the same script, but it's in color.
posted by sukeban at 11:36 AM on February 1


If you cannot read cursive, you are illiterate by definition. You are unable to read.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:38 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I think the "italic" article linked above and the NYTimes thing from the woman who runs the "world handwriting contest" were both interesting, because they're both by self-identified handwriting teachers, and they both have a similar take on what's wrong with cursive instruction. They both say that kids should be taught a more natural writing style, without the fancy loops or the special characters that are totally different from print, and they should be encouraged to develop a fast, legible writing style that links up letters only when it's faster or easier to link up letters. Both articles recommend that people develop individual writing styles that work for them, rather than having a single, universal style like those of us who learned something like the Palmer Method learned. I wonder if they're part of some sort of mini-movement. It makes a lot of sense to me.

The writer in the New York Times also suggests that kids can easily be taught to read cursive even if they don't learn to write it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:43 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


If you cannot read cursive, you are illiterate by definition. You are unable to read.

I bet you can't read Sütterlin or historical documents like this or this, but that doesn't make you illiterate.
posted by sukeban at 11:46 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


So can you read this, Charlie, or are you illiterate?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:47 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


charlie don't surf: "If you cannot read cursive, you are illiterate by definition. You are unable to read."

I can generally read cursive but seldom have to. Other than Christmas cards from older relatives, when would I be needing it?
posted by octothorpe at 11:48 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Unless you can read every form of writing, charlie, you are illiterate, by that definition.

How far back do we go? Cuneiform?

I don't hate cursive; my father and mother had beautiful signatures and writing, and I've kept some things of theirs just to preserve it. But it's becoming more and more obscure, while the new things that we need to teach kids keep increasing. My parents didn't need to know anything about computers, but my kid will. The amount of science and history they studied, in a high school education during the 50s and 60s, was paltry compared to what my kid should know, in my opinion. (I'm not sure how far they got in math). They never learned another language; I want my kid to know Spanish.

They spent hours and hours learning that beautiful writing, though. I just don't think I can justify using those same hours for my son's education.

And then there's practice. I learned cursive, but I never use it except to sign my name. I can read it, but I'm not going through old documents as part of my job, and if I was someone who had never learned cursive and needed to learn the unique letterforms, then I could.

I mean, many of the letters, the J's, I's, M's, N's that I was taught, look a lot like their print equivalents. I'm pretty sure a semester on reading cursive would suffice for a lot of things (not taking into account Gothic scripts, bad handwriting, or overly elaborate calligraphy, but I would need help for those anyway).
posted by emjaybee at 11:49 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Serious question: Was cursive actually useful before the invention of ballpoint pens, but we're just now catching on that no one uses reservoir pens any more?
posted by enf at 11:50 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I felt ever so grownup when, in the second grade, we learned cursive. I could read those mysterious notes my Mom jotted down (turned out to be a shopping list, not some ingenious plot). Just for nostaliga's sake, this article notes a few other things that were common place in the classroom of my youth that have gone the way of the dinosaur....
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:59 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I have no historical proof of this but I'm pretty sure cursive in grade school was implemented as a means to weed out and shame the deviant left-handed kids.

Seriously I had straight 'As' in all subjects but always ALWAYS had a C- in cursive so fuck that noise
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:09 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


We had to learn cursive at one point in primary school in Malaysia, God knows why. It wasn't ever used again - you just printed in whatever handwriting you had.

Re cognition: I think better either scrawling or typing - trying to do cursive would just get me stuck on the handwriting. The discussion about developing your ownhandwriting style is interesting, if a bit "yeah duh": do you all have to learn to print in a very specific way too? We just...wrote.

(i did get comments about my messy handwriting ALL THE TIME, which was annoying because it never seemed like my handwriting would be tidy enough for anyone.)
posted by divabat at 12:12 PM on February 1


If you cannot read cursive, you are illiterate by definition. You are unable to read.

That is insane? I suspect I see cursive script in the wild less often than I see Cyrillic, in a typical day. And way, way less than I see Arabic script, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, knowing any of which will be far more useful in the next fifty years than cursive.
posted by mhoye at 12:14 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


My daughter is in 5th grade and she learned a little bit of cursive writing. Unfortunately, she didn't learn enough to be able to read it. It comes up more often than I expected. The teacher will write a note on her paper, the doctor wrote some instructions, I write a grocery list, family sends her a card, and things like this. I am currently her translator, but she does need to learn to read it even if she doesn't write it.
posted by bperk at 12:14 PM on February 1


[...] the doctor wrote some instructions,

Doctors writing things - and worse, taking patient notes or prescribing things - in cursive isn't a reason to learn cursive, it's a reason to ban cursive entirely.
posted by mhoye at 12:25 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


I don't get the hate for cursive.

It's not hatred, it's contempt for the arguments of those who throw wild, romantic, idiosyncratic ideals around to justify spending limited education hours on their pet marker of civilization. Maybe my life is poorer because I can't recite the great speeches of Cicero in the original Latin, but my life is immeasurably richer in many more ways, so arguing that "markers of civilization" need to be kept alive is the worst sort of conservatism, the one where the cold, dead hand of tradition continues to grip us past all reason.

I say this as someone with lovely, consciously developed and maintained cursive handwriting. It's a wonderful thing to keep alive as a matter of interest. It has no use in education that isn't better served by other topics.
posted by fatbird at 12:30 PM on February 1 [7 favorites]


If you cannot read cursive, you are illiterate by definition. You are unable to read.

There are several languages I can read but not speak. At least one of them is no longer spoken by anyone unless they wear robes on a daily basis. So while I get what you're driving at here, it concerns me not at all. Not everyone needs to know everything to function in society.

Unless they chose to be an academic like me, then may God have mercy on their souls...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:30 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


There are several languages I can read but not speak. At least one of them is no longer spoken by anyone unless they wear robes on a daily basis.

You may not know a word of Latin, but (apart from the abbreviations and the run-on words and the I/J and U/V thing) you can sound aloud the oldest Roman inscriptions, because we're still using Roman square capitals.

(Roman cursive is pretty much illegible without practice, though)
posted by sukeban at 12:36 PM on February 1


I am a firm believer that every person should take pride in their signature, and that it should be something that is easily read

You must have a short name.
posted by smidgen at 12:41 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I am a firm believer that every person should take pride in their signature, and that it should be something that is easily read

Perhaps you are, but based on the signatures I have seen in my life as a 29-year-old adult, you are very rare in this firm belief.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:44 PM on February 1


Adults print? Seriously?
posted by Segundus at 12:45 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


(2) Cursive advocates cite recent brain science that indicates the fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye coordination and develops fine motor skills, in turn promoting reading, writing and cognition skills.

If we want to enhance students' hand-coordination and develop fine motor skills, we'd probably do better just to force them to play particularly twitchy FPS-es.

Similarly, if the goal is for adults to be able to write quickly, then we should teach them actual shorthand.

Not being able to at least read cursive makes many important historical documents inaccessible

Such as?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:46 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


There were multiple occasions in my elementary school tenure that due to my grade in 'handwriting' I was left off the honor roll.

I'm still bitter. Death to cursive.
posted by ndfine at 12:53 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Adults print? Seriously?

I learned cursive in third grade (a pox upon them from all us 'deviant' left-handed people), and promptly never used it again until the infamous paragraph at the end of the SAT. Since then? I have literally never had a situation come up where I have needed to read cursive, much less write it.

Knowing how to transliterate Cyrillic has come up more often than that. Knowing that The Star Spangled Banner was based off a drinking song has been useful more often than that. Understanding how Unicode works has come up infinitely more than that.

It'd be much less of a stretch to claim that not knowing how UTF-8 code points work makes you illiterate. After all, if you know that, you can transcribe any script.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:58 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


How far back do we go? Cuneiform?

Really the unintended consequences are the most amusing aspect of this entire topic — I never knew so many people genuinely favored paleography as a grade-school subject. We will truly have failed as a nation if all our fourth-graders cannot render a fair copy in either Carolingian uncial or eighteenth-century roundhand!
posted by RogerB at 12:58 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Not being able to at least read cursive makes many important historical documents inaccessible

What bubble of privilege are you speaking from? K-12 students do not need to be able to read the US Declaration of Independence in the original Greek.
posted by davel at 12:59 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I have Opinions (capitalized for emphasis) on cursive writing. They mean little, but if anyone thinks that there remain no captains of industry still concerned with the form of writing, I can personally attest to being asked to submit to a formal graphonalysis while interviewing for a Major Niche Bank not less than four years ago.

So whatever side one favors, handwriting in whatever form is still A Thing.

