Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Sad news: The dying of cursive handwriting

with 16 comments

I personally write chancery cursive, aka italic, and of course I believe that it’s highly readable—people generally view their handwriting as readable. But it appears that schools are throwing in the towel, and reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic now seems to have devolved to ‘rithmetic alone.

OTOH, it’s easier to frighten, manipulate, and trick an uneducated citizenry (take a look around), so perhaps limiting education to technical skills—and get rid of those damned liberal arts!—is make make an authoritarian government’s job easier. I mean the kind of government that will lock you in prison for years just to keep you out of the way, knowing that you have done nothing wrong.

I should point out that some schools are dropping the teaching of cursive because they want to prepare students for the 21st century and handwriting is not (in their view) a 21st century skill. But taking tests? Oh, that’s very important, so more and more of the school year is taken up with teaching to the test and then testing.

Look around and see what you think of the success of that approach. (Of course, the test companies think it’s great, and they say also that education is quite successful: look! the test scores are going up!

Thanks to TYD for the pointer.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2011 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Education, Writing

16 Responses

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  1. Have a look at this:
    One thing I’ve noted re chancery cursive is it’s hard to do (i.e. doesn’t have the same effect) if one tries to always practise it even when one doesn’t have the properly nibbed pen!


    30 April 2011 at 8:20 am

  2. You certainly don’t get the shading—the attractive variation in line thickness—without a good italic nib. And a ballpoint pen (or rollerball or felt-tipped pen) will not work with you in the same way, helping you keep the pen at the right angle. But you can still make the same letter shapes and enjoy the speed and clarity of the writing. I have to admit that I now mostly use ballpoint pens for my handwriting, and it works well.


    30 April 2011 at 8:28 am

  3. I seriously studied cursive italic for over a year after reading your blogs. Like calligraphic writing I can do very well if I write slowly, but I can achieve no acceptable speed. You not only achieve speed but do it with the difficult form of cursive italic known as chancery cursive. I have adopted an impure form of cursive italic which sometimes contains loopy characters. The result is not so satisfactory. The only thing I have really improved is my signature. I admire John Mottishaw’s skills as illustrated below. His is a really impure cursive. I think there is an element of sheer artistic skill involved which we all do not have.

    Bob Slaughter

    30 April 2011 at 9:25 am

  4. I don’t know. This has an air of “get off my lawn.” I could get behind cursive writing instruction if it’s more of an art class, perhaps bundled with calligraphy. But the fact is, it’s not the essential skill that it once was. Neither is horsemanship, having been replaced with driver’s ed.


    30 April 2011 at 9:40 am

  5. Yeah, I can’t recall the last time I rode a horse. OTOH, I do handwriting almost every day. Indeed, I can’t see how people avoid handwriting.

    @Bob: I picked up speed with the cursive because just after learning it—indeed, as part of learning it—I took notes in a history class I was taking at the U of Iowa. That forced me to write at speed.

    Initially my writing was pretty ragged, but I worked on it one letter at a time: first, I was careful in how I made “a”. Once that letter was consistently good, I started being careful about how I made “b”. Once that was good, I started being careful about how I made “c”, but of course, I already knew that: it’s just the first part of “a”. Same with “d”: the body is “a” plus the ascender (which is made as a separate downstroke).

    And so on. I gradually worked through the full alphabet, and I got plenty of practice: pages and pages of class notes.

    @Scott: If handwriting is fluent and clear, it helps a lot in daily life—or so has been my experience. I do use a computer a lot, but I also use handwriting a lot.

    People can get by without good handwriting, of course. Indeed, some must get by without good handwriting: those who suffer from dysgraphia (the writing analog to dyslexia). Indeed, dysgraphics often move into fields that require little handwriting: they’re more apt to be doctors, for example (thus the notoriously (and dangerously) bad handwriting on prescriptions), which is why medical transcription took off so early and so strongly: doctors would much rather dictate than attempt to write notes. (Computer-based recordkeeping helps a lot, with keyboard entry—but, surprise!, many doctors don’t want to touch a keyboard: low status.)

    Still, good handwriting is useful and pleasant. Another skill along the same lines is drawing: certainly not essential, but people who have that skill find it extremely handy in all sorts of contexts. I would add drawing to the elementary school curriculum in a heartbeat (in place of all the hours spent teaching for standardized tests).

    Another skill that’s not essential but very handy: knowing how to cook. Many people don’t, and buy their meals prepackaged, or they eat out (thus all the fast-food joints). Of course, knowing how to select produce and meats, and how to prepare them: it’s an antique skill, for sure, and yet: isn’t the quality of one’s life better for this knowledge?

    And, indeed, mastering any of the things mentioned is much more satisfying than, say, mastering touch typing (another useful skill).


    30 April 2011 at 10:00 am

  6. Whilst shaving, I thought of a (perhaps analogous) situation: learning to play a musical instrument. Absolutely no need for that in the 21st century: we have endless amounts of music performed by people who are better than we will ever be, and we can access that music via all sorts of devices, many of whose names begin with the letter “i”.

    And yet: People still learn musical instruments and find great enjoyment and satisfaction from playing them—for themselves, for family and friends, and—rarely—as professional performers.


    30 April 2011 at 10:54 am

  7. I think that’s a great analogy. The reason one learns to play a musical instrument is that it’s a self-rewarding, almost recreational artistic endeavor. I support cursive writing on this basis. However, I do not think it is critical that everyone undertake it. Instead of taking music some elect to take drawing and painting.