That was the first sign that tipped me off they were batshit crazy. I did not pursue the position after that.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:00 PM on February 1


Really the unintended consequences are the most amusing aspect of this entire topic — I never knew so many people genuinely favored paleography as a grade-school subject.

I'm European and I like going to museums. We kind of have to keep old manuscripts (city charters, legal codes, papal bulls, edicts, and so on) around because they're historically significant. My respect for paleographers is quite high.
posted by sukeban at 1:12 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the argument for cursive as markers of civilization or necessary for historical documents etc come of as really fucking classiest. Why aren't we working to make those documents more accessible to everyone? And whose definition of civilization are we using anyway? Most of what we know about everything originally came from Asia and the Middle East - wouldn't it be more civilized to learn Chinese, Sanskrit, Devangari, Arabic, Japanese?
posted by divabat at 1:21 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I hated handwriting drills (both cursive and print) just as I hated all rote memorization in school. I've since come to moderate my position a bit; while I still find rote memorization distasteful and think that other methods should be used as much as possible, sometimes there's just no better way. Sometimes the only effective way to learn something is just to drill yourself on it over and over again, no matter how boring it is, until it fixes itself in your memory. Perhaps if somebody had stopped to explain that to me when I was younger I would've accepted it and benefitted from that wisdom, though then again I was a pretty stubborn and arrogant kid so maybe not.

Anyway though, I really think that rote learning ought to be restricted to situations where the knowledge being memorized is both unequivocally valuable and difficult to learn by other means. Handwriting is one of those situations – despite the fact that I and many others do 99% of my writing on a keyboard these days, sometimes there are situations where you just have to write something down with a pen and paper. You need your writing to be legible, and you want it to not be a huge chore; it should be relatively effortless, possible without requiring too much thought. Handwriting is an important skill, and while a person these days doesn't need to have flawless Palmer script, he or she does need to be proficient.

Having kids memorize two different versions of handwriting is pretty pointless though. I long ago forgot how to write in cursive, and I can't recall a single time when I've thought to myself "gee, I wish I could write this in cursive instead of printing it". It's just something that's never come up, even once, anytime in the last fifteen years of my life. The closest I ever come is when I'm writing my signature, but that's just a minimalist scrawl based on the capital cursive "F", which happens to be the first letter in my surname. I like the look of it, I'm comfortable with it, but it could just as easily have been something else. Signatures don't need to be print, or cursive, or anything. They just need to be distinctive and repeatable. They certainly don't require one to be proficient in any particular style of handwriting.

If we're going to use rote memorization in schools, let's use it for things that are useful. Multiplication tables. Vocabulary. Place names. Shorthand. Recipes. Chemical elements. Knots. Hell, resistor color codes might even be marginally useful at some point compared to cursive. Things that are likely to be actually useful to kids later in life. There are so many better things that they could be spending their time memorizing than a redundant handwriting system that they're never going to use. The number of useful things to memorize in basic mathematics alone is practically endless. Why on Earth would anyone think that wasting dozens of hours on something redundant and irrelevant would be a good idea?
posted by Scientist at 1:22 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I mean, in the amount of time that I spent being drilled on cursive back in school, I probably could've learned a dozen basic guitar chords along with a few simple strumming patterns. Now that is something that I would be glad to have carried with me.
posted by Scientist at 1:25 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Not getting the visceral anti-cursive feeling. I learned it, with my class, in fourth grade and used it thereafter. We were graded on penmanship as well. Did knowledge of cursive immeasurably improve my life? No. But it's a cool thing to know. And anything that moves people out of the horrible crabbed script most seem to employ is a good thing.

I also believe in compulsory Latin and Greek because knowledge of the classics is absolutely essential to students, as a) they help students learn English and other languages and b) they are the languages in which so much great thought was applied to Big Issues we still haven't quite settled in our modern times.

There are things in the world that may be seen as "holdovers" or "archaic" that actually provide grace notes and meaning beyond the mandated, test-driven teaching curriculum. Cursive and the classics are two of them.
posted by the sobsister at 1:25 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the argument for cursive as markers of civilization or necessary for historical documents etc come of as really fucking classiest.

And as nobody is teaching uncial, or blackletter, or chancery or secretary hand anyway, it is rather silly.
posted by sukeban at 1:28 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Some thoughts:
--It doesn't take that long to learn. It doesn't take that much practice (anyone requiring hours of practice on handwriting is doing it to avoid teaching anything else).
--It's not real useful, and it's not faster than print.
--It's a signifier of a Catholic school education for many people, and therefore a class marker.
--It's pretty, and being able to read it is handy sometimes.
--Being able to handwrite, whether in print or in cursive, comes in more handy than I can say, especially when technology is busy failing or creating far more work than it saves, which it often is.
--I worked for lawyers for a long while, and their handwriting was horrible then, and they took pride in how horrible it was. A lawyer told me once that if she had learned to touch-type she wouldn't have become a lawyer. Now, lawyers take pride in typing everything themselves, so they have switched back to doing the manual labor they disdained. They still hire secretaries, though, so they can have someone to disdain.
--Many if not most of the things we teach in schools will never be used to earn a living. That doesn't make them worthless.
posted by Peach at 1:37 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Also, the idea that "cursive is a marker of class" is just one more reason to get rid of it, if you ask me. I'm all for doing away with arbitrary fucking status markers that cause some people to get treated better than others for no good reason. You know what should be "markers of class"? Integrity. Compassion. Kindness. Generosity. Level-headedness. Honesty. That, and a reputation for doing good work in the world and treating others fairly.

It should have nothing to do with what esoteric skills you know, or how you dress, or your accent, or the car you drive, or your bank balance, or any of that other arbitrary bullshit that we use to preserve the status quo power structure by finding stupid ways, ways that have nothing to do with anyone's character or quality as a human being, to set some people above others. If cursive is seen as a marker of class, then that's a distinct negative, in my opinion.
posted by Scientist at 1:54 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Man... it always surprises me that Metafilter is so unanimously against continuing to teach cursive. Blows my mind!

I'm a college student, and I've noticed that many of my friends and peers have *godawful* penmanship. And they shy away from writing my hand whenever possible. That's fine from a practical perspective, since they all have access to computers... but I can't imagine the feeling of not being fluent and confident in my own penmanship! In the same way, I can't imagine how it would feel to be illiterate, or to struggle with reading so much that I would avoid doing it. It would be torture!

Besides that, I would hate to rely so heavily on technology just to be able to write. Dozens of times a day, I use a pen or pencil to write something down, because it's easier and faster than pulling out my laptop or even my phone. And I think no matter how advanced technology gets, and how integrated into our lives, writing by hand will always be more efficient in some situations.

One of the articles called the teaching of cursive "a basic right," and I think it is. Not because everyone should write in cursive, but because, as that same article pointed out, practicing cursive leads to better print and script handwriting, and writing by hand is a fundamentally important tool.
posted by switcheroo at 1:55 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Frankly I've never needed trigonometry, the Pythagorean theorem, scientific notation, the periodic table, or long division in my adult life. That argument I made when I was a kid, "I'll just use a calculator", has come to pass because every mobile device and desktop computer has one if I'm in doubt. But I don't for a minute think they should stop teaching it. There exist documents written in cursive and opportunities to use cursive. Fucking learn it. It's not like that's why schools are cutting art and gym and music.
posted by Hoopo at 2:07 PM on February 1 [9 favorites]


Man, I don't understand you guys who print as fast as you write. Writing is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay faster. You must have super-fast robot hands.

I always got poor penmanship grades because I don't have great fine-motor control but a) it actually did help me with fine motor skills and b) I found the practice part rather meditative, not torturous. It was annoying to constantly get poor grades on a skill I felt like was simply outside my control, but I suppose people with dyscalculia feel like that about math, and it didn't kill me. We also didn't spend a whole lot of class time on it, I barely remember the process of learning it because it was not particularly onerous. Midyear we just switched to having to turn in written assignments in handwriting rather than printing.

But it turns out I'm something of a kinesthetic learner and if I'm listening to a lecture or a meeting and taking handwritten notes on it, I never have to reference those notes again, because what I'm learning will stick in my mind. It doesn't work nearly as well with printing, and it doesn't work AT ALL with typing (and I type 140 wpm, I wouldn't give up typing for the world). In fact I almost crashed and burned when I started law school because it was right at the beginning of "everyone needs a laptop, bring it to class to take notes" and it turned out that when I took laptop notes, I retained NOTHING. I was suddenly a terrible student. Switching back to writing notes longhand solved the problem completely.

I still take notes longhand in meetings and presentations when I know I need to remember what's said, and I still rarely need to read them back later if I wrote them longhand in the first place.

I also find cursive is helpful for thinking certain things through ... I find it easier to organize my thoughts and do very early outlines longhand, for more complex pieces of writing. Just a page or two, nothing extensive, but it often helps me get my mind organized in a way typing doesn't. I've tried some "mind-mapping" software wondering if it could give me similar benefits in terms of being able to "jot" things all over the page and connect ideas that way, but so far I haven't found one that works for me as well as pen and paper.

When I was in grade school and high school, teachers complained frequently about my bad handwriting. Now that I'm 35, people tell me ALL THE TIME what pretty handwriting I have ... not because it's improved at all, just because hardly anyone writes in cursive anymore. I learned Palmer Method and I still write basically that way (of course with all the degenerate forms and idiosyncratic oddities that anyone develops over time), and it's not very pretty because my fine motor skills are still not so great. But the handwriting that put me in the bottom third of the class when I was 8 now puts me in the top third of adults, I guess!

Anyway, I'm glad the tool of cursive was made available to me because it turns out to be super-important to how I learn. I'd like to see it continue to be made available to students, in some form -- I am not particularly attached to the Palmer Method, I don't really care what sort of writing students learn -- so that students like me for whom it is crucial to learning have that tool in their toolboxes. And students for whom it isn't important, as it wasn't for most of my peers who went back to printing, they tried it, they learned it, they can let it go. You spend a lot of time in school learning techniques to learn that may or may not work for you (flashcards and hierarchical outlining are two that don't work for me). As long as they're taught as "here's a thing that helps a lot of people" and not "THIS IS THE ONE TRUE WAY TO DO X," I think that's fine. There's a value both to being exposed to and practicing all these methods so that you find the ones that work for you, and to knowing how the ones that don't work for you work. If cursive ISN'T valuable to you, you've at least learned a) that it doesn't work for you so you don't have to keep trying and b) how to read your Great Aunt Mary's birthday notes to you. That is two reasonably useful things!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:12 PM on February 1 [21 favorites]


My 10-year old son is in 4th grade at a public primary school in Seattle. When I saw this post, I realised that I had no idea if they'd taught him cursive.

I asked him, and he said, "They taught us in third grade. I can sign my name. It's stupid, though. It takes so much longer than regular writing and is messy."

That being said, his teachers still focus on penmanship - they get docked points if their handwriting is illegible. But 'cursive or printing' is left up to the kids, and based on what he said, no one uses cursive.
posted by dotgirl at 2:14 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Apparently I can't spell "classist".

What's the difference between printing and writing? This seems to be an Americanism more than anything.

Also is cursive really the only (or best) way to have good handwriting?
posted by divabat at 2:20 PM on February 1


my inability to cursive write because of lack of fine motor control is one of the things that suggested to Occupational Therapists that I was disabled.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:23 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


140 WPM. Really.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:33 PM on February 1


Signatures don't need to be print, or cursive, or anything. They just need to be distinctive and repeatable. They certainly don't require one to be proficient in any particular style of handwriting

My signature is mostly a scribble with some hints of letters, like many people, and it works fine. But every few years I'll be signing some kind of form, usually at a bank, and the person will get upset and make me resign everything using a clear cursive "signature." Telling them that it's not actually my signature does no good -- for some small minded people, it's only a signature if it is ye olde cursive and all the letters are legible.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:34 PM on February 1


Frankly I've never needed trigonometry, the Pythagorean theorem, scientific notation, the periodic table, or long division in my adult life.

But it's almost certain that you've used the concepts underlying them in your adult life, in your understanding of the world around you and the way it works. What underlying principles of squiggly letters have you been able to apply?
posted by darksasami at 2:35 PM on February 1


divabat: "What's the difference between printing and writing? This seems to be an Americanism more than anything."

Wikipedia sez: "Cursive, also known as script, joined-up writing, joint writing, running writing, or handwriting is any style of penmanship in which the symbols of the language are written in a conjoined and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster." (It also notes that "cursive" is a US usage, yes, and not common in other English-speaking countries.)

In the US, generally printing means writing detached block letters, while cursive means joined-up writing of some sort. In older usage, only cursive was called "writing."

Here are several examples of both printing and cursive, showing the diversity of styles students are taught for English. Non-exhaustive but hits some high points.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:36 PM on February 1


It then turns to the signature. I am a firm believer that every person should take pride in their signature, and that it should be something that is easily read (if not the latter, then at least the former). Anyone can be just a bunch of wavy lines that simulate writing, but every person can have a unique, legible name with any type of personality thrown into it.

As a nervous teenager I once asked the person who was opening my bank account whether it was ok that they couldn't read my signature. They replied that it was a very good thing that it was what it was, rather than legible letters, because it was much harder to forge. So there's that.
posted by darksasami at 2:38 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Huh. In my experience (mostly Malaysia but not exclusively) our general handwriting style is what you all call "print", and cursive was something more arcane that you learnt for a few months at Std 2 or something and then never used or saw again.
posted by divabat at 2:43 PM on February 1


I had no idea that cursive was an issue at all! I'm finding this conversation interesting but do wish I had a reference point for people's anecdotes.

I think the the importance of writing in any fashion will depend on how old you are; until recently most people wrote almost everything. Very few of my friends even owned a typewriter. People growing up with computers would have less (practical) need for knowing cursive, but I think of knowing cursive as having two handwriting fonts.

In my experience there's a fair amount of overlap between the "stunning handwriting group" and the "I never learned to type as a political statement" group. So I'm aware that it's mostly my exasperation with the latter than drives my hatred of the former.

This is me! The combination of a small amount of artistic talent plus my life-long desire to be an architect means I have great penmanship, and the reason I never took typing is because I thought I would never, ever work in some stuffy office. This was in the early 70s so it was really more teenage hubris, petulance, and naivete than any political statement. Also, I hadn't read Future Shock yet.

What bothers me more is that my kids can't tell time on an analog clock.

I find this shocking. I also think this would be much more of a class marker than cursive.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:44 PM on February 1


But it's almost certain that you've used the concepts underlying them in your adult life,

Trig? Pythagorean theorem? Periodic Table?

Nope.
posted by Hoopo at 2:45 PM on February 1


I would add that I do frequently receive correspondence in cursive and I need to be able to read it and reply to it in order to do my job.
posted by Hoopo at 2:46 PM on February 1


Pruitt-Igoe: "140 WPM. Really."

Really. My mother's even faster than I am ... on an IBM Selectric. It's amazing.

Actually all my life in work environments I've had people come stand behind my chair and watch my screen and then when I finished a sentence and paused to say, "What?" they'd say, "Oh, I assumed you were just hitting random keys to make it SOUND like you were typing, you're really fast!" On the downside I go through keyboards like nobody's business because I hit the keys so hard, I don't have a very efficient keystroke. I'm also really noisy even on a quiet keyboard because I bang so hard.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:46 PM on February 1


Adults print? Seriously?

Yeps. Always found it easier for me. More fluid for me to write, and my penmanship is so horrid anyways that I might as well write in a system that I know I'll be able to read later on.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:54 PM on February 1


...every few years I'll be signing some kind of form, usually at a bank, and the person will get upset and make me resign everything using a clear cursive "signature."

I'm really glad that that's never come up for me, seeing as my full name is 22 letters (Leaving off middle names) and most blanks seem designed for people with short names.
posted by frimble at 2:56 PM on February 1


Pruitt-Igoe: "140 WPM. Really."

Hang out in chat when eyebrows is around. You will become a believer.
posted by Michele in California at 2:58 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I'll be sorry to see it go but if someone wants to learn it, they can always do so later. I have been meaning to pick up some 1800s era penmanship after seeing some of my ancestors' beautiful (but terribly misspelled) correspondence.

In one of the multiple earlier metafilter threads (here's one from the image tag era) foretelling the demise of cursive I seem to remember someone saying that cursive haters and non-haters were often segregated by sex because cursive is usually taught at age 7-8- right when girls have better fine motor skills than boys. They suggested that if the schools waited a year, boys wouldn't have such a hard time with it and would therefore hate it less.

If this is true, it would be good to have something else that teaches fine motor skills, perhaps a year or so later. Anecdotally, I have noticed that people under 25 or so often have terrible fine motor skills unless they have a hobby like building models, sewing, or scrapbooking, and even scrapbooking you can do without doing anything besides straight cuts.

As a tangent, here in the city anyway, they seem to have terrible motor skills altogether- I think schools need to supply more trees to climb or something.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:04 PM on February 1


This is anecdotal, but I have noticed that people under 25 or so often have terrible fine motor skills unless they have a handcraft sort of hobby like building models, sewing, or scrapbooking, and even scrapbooking you can do without doing anything besides straight cuts.