    Of course some basic level of hand writing must be universal. I don’t disagree with that.


    30 April 2011 at 11:35 am

  8. I think we’re probably in agreement: handwriting is a skill much more commonly used than playing a musical instrument or drawing. To that end, it would be good to make it both efficient and enjoyable. Italic writing meets those requirements and in fact is at least as easy to learn than other forms of cursive—easier, I think, because not all letters are joined and the tools help the hand. Moreover, unlike other forms of cursive, italic does not deteriorate so much with speed.

    So: given that handwriting is more or less universally used and universally taught (only if briefly in third grade), italic seems to me the way to go. It’s easy enough to write a beautiful word or two in italic, and that’s often enough to capture the novice’s interest—and with continued use, it just gets better.


    30 April 2011 at 12:15 pm

  9. “But the fact is, it’s not the essential skill that it once was.”

    Well, it’s true that I can get by without it, given the number of electronic gadgets in my life, but I do feel somewhat handicapped by my inability to write legibly. Including a hand-written note with a gift, sending Christmas cards, or postcards from a vacation, writing grocery lists – none of these requires attractive handwriting, only legible. Mine is to the point of being not worth the effort or ink, because the recipient – even if that’s me, more than a day or two later – will be unable to decipher it. My best chance for successful hand-written communication is all-caps, which is slow and still iffy.

    I don’t remember at what point the cursive instruction stopped in my school years, but I do remember that it was trendy in my teens to develop a unique handwriting style that completely ignored all previously-learned techniques – and with all the voluntary hours I spent practicing that style, I pretty much wiped out my cursive conditioning. Add to that impaired fine-motor skills because of too much computer time, and the result is disastrous.

    the wife

    30 April 2011 at 4:13 pm

  10. IMO, cursive handwriting would not be as depricated today as it is if chancery italic were taught in schools. Cursive as it its taught is useless, and good riddance.

    Jason McBrayer

    2 May 2011 at 7:05 am

  11. It’s not like schools won’t teach student to write. They’ll still teach them to print. They just won’t teach cursive. In the days of fountain pens that scratched the paper and dripped and blotted, Palmer-style cursive was faster than printing. With a ballpoint pen, it’s a little faster but not terribly so. Other styles may look pretty, but have little utility beyond the occaisional thank you note. Try submitting a handwritten story to a magazine and see where it gets you.


    29 June 2011 at 12:27 pm

  12. Printing written at speed can be difficult to read. I still use a fountain pen and I can tell ou that a fountain pen that scratches the or drips or blots is defective. It’s certainly not normal—it’s like saying that computers are worthless because they crash—well, yes, with a defective program or a hardware problem. But normally they do not—and normal fountain pens do not scratch, drip, or blot. I wrote for an hour or so last night with one: no problems.

    Other styles are great for writing letters (more than a thank-you note, an actual letter with content), but also for one’s own writing. You don’t keep a journal, but handwriting a journal is a great stimulator of thought, in my experience.

    Yes, it’s possible to do inappropriate things and achieve rejection. It’s not just manuscripts: you can get tossed out of places for in appropriate dress. I don’t see the situation you describe as relevant. Sorry.


    29 June 2011 at 12:35 pm

  13. It was intesting to see the Leisure Guy blog’s remarks on dysgraphia — because /a/ that is among my neurological diagnoses, and /b/ my successful students of Italic handwriting have included fellow dysgraphics.

    I don’t pretend that all folks with my condition can become marvelous handwriters with Italic, but my experience/observation is that we do much better with Italic than with conventional printing and/or cursive.

    Kate Gladstone

    14 July 2011 at 4:45 pm

  14. Very interesting comment re: dysgraphia and the success of italic. But I read that dysgraphics often have success with a second handwriting learned after the first: drafting lettering, Palm lettering, etc. The key seems to be a second handwriting going through different neural pathways, the ones use for artistic endeavor, rather than the primary pathway for communication. Some folks said “Aha! I’ll just teach drafting writing FIRST and avoid all the problems.” Nope, then it had the same problems as cursive as a primary handwriting. I would guess that Italic only works for these dysgraphics because it is not the primary handwriting, and that if it was taught first it wouldn’t work.


    20 July 2011 at 8:08 am

  15. Since your reply, I’ve met a number of dysgraphic folks (young and grown) who’d had Italic as theirmfirst handwriting. They’d been the worst and slowest handwriters in their classes, but had always been legible and moderately fast writers nonetheless: the worst writers in an Italic classroom typically write about as well (in speed and legibility) as merely somewhat-below-average handwriters in any other classroom.


    23 September 2011 at 11:29 pm

  16. Cool—and it makes sense that a better model will produce better results. Have you had any conversations with dysgraphics who learned italic handwriting as their second handwriting? I’m interested in that for an obvious reason: italic was my second handwriting, and it’s clearly faster and more legible than what I was taught in school—but I’m not dysgraphic. It would be interesting to have an account of a dysgraphic who struggled with the initial standard handwriting about his/her experience in acquiring italic as a second hand.

    That is: I’m sold on italic as the best model for handwriting, and I’m sure that dysgraphics who learn italic handwriting to begin with will be better off than having to learn traditional handwriting, but those dysgraphics who come to italic after learning traditional handwriting: do they notice increased fluency (as well as beauty) in their handwriting?


    24 September 2011 at 5:23 am

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