Isn't that a bit cum hoc ergo propter hoc? I gave up all my craft hobbies because I had terrible fine motor skills.
posted by darksasami at 3:08 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I find this shocking. I also think this would be much more of a class marker than cursive.
I teach in an elite private school. My students all tell time by their smartphones. And anyway, they are scheduled down to the minute by their parents, so they don't have to know what time it is. Ever.
posted by Peach at 3:19 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Thus is a very weird discussion, by the point of view of this Italian.
Here cursive is taught at the same time as print (stampatello) in year one, meaning there is no difficulty in learning a new way of writing later, learning to write is lumped all together in one block.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:25 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Personally, I find the attachment to cursive and careless swipes at folks who don't use it a bit tedious and crankish, but I feel like this ground is already well-covered.

Something I will point out, though, is that I have a good friend who has a learning disability that includes, among other things, dysgraphia. He is the embodiment of the (generally-untrue) spectre of the non-cursive user -- it really is painful for him to write, and the result actually is not aesthetically sound. He types instead, almost exclusively, and is a rockstar ninja software engineer because he's also extraordinarily gifted in the cognitive domains that are his strengths.

From what I've learned from talking with him, people with his form of disability often have problems being superficially judged as generally unintelligent or lacking moral fiber -- their pattern of strengths and deficits mean that they tend to do poorly at a number of skills, handwriting being one (and IIRC reading analog clocks being another), that people tend to place inordinate value on as a marker of overall ability and virtue.

The result is that I kind of have an "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye" attitude towards this sort of silliness -- teach the thing, don't teach it, whatever, but raising it up as some sort of essential key to becoming a fully realized person is not cool anymore in my book.
posted by sparktinker at 3:29 PM on February 1 [9 favorites]


It may be that the average girl is more able to learn cursive than the average boy, but I also think it's a lot more stressed for girls, because boys are supposed to be rowdy and rambunctious and not like boring repetitive tasks, and girls are supposed to be obedient and ladylike and sit in their chairs quietly and write the letter G again and again and again and again until it is just perfectly like the one on the board. Perfect cursive is a highly gendered skill. (It's also a class signifier, but not an upper-class signifier.) Doctors aren't expected to have perfect handwriting. You don't get to be a doctor by sitting quietly and copying the letter G a thousand times.

I'm definitely not saying that writing is unimportant because you can type everything. I hand write things all the time. I just don't think it's necessarily important to learn two separate writing systems when one will totally suffice.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:34 PM on February 1


A lot of French people believe in handwriting analysis.

Which is stupid.


Eh, I know a lady that does handwriting analysis as a party trick for companies (literally she is hired to do it as a party trick, makes good money). Everyone always starts with the eye rolling and the "stupid" comments, but she starts the show by going into another room, asking each person in the room to sign their name (or sign another name, she doesn't care, but they have to remember whose name they sign).

She comes back, sorts through the slips of paper with the signatures, and picks out whoever is highest ranking in the room (CEO or boss or what have you). It is pretty uncanny.

After people finish picking their jaws up off the floor she then starts going through the slips of paper, without asking the signer to ID themselves, and she then describes the signer in pretty accurate detail. She doesn't tend to pull punches, which people generally find pretty funny. I still send her Christmas cards but I have to admit, I always wonder what she sees in my handwriting before I write them. I never ask.
posted by arnicae at 3:41 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Adults print? Seriously?

I'm pretty strongly in the "continue to teach cursive" camp and I often print or use a hybrid of both for my own note-taking.
posted by Hoopo at 3:45 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Perfect cursive is a highly gendered skill.

Certainly that's the stereotype, and it's terribly powerful. When I was a graduate student grading a physics course, there was one student in the class with truly beautiful cursive handwriting. I would grade the homework without looking at names, and only see names at the end when I summed up scores; more than once I found myself reading this student's papers and thinking "huh, she made a minus-sign error here" and then at the end realizing "oh right that's the guy with really awesome handwriting". The persistence of my brain in this gender error really made me wonder why I (also female) felt the need to gender the homework-doer in the first place, and also made me worry about what the prejudice around gendered perceptions of handwriting does.

As for myself, I have completely terrible handwriting; it's some unholy cross of d'nealian, scrawled print, and chicken scratch. Handwriting was always the one class I'd get the lowest available grade in; Needs work. Hrmph. As a kid I remember being annoyed at having to spend any time on handwriting; I viewed it as an innate skill (my sister has beautiful handwriting, and I just never did; more effort just made my hands tired). For what it's worth I think my fine motor control hasn't suffered; I do origami and sew and seem to be fine there. I just make a mess when I write.
posted by nat at 3:52 PM on February 1


The only time I encounter handwriting now is grading pub quiz answer sheets. I think I unconsciously favour the (usually older) teams who's answer sheets are full of gorgeous writing. The younger folks print in this weird random way where the same person will make words look different. I guess no one ever develops a discipline around printing the way people used to teach cursive.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:55 PM on February 1


switcheroo: "Man... it always surprises me that Metafilter is so unanimously against continuing to teach cursive. … I can't imagine the feeling of not being fluent and confident in my own penmanship! …

I agree that it's important to have halfway-decent penmanship (though it actually wasn't until college, when I started taking notes in paper notebooks, that my handwriting became halfway-decent) but I don't see what that has to do with learning cursive. Everyone should learn to print. It's simple, it's legible, and very often when you are filling out an official form you will be required to print. I've literally never been required to write something in cursive outside of grade school. (Unlike Dip Flash up above nobody has ever given me any crap about my signature, which while based in cursive is really just one letter plus some minor embellishments.) I've never felt a need to have a second handwriting system.

I'm not swayed by arguments of aesthetics or practicality, either. Clear, confident print done with a decent pen can look every bit as professional and sophisticated as cursive. I'd say it looks more "plain and modern" rather than "fancy and old-fashioned" but I don't attach any value to that one way or another. Print looks good, and it has room for a lot of personality and character. I've also never found my print to be too slow; I used to take lecture notes, longhand, in print and I could always keep up just fine. If I'd needed to be faster I probably would have taught myself a shorthand system rather than cursive, as the benefits in terms of writing speed are much greater with compressed shorthand. Actually, I could totally see shorthand being taught in schools; if you need to take notes on a lecture or minutes at a meeting and there happens not to be a computer handy, I could see it being quite useful. Cursive, though? No way. I just don't see the point.
posted by Scientist at 4:18 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Besides that, I would hate to rely so heavily on technology just to be able to write. Dozens of times a day, I use a pen or pencil to write something down, because it's easier and faster than pulling out my laptop or even my phone.

Are you under the impression that people who don't write in cursive are unable to write by hand at all? I write just fine, thank you, in neat, well-formed separate letters if I want someone else to read it, or in a sloppily semi-joined method if it's only for myself. I can write either at about the same speed as others. I go through a legal pad and a pack of post-it notes a month, and haven't written a Palmer Method sentence for 40 years.
posted by tyllwin at 4:28 PM on February 1 [7 favorites]


Heck, based on all the above comments vis a vis learning cursive, then Gregg shorthand is equally useless and was a waste of brain power because of all the repetitive by-rote writing and memorization necessary. True, very few jobs require a person to be able to take shorthand any more these days (back in my heyday I earned a 120 wpm pin in Shorthand class!), but I still use it to this day, and in situations one wouldn't normally consider. For example, I've won three (count 'em, three) separate contests where 20 or more very short snippets of songs were played and you had to name them all. I was able to jot down the titles in shorthand as they were played (and as the other contestants were struggling to take down notes in longhand, lagging three or four songs behind) and won some serious cash ($1,000 at one venue). It also comes in handy when jotting down notes while talking on the phone - I'm able to write down almost in real-time when talking to my doctor, or when I was getting steel specifications from a potential customer at the office a few years ago, etc, what is being said ver batim.

I guess in a way shorthand, cursive and even reading music can be compared to being able to read a foreign language.
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:40 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Heck, based on all the above comments vis a vis learning cursive, then Gregg shorthand is equally useless

You don't understand the argument. Almost any skill has adavantages and uses that recommend it. But the number of them that we can make a mandatory part of public education for US children is quite limited, and has to be carefully prioritized. I think the teaching of cursive quite clearly fails that stringent test. It's not evil per se, but there's more useful stuff we could do with that instruction time that gives kids relevant skills for the world they will be entering.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:48 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Frankly I've never needed trigonometry, the Pythagorean theorem, scientific notation, the periodic table, or long division in my adult life. That argument I made when I was a kid, "I'll just use a calculator", has come to pass because every mobile device and desktop computer has one if I'm in doubt.
Basic math is way different than cursive, though. Not being comfortable with basic math cuts off a huge swath of career options for students in a way that not teaching cursive doesn't. As stated up thread, reading cursive can be learned relatively easily later on. Not teaching math would be like not teaching reading or writing.
posted by !Jim at 5:02 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


there's more useful stuff we could do with that instruction time that gives kids relevant skills for the world they will be entering

Such as what? What essential life skill is it that the relatively small amount of effort spent on teaching cursive taking away from?

not being comfortable with basic math cuts off a huge swath of career options for students in a way that not teaching cursive doesn't

Sure, but already basic math gets way more time than kids spend on cursive by a large margin. I don't see an issue with teaching both. Plus I was specifically not talking about basic math. Trigonometry was in the advanced math class in the 11th or 12th grade.
posted by Hoopo at 5:07 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


What essential life skill is it that the relatively small amount of effort spent on teaching cursive taking away from?
Maybe they could bring back art, music or recess, which have been scaled back or abolished in many American elementary schools.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:11 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Time spent on instruction is precious, and it infuriates me to see it wasted.

Goals of "doing something difficult" or "developing/demonstrating fine motor control" or whatever cursive is supposed to accomplish could be aligned with skills that weren't both useless and boring to the students. Give them at least one, surely--if a lesson won't be useful, at least make it fun.
posted by jsturgill at 5:17 PM on February 1


Maybe they could bring back art, music or recess, which have been scaled back or abolished in many American elementary schools

I would love to see that if it's been cut off in some schools. We managed to do all of that and learned cursive as well somehow.
posted by Hoopo at 5:39 PM on February 1


Though I'm not sure if recess and 3rd grade art and music (singing and cutting out shapes of construction paper) are going to infuriate some as a wasteful use of precious time.
posted by Hoopo at 5:41 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Hoopo, if you're mirroring my word choice because you think I would characterize those activities as wasteful, let me disabuse you of that notion. How could learning how to sing better ever be a waste of time? Music is a core human experience, a daily joy in most people's lives, and one of the great methods of socializing. Ditto art production and appreciation.
posted by jsturgill at 5:53 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's totally stupid to teach children something that practices their fine motor skills right as their fine motor skills are developing.
posted by readyfreddy at 5:54 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's totally stupid to teach children something that practices their fine motor skills right as their fine motor skills are developing.

Yes. That is stupid if the particular skill serves no other purpose. Teaching sewing would prove useful for the rest of their lives. Knot tying would prove useful for the rest of their lives. Learning a music instrument that required fine motor skills would prove useful for the rest of their lives. Giving them an MMORPG class would also practice fine motor skills, give them valuable socialization and planning skills, and likely be useful for the rest of their lives, or at least adolescence, in a way that cursive writing is not.

Why on earth should a lesson do just one thing when there are alternative lessons that can accomplish multiple goals at once?
posted by jsturgill at 5:58 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


You could also use the time taken by cursive to teach nothing at all, and let the kids play. They aren't really able to learn much at that point anyway.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:15 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I did well in school but I strongly disliked writing in cursive. I would have been happiest if they had shown me how to write in it for a day, and then given me a choice of which way I wanted to write from there on out.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:39 PM on February 1


MonkeyToes: Not specifically cursive overall, but studies about handwriting:
Yet scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization,”[2] that is capacity for optimal efficiency. In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice
During one study at Indiana University to be published this year,[3] researchers conducted brain scans on pre-literate 5-year olds before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced self-generated printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and "adult-like" than in those who had simply looked at letters.
Virginia Berninger, a professor at the University of Washington, reported her study of children in grades two, four and six that revealed they wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard
Psychology Today: What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain
posted by thewalledcity at 6:42 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Literally every pediatric occupational therapist I have ever spoken with on this subject (And I have spoken with, I think, ten? My child has a serious motor skills delay. So. Looooots of OT, 8 years worth so far, both inside and outside school) has said that cursive should still be taught in schools, not because it's a tradition, or because it helps kids read what older people wrote, or because it's pretty, but because cursive is good for kids. OTs have told me that cursive is not only really, really excellent for fine motor skills, but also, get this--

EASIER FOR MANY SMALL CHILDREN TO LEARN TO WRITE NEATLY THAN PRINT.

I know! I know what you're thinking. I'm left-handed and I was taught cursive by a succession of elderly, biased grade school teachers who still not-so-secretly felt I'd be better off if the silly new-fangled school management would just let them smack me with a ruler until I learned to use my right hand. They swore I'd never learn to write well; they deducted points for every smudge. I HATED learning cursive. I hated it so much that I swore that the minute I would be allowed to use print instead again, I would use it all the time for everything except my signature. And I did. All of my handwritten high school essays, tests, etc. were in print. Ditto for college.

But you see, I was learning to write cursive in third grade. After I'd already been reading and writing exclusively in print for four years. As it turns out, in some places, children learn to write cursive first. Before print. And that has some distinct advantages.

It's much easier to maintain correct spacing between words, and avoid putting too much space between letters of the same word when writing in cursive. It's easier to avoid reversing letters in cursive, too -- which is a boon to students with dyslexia. It's easier to maintain the same letter size across a word, and to keep the letters on the line, too. And the flowing style of cursive encourages students to develop a good pencil grip early on.

As it turns out, my own son, who really struggles with printing skills-- I mean, really-- his print letters trip over each other into amazing tangles of illegibility-- writes very nice cursive. I would say I have spent about equal time working with him to improve both his cursive and his print handwriting, and he's had about the same level of professional help learning to write in both styles. Cursive did take him longer to learn, just in terms of memorizing how to make each letter. But now that he knows both, it is, actually, much easier for him to write neatly in cursive than in print. And I believe that practicing cursive has actually improved his printed writing. So, count me as a cursive convert these days. I am still not and never will be a proponent of teachers making kids feel terrible about their perfectly legible and nice handwriting because it's not EXACTLY LIKE WHAT'S IN THE BOOK. But that's not how good teachers teach cursive, not anymore.

(Also, as the volunteer chair of my little local historic preservation commission I have found myself REPEATEDLY grateful that I personally have the ability to read cursive handwriting. It's all very idealistic to talk about transcribing every old cursive document in the world into print to share with the un-cursive-lettered masses, but trust me, there is an extreme shortage of cursive-reading volunteers just begging to read and retype old land deeds and census documents for me, or scan and transcribe the packet of 100-year-old handwritten letters and hand-drawn maps an 85-year-old lifelong resident just just donated to our collection. It is a huge boon to me to be able to understand these documents and explain them to others who can't. Even if someone WERE to successfully muster an army of well-intentioned cursive transcribers to copy ALL OF THE THINGS into print, well, they'd sort of have to know cursive to do it, wouldn't they? So even if it's really on the road to becoming a specialty skill, that doesn't mean it's a useless one.)
posted by BlueJae at 6:50 PM on February 1 [7 favorites]


Printing in block letters is a slow, painful and cumbersome exercise for me. My reward for my effort is completely illegible words and terrible hand cramps. My cursive handwriting isn't great, but it is so much easier for me and I can actually read it later. I would not have been able to take any notes at all in college if I hadn't known how to write in cursive.

"But all writing will be done on computers!", people say. Not for everyone. I've never been able to type faster than 50 wpm and I'm a web developer who spends most of his day in front of a computer. I jot all of my notes to myself on paper. Screwing around trying to type things into a smartphone isn't a realistic option for me. I'm surprised that it is for anyone.

My kids can't read cursive at all. I can write down something I that want to keep secret from them and leave it out in plain sight. It might as well be strongly encrypted as far as they are concerned. I don't really think that is a good thing -- that I know how to do something that I've found very useful that they may never learn to do at all.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:50 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I hated learning cursive, too. I also hated learning how to tie my shoes.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:52 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Printing in block letters is a slow, painful, and cumbersome exercise for me also. Hence why, like many adults who write in a non-cursive style, I generally don't write out block letters like a second-grader -- my skill at handwriting didn't cease to develop entirely just because I don't write my Qs as 2s anymore.

I think misunderstandings on this point is what drives a lot of the heat on this subject. The folks who moved forward writing in a cursive style seem to visualize adults writing like they did when they stopped printing, and often seem to assume that the proposed solution is "use computers exclusively" (and that typing exclusively or near-exclusively renders one incapable and somehow diminished as a person) rather than "write by hand, just maybe not in that particular style".

The resulting tone of conversation tends to get a bit irritating to people who moved forward in a printing based style, because it ends up reading as casting them as illiterate and slavishly dependent on technology, when this is generally not the case. Hence, I think, the desire to throw over the cursive overlords -- it almost seems to me like study of that subject is not merely neutral but negative because of all the urban legends and unwarranted judgment that surround it, even though I know that the skill itself is just a way of making symbols.
posted by sparktinker at 7:35 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


So can you read this, Charlie, or are you illiterate?

No I can't read it, Horace, I am illiterate in Old English. It is a different language and contains different glyphs than Modern English. I can, however, easily see many of the letterforms and even obsolete glyphs like thorn and yogh.

Nice try, but you know this is not what I meant. If you cannot read a contemporary orthographic form of a language, you are illiterate by definition. Others have opined that they can be fluent in a language with only the spoken language. But fluency is not the same as literacy. Even if you can speak and comprehend a language, if you can't read or write, you are illiterate.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:37 PM on February 1


I wish the idea that American schools are still - still, fourteen years into the 21st century! - wasting kids' time by teaching them to write in cursive were actually shocking and not just sadly predictable.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:42 PM on February 1


charlie don't surf: from my international globetrotting perspective, cursive seems to only be "contemporary" in the US, and not even most of it.
posted by divabat at 7:42 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


  Trigonometry was in the advanced math class in the 11th or 12th grade.

Trig's where maths starts to get fun, and it's such a shame that the beautiful world of angles, lengths and rotation are considered “advanced”. Many's the lie written in a fine hand, but a scrawled, blotted mathematical proof has a pure and eternal beauty.
posted by scruss at 7:44 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I definitely write faster in cursive than in printing. I NEED to be able to write as fast as someone talks, which I still can't do, but I'm better at it in cursive. If I had any way to learn shorthand, I would, but nobody does that any more. If for that alone, I am in favor of cursive. Because until all third graders and everyone after them only ever do work on a laptop/iPad any more, in every possible way, it's still useful.

As for print vs. cursive as to which is easier to read: depends on the person, like everything else. God knows I see a lot of chicken scratch printing that's just as hard to read as cursive supposedly is.

But with regards to signatures....I hate the ones that don't even attempt to approximate any letters. They look ridiculous. I made a lot of fun of people I knew who basically drew an X, or a single loop ("what part of any of this is your name?" He was all, "I used to work in retail and had to sign a lot of stuff"). I saw someone sign an official paper at my work with a cute little star. Adorable, but even a non-forger like me could forge that shit in two seconds, guys. Make it a challenge, at least. Force potential forgers to have to WORK for your identity!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:46 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


"Does not write in cursive" is not the same as "does not write functionally" or "uses computers for everything". For that matter, "uses computers for everything" is not the end of the world.
posted by sparktinker at 7:54 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I remember being very excited to learn cursive, which as I recall was taught in grade 3 and was the grown up writing style. I also remember really hating it (except the letter z) when I did finally get to learn it (years after I learned how to read). Joined up letters are great, and I use them when I am writing (which I do sparingly now as I injured my hand), but cursive -- that loopy stuff, not the concept of attached letters -- was something I dumped as often as I was allowed to.

I see the utility in learning penmanship, but not cursive in the sense of the loopy letters and the stupid Q.
posted by jeather at 7:58 PM on February 1


A few of you just touched upon what I was about to mention, but yeah, there is a gulf of difference between "block letter printing" and "cursive handwriting", with the only other alternative being typing. I feel like most of us these days find our own writing rhythm somewhere in the middle, probably more often closer to legible printed letters than cursive.
posted by wats at 7:59 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Yes. That is stupid if the particular skill serves no other purpose.

Dude/. It's fucking writing. It serves the same purpose printing does. We might as well be complaining about fractions vs decimals.
posted by Hoopo at 8:00 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Teaching sewing would prove useful for the rest of their lives. Knot tying would prove useful for the rest of their lives. Learning a music instrument that required fine motor skills would prove useful for the rest of their lives.

Why is this treated as if you have the choice between this and cursive? You can do all of these things in school. The reason arts and music etc get cut is not for lack of time. Its budgetary. because people don't want to pay taxes that fund more expensive non-football programs like art and music.
posted by Hoopo at 8:06 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


An ex of mine typed 150 WPM and it was quite simply the sexiest fucking thing ever.
Ahem, I digress.
Defenders of cursive tend to be people who believe that there is great value in requiring children to do mindless, repetitive tasks until they have achieved mastery of those tasks. They believe that among the really important goals of elementary school are to teach children self-discipline and submission to authority
The older I get the more I come to realise those people are right. Deferred enjoyment, the right class makers, submission to authority etc etc are essential to succeed in our society.

Do we want our children to succeed in our society?

Or do we want them to build a better one?
posted by fullerine at 8:28 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Amusingly enough, part of the reason I have an illegible signature is because of fraud committed using my checks.

Not, I mean, because of any sort of advantage it would have with being forged vs. not -- it was actually interesting how strikingly different the forged checks were, both in the writing and the signature, from my actual writing and signature. Not to mention that they mostly didn't even fill out the checks right. Rather, it was because after that I ended up signing my name so many times -- a multitude of forms, letters to collectors, and then I realized that my financial position was such that I could buy a house so I did -- that over the course of about six months my signature degenerated from a reasonably proper cursive representation of my legal first and last name to two squiggles where with prior knowledge one could possibly recognize that my legal first and last initials were meant to be in there.

It kind of works to my advantage because I use a nickname for everyday interaction (hence sometimes receive checks made out to that name) and can have even my legal name represented in varying ways, but have only one signature. That it doesn't really have distinct letters in it means there isn't any prospect of folks quibbling over whether it contains the particular letters that are on the thing I'm actually signing (which it doesn't have to, but not everyone knows that).
posted by sparktinker at 8:39 PM on February 1


divabat: from my international globetrotting perspective, cursive seems to only be "contemporary" in the US, and not even most of it.

You don't appear to understand what a contemporary orthographic system is. A modern cursive text could be faithfully transcribed into a printed or even typeset text without any loss of textual meaning, and each would be acceptable to a modern, literate person. Some (like me) would argue there is a considerable amount of non-textual expressiveness possible in cursive that is lost in other forms. Others might argue that typography offers more expressive possibilities. I don't think anyone could argue that printing offers as much orthographic richness. But my point is, these systems are all interchangeable and accepted as valid, regardless of whether they are used by everyone.

But more to the general point, for those who whine about the uselessness of cursive and do not understand why it is important: please go right now to your web browser preferences and change all the default fonts to Comic Sans. About a week from now, please tell me if your life feels richer or poorer.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:51 PM on February 1


Teach the lil fuckers touch typing instead and be done with it. It is a much more useful / relevant skill. I am constantly flabbergasted that typing instruction isn't offered at every elementary school in the country.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:03 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


What does Comic Sans have to do with cursive? My life is not enriched (however you define "enriched") by cursive. Never has been. This whole pseudo "onoes the plebians" thing is getting really aggravating.
posted by divabat at 9:06 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Some (like me) would argue there is a considerable amount of non-textual expressiveness possible in cursive that is lost in other forms.

How is this? I can see how there can be expressiveness in handwriting that is not represented in machine-generated text, but how can one form of handwriting be more expressive than another, provided that the people writing have achieved equal levels of development in their chosen style?
posted by sparktinker at 9:11 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


charlie don't surf: There are quite a few people with Comic Sans as their default font because it's a generally-available font that has every letter shape spaced and shaped slightly differently and is thus a massive boon to a lot of dyslexic users as well as people who struggle with English as a second language.

In general, I find cursive much harder to read than write, though I was taught a little cursive in primary school. (Three forms, actually -- print, joined-up, and full cursive, until about year six where cursive and joined-up consolidated.) Do I think it's without use? Not exactly, but I think several things are being conflated with the use of cursive and the arguments for and against, and I'm going to get a bit lecture-y here because this is near and dear to me. I will try to keep it short. Try. Promise. So.

#1, the ability to take fast, accurate notes. That could be a personal or standardised shorthand. That could be the ability to jot bulletpoints from speech. That could be taking dictation. That could be diagrams, pictograms, whatever. The point is to take notes at as close to real-time as possible, with as high accuracy as possible. How exactly it's done isn't really relevant in and of itself.

#2, being able to read your own handwriting and your own notes. This is a key issue I found with students I tutored in high school. They took notes but because of lack of emphasis on #1 in their previous schooling they couldn't read them. Or they wrote out required drafts and then they had to puzzle over their own writing in tutoring sessions. I did end up defacto teaching clearer print and making up symbols for common words, as well as practicing bullet-point notes, so that they could read over their own work. For drafts this was especially important as they needed to understand the whole sentence, or the whole paragraph, to be able to incorporate the meaning of edits and structural changes given by teachers and tutors.

#3, other people being able to read what you write. A very different beast from being able to read your own handwriting! Squished up print can be harder to read than sprawling cursive, that is absolutely true. But with my tutees cursive was kind of irrelevant to their practical needs as far as I could tell. Given practice, print can be easily adjusted to be quite fast without squishing into illegibility and once clear, it has the benefit of being able to be read years after the fact by almost anyone who knows the words. This really helps when you are dealing with people who haven't had great schooling before they pass through your hands, are likely to drop out in the future due to financial needs or switching to vocational school full-time or apprenticeships, and still need to be able to physically fill out a lot of government forms stamped with "PRINT ONLY IN BLUE PEN" that need to be kept accessible and legible to whatever authorities ask for them. (For my tutees this was school payments, entitlements, healthcare, employment paperwork, transport subsidies, tax rebates, so on and so forth. A lot of print-only paperwork. A lot).

#4, being able to retain information for later use. That use being drafts, reports, overviews, essays, presentation, rereading, critical commentary, drawn from the notes you take, so on and so forth, with a view to reducing the need to reference back as much as possible. This is a very cerebral thing with a lot of factors, and I'm not sure cursive actually addresses it because efficiency of recording and conveying information and the efficiency of mentally restructuring information are (in my experience) very different things in practice even if they look similar and are often hampered a great deal by conflations of #1, #2 and #3.

I'm not against cursive or joined-up writing -- joined writing can be faster to write under certain circumstances where you expect someone to need to be able to read your notes before they're typed, and so you adjust to taking bullet points or so on -- but in my experience these four things really are different spheres (the individual, the external, the larger world) and the best methods for efficiency and communication within each sphere differ because the needs involved are different. Can cursive meet all these needs? Absolutely not. Does that make cursive useless? I really actually don't know. It feels useless to me because it feels like it's so often placed off in its own box without regard for context or content.

Context and content like a shorthand for your own best use to be able to retain and rearrange information is not the same as what you use to write a thank-you note to customer service, for example, and a style you write with when passing notes to your friends has nowhere near the same emphases as the style required by government services. In what context and with what content is cursive the best approach? If you study history particularly involving cursive writing, absolutely, I can see that. If the actual need is to be able to read recent forms of English cursive because older generations favour it, I can absolutely see that, too. I can see that argument. But learning to write in cursive? Is there a context to favour using it in teaching points #1, #2 or #3 to children?
posted by E. Whitehall at 9:22 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Is there a context to favour using it in teaching points #1, #2 or #3 to children?

Your points can all be reduced to one: communicating efficiently. Yes, cursive is more efficient than handwriting. I work in educational testing and I read hundreds of thousands of handwritten, timed essays by k-12 students and adults. Essays written in cursive are consistently longer and the content gets higher scores than hand printed essays. Correlation is not causation, but it is obvious to me when a writer is struggling with putting the words on paper, rather than struggling with creating ideas. Printed handwriting is an impediment to efficient written communication. You may choose to view it differently, perhaps intelligent people are more easily able to master cursive penmanship, or perhaps more of them enjoy using it and choose to use it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:45 PM on February 1


ArbitraryAndCapricious: “Defenders of cursive tend to be people who believe that there is great value in requiring children to do mindless, repetitive tasks until they have achieved mastery of those tasks.”
You mean like playing an instrument? Or arithmetic? Or typing? Because those are three other things that take practice. I know children mostly hate to practice, no matter what the skill or subject, but practice is the only way to become proficient at a great many things in life. There is no substitute.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:46 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


perhaps intelligent people are more easily able to master cursive penmanship

Wow.

ETA: I am just baffled that is your takeaway from my comment, because I thought I was fairly clear about the systematic influences on the students I dealt with that informed my comment throughout? Effective communication depends on so many factors, and I separated out the factors I did in the way I did because I believe they are not in fact commensurate with each other.

My students were no less intelligent than anyone. Not at all. Not in the slightest, and I really kind of resent the implication that their structural disadvantages were a personal problem and not a systematic issue that we dealt with as best as we could, all of us, to give them the best tutoring experience possible.
posted by E. Whitehall at 9:46 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


charlie don't surf: Are you sure you're not subconsciously grading the cursive papers more because they are in cursive, rather than actually reading for content? and why is longer better anyway?
posted by divabat at 9:56 PM on February 1


Effective communication depends on so many factors,

Of course. But all other factors being equal (and that is the goal of unbiased standardized tests) it is easily observable that cursive writers perform better and achieve higher scores than non-cursive writers. I see this on many levels, for example, in math tests, students that show proficiency with writing math symbols score higher than those who cannot use them well. Similarly, students who show high proficiency with the mechanics of writing words on paper, score higher than students who cannot.

There are other correlations that can easily be observed when you read hundreds of thousands of handwritten essays per year. For example, students who write in glitter pens consistently get lower than the scores of those who write in #2 pencil.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:04 PM on February 1


math symbols != glitter pens != cursive

either this is a major troll or someone needs a massive [citation needed] stamp
posted by divabat at 10:06 PM on February 1


Are you sure you're not subconsciously grading the cursive papers more because they are in cursive, rather than actually reading for content? and why is longer better anyway?

We actually receive specific training in how to be unbiased about handwriting, when evaluating essays. Essays are evaluated up to four times by different scorers, to eliminate bias, and there are also statistical checks to prevent a rogue scorer from evaluating essays incorrectly. Incredibly enough, my personal specialty is reading illegible handwriting. I can read stuff that nobody else can read. I sometimes work on projects evaluating writing by developmentally disabled children and it can sometimes be difficult to discern if there is actual writing present. But if there is any attempt at writing, even communication in non-language forms, I can usually understand it. Sometimes this ability scares me.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:10 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


[Note: The edit function is for typos only; please don't use edit to add (or delete) content from comments after you've posted. More info here.]
posted by taz at 11:07 PM on February 1


Correlation is not causation, but it is obvious to me when a writer is struggling with putting the words on paper, rather than struggling with creating ideas.

It seems to me in context that this is close to effectively saying "I know that people who don't do well on timed handwritten essay tests are unintelligent -- the content of their timed handwritten essay tests proves it!" You might think that you can just tell, but by definition all you have is what's on the paper -- what's not on the paper is not proven.

Just to point out one potential problem -- given that you can make women do less well on a math test by having them fill out a bubble for their gender on top, how can you give a person who for whatever reason struggles with handwriting (which, to repeat again, is not the same thing as not writing in cursive) and is aware of this fact a handwritten test and expect that what they will have in their head at that particular moment will be as representative of their native intelligence as it is for a person who is not being at that very moment reminded of a specific reason that they might be regarded as stupid?
posted by sparktinker at 11:13 PM on February 1 [9 favorites]


If we're so worried about efficiency in writing, surely we should skip cursive and go right into shorthand? That's an incredibly valuable skill that will serve them well in college and their professional lives.

Oh wait, teaching cursive isn't actually about helping students do something useful or develop their physical and mental skills. It's about continuing an ancient, and generally unjustifiable, cultural tradition of vastly diminished relevance.
posted by jsturgill at 11:32 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


In the US, anyone with fluent cursive has already mastered two forms of handwriting, and it isn't surprising that they might do better on a handwritten test than someone still struggling with the first form. That doesn't mean cursive is better -- it just means that someone good at it, given how it is taught in the US, is probably going to be better at writing in general.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:33 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


"No I can't read it, Horace, I am illiterate in Old English."

I guess so, because that's not Old English. It is English, and it is old, but it is not Old English.
posted by litlnemo at 1:20 AM on February 2 [5 favorites]


I have heard this same argument about chinese writing - teaching kids to write the characters neatly and quickly vs teaching them to write beautifully, and the value of having really pretty chinese writing because of calligraphy skills is that you look super-cultured and clever. It's kinda hilarious that the specifics of the language don't matter, but the graceful co-ordination and training that shows with fancy writing does translate to a social plus.

I went from a school that did cursive to a school that only accepted print when I was 10 and struggled hard because all the other kids had perfectly formed almost typeset print. Later I went to another school that preferred a different cursive. I have about six distinct handwriting styles as an adult and switch on mood and need.

Cursive adapted to your personal preferences is blisteringly fast. Almost as fast as decent touch-typing and it definitely has a different brain feel to typing or print.

I have a kid who writes painful print (drunk chickenscratch) and lovely readable cursive because of OT issues, and another who can only write in print. I'm glad they got taught several ways, at least one stuck well and that they didn't get graded on handwriting. Kids should get the exposure, but not the grading.

Or maybe I'm still bitter about Nicholas in third grade beating me EVERY WEEK at the Palmer handwriting exercises. I could never get my Fs quite right. Nicholas is probably a CEO now thanks to his elegant Fs.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:23 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


The only thing that people have to--absolutely have to--write in cursive is their name. As in signatures. So let's teach kids their name, and if there's any time left over (spoiler alert: there isn't) they can learn cursive and practice it as a really extracurricular thing.

My memory is probably faulty, but I remember spending an inordinate amount of time learning cursive in 3rd through 6th (?) grade, but by late junior high I realized that teachers really didn't give a shit as long as your penmanship was neat. Legibility trumps all.
posted by zardoz at 4:35 AM on February 2


I think the decline of cursive began with the invention of the ballpoint pen, not the computer. Cursive was invented to optimize writing with the quill; the steel pen that came after it had similar properties - in both cases your best performance (both speed an lack of blots) came from dipping a pen once & then writing without lifting it until it became nearly dry. Even the fountain pen (the most archaic writing instrument I've ever routinely used) begins to negate that advantage.
posted by mr vino at 5:24 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]


After my most recent trip to Georgia for my annual extended family bonding ritual, I became obsessed with the relationship of my namesake with the slaves and indentured Irishmen that worked on our family's largely unprofitable gold mine. I hauled my microfilm reader out of the basement, spooled up the archives, and started reading correspondence, and one of the side effects of making my way through letters that, in bygone days, were frequent, long, and packed with information that was not particularly interesting or meaningful, was that I decided to relearn script (as my grandmother always called it).

I'm not sure if it will make me write faster, or to resemble a man of noble breeding, but if joined-up writing can make discussing one's human property with accountants and busybody dowager cousins look pretty, one can only imagine the elegant shopping lists and frilly handwritten menus for my imaginary restaurant a fine script will allow. When couth, finances, and one's ventures have all failed, there is always room for a modicum of panache.

Plus, to our block printing youth, it will make me appear wise and cultured.

I think.
posted by sonascope at 6:22 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


If you are interested in learning or improving your cursive, get The Italic Way to Beautiful Handwriting posthaste. Less than a month of working with it transformed my chicken scrawls into a very pleasing hand.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:09 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


Kids these days think they can get away without learning Fraktur, but what will they ever do out in the real world when faced with the need to reproduce 19th century German treaties?
posted by Rhomboid at 1:12 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


I guess so, because that's not Old English. It is English, and it is old, but it is not Old English.

The document is addressed to Henry VI so presumably it was written before 1471AD. This puts it in the time frame of Middle English, but it seems to use glyphs and other conventions of Old English that would not be present in Middle English. There would be plenty of precedent of writing formal letters to kings in more formal, ancient language. This might be evident from expressions like "The King's English."

Certainly there are others who are more expert in Old vs. Middle English than I, and could distinguish the two easily. But it absolutely is not the same language as Modern English spoken today.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:49 PM on February 2


The neatest handwriting I've seen in the past decade has been from prisoners here in the United States. It's because they don't type.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:35 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


I really can't see the value in preserving that ugly-as form of handwriting that Americans label "cursive". To me (born in New Zealand) it looks clumsy and is difficult to read. Not saying the form of longhand that I learned is better, but it is certainly clearer and the letter forms are closer to type-print. Writing is about communication. Anything that makes a handwritten passage harder to comprehend is an obstacle to communication.

The PDF linked from this page, originally published in 1985, is still pretty much what they taught me back in the '60s. (Page 21 will be of interest to southpaws.)

I had the option of learning shorthand or typing but chose something else (French or Music, I think) because those other skills were "for girls", who of course were destined to become become secretaries or typists. Either would have served me better than my now largely-forgotten schoolboy French.

I'd like to see the results of studies of brain scans from people learning and writing shorthand versus those learning and writing "cursive". I suspect that what is being recorded is the cognitive effort involved in deciphering the "cursive".

charlie don't surf> There are other correlations that can easily be observed when you read hundreds of thousands of handwritten essays per year.

100,000 / 365.26 = 273.78 handwritten essays per day. And you're reading them to grade them, not just skimming them. I'm impressed!
posted by Autumn Leaf at 8:36 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


(The above may seem a little hard on Charlie, but his examples came close to confusing the medium and the message. Consider transcribing Chaucer into modern typescript or print, versus reading the same text from a manuscript page from his time.

The simple act of placing a female or foreign name on a page can affect the grading of that page, so there is good reason to suspect that all sorts of unconscious biases kick in when reading something written neatly and roundly or in a preferred script versus something crabbed or scrawled or jotted. Even when you're trying to be unbiased.)
posted by Autumn Leaf at 9:21 PM on February 2


charlie don't surf: if by glyphs you mean the thorn and yogh, those certainly were used in the Middle English period before dying out. The document is from the tail end of the Middle English period, and it is not Old English in the slightest. I can't read that hand as well as I would like, but I can read some of it. Were it transcribed into more readable script, you'd probably find it pretty easy to understand, unlike Old English which is very much a different language. Late Middle English is a piece of cake... But I might be biased.

Sorry, calling Middle English "Old English" is a pet peeve of mine. I did my MA thesis (and published a book) on a Middle English topic and I get to hear that one a lot. I know you meant to differentiate it from present-day English.

As for cursive... I think it's good to learn but it shouldn't be subject to grading. I learned it starting in third grade, and for us, it was a signifier that we were more grown up. I couldn't wait to learn it for that reason. I sucked at it but still write in cursive, and after all these years, it's gotten pretty readable.
posted by litlnemo at 7:14 AM on February 3


We should also get rid of lower-case letters. There's no need for them, it's a waste of time which could be better spent on ... something. The future is all-caps anyway.

DID YOU KNOW that Japanese kids learn 3 separate character sets, all longer than the alphabet, and one with thousands of characters? How do they manage? Can't they streamline that shit? Waste of time.
posted by Hoopo at 10:28 AM on February 3


I sucked at it but still write in cursive, and after all these years, it's gotten pretty readable.

This is the other thing: you, I, and others still use it. It remains in use, today, and God willing you and I will still be alive when today's third grade students are old enough to be working at the newspaper reading our cranky letters to the editor or whatever. Not being able to read cursive writing, which is still a fairly common way for people to write, is a problem. I get letters in cursive at my job. Do you think it would go over well if I went to my boss and asked him to read it to me? Or if I called the letter-writer to ask him to send my a copy that's printed instead?

I just don't understand where people are coming from with this. You don't write in cursive and don't encounter it much? Hey great! But other people do and it might be important to know how to read it at the very least. I don't use any of what I learned in biology, that doesn't mean it's not worth studying. You did poorly on the cursive writing unit because you had something that prevented you from doing it well? That sucks, I didn't do great with gym class myself, but that doesn't mean it's not worth doing.
posted by Hoopo at 11:15 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Not being able to read cursive writing, which is still a fairly common way for people to write, is a problem.

But a student can be easily taught to read cursive without spending hours writing the letter G over and over.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:58 AM on February 3 [3 favorites]


As with all things, reddit has an entire subreddit dedicated to that.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:44 PM on February 3


This is the other thing: you, I, and others still use it. It remains in use, today, and God willing you and I will still be alive when today's third grade students are old enough to be working at the newspaper reading our cranky letters to the editor or whatever.

Isn't five exclamation marks in a row pretty much the same in every handwriting system?
posted by sparktinker at 1:23 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


Erm, well. As an Australian who's never learned to write any kind of cursive and whose typical handwriting is a semi-illegible scrawl of individual letters, I had no problem reading the handwriting of the Declaration of Independence (as per Wikipedia) or any of the other examples of American Cursive (new or otherwise) which I found in a quick search. So I don't think the "able to read" argument really holds up.

I'm not entirely discounting the idea that patient study of a fine-motor skill would have served me well in other ways, though.

In more exciting news, I may actually have to calculate the volume of fuel from its height in a cylindrical tank with hemispherical ends, thus justifying about half a term's worth of maths homework about 25 years ago :-).
posted by nickzoic at 6:47 PM on February 3


People in this thread have said they or others who can't write cursive often do have trouble reading it. It seems very strange to me -- I'm pretty sure I could read cursive before I learned it. But who knows, really.
posted by litlnemo at 8:06 PM on February 3


Today's TfD is especially apt: if you can read cursive
posted by scruss at 6:24 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Just yesterday I had my furnace repaired, and the itemized bill was written out in cursive. I think the repair guy was only about 30, too.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:14 AM on February 12


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