The End of Cursive Handwriting

Yesterday, I read an article that left me feeling pretty grim. It proclaimed that cursive script was well on the way to dying out, with only five American states maintaining the teaching of cursive writing as part of their curriculum, with most turning to increased typing skill instead.

As a lover of the medium of handwritten letters, I was horrified. So much personality can be portrayed in the curls and swishes of an individual’s hand, to the point where there is a (pseudoscientific) field built around it. Typing simply doesn’t have the same effect, pumping out letters without any kind of variety or way to distinguish the author. Sure, it’s quick, easy and necessary in the modern digital age, but there’s something a lot more satisfying about a swirling, handwritten note than a sterile email message.
One critic, who supported the death of cursive script (or “running writing”, as most of us called it in Grade 3), argued that it simply isn’t used enough to warrant the continued teaching of it to students, saying that most handwriting is done in the printing style, without the flourishes and embellishments of its more stylish counterpart. As I look at my notes for this blog and the letters and postcards I’ve written over the last few days, I can see that this argument is right, to a certain extent: I regularly switch back and forth between the two styles, depending on how quickly I’m writing (cursive if I’m in a real rush) or if I want to be clear (printing, or a mixture of the two).

While neither style is particularly prominent, I am incredibly grateful that I learned both when I was at school. Not only because I can use them to write in my day-to-day life and in my profession (there is a lot of taking notes involved in client meetings), but because it means that I can decipher the handwriting of some of my more… artistic friends and colleagues a lot better. It makes it easier to maintain a train of thought as I blast a sentence from pen to paper, the constant flow of letters facilitating my concentration a lot better than the regular starting and stopping of printing. I can pen a letter or note that looks more fluid and creative, and I get satisfaction from the fact that I have put a bit of extra time and effort into it to make it that little more appealing to the eye.

Add to all of that the suggestion that cursive handwriting may also have cognitive benefits, increasing connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and improving development in areas that are relevant to things like memory retention, language and general thinking processes. Anecdotal evidence even points to it improving concentration for those with learning difficulties. Other sources indicate that the use of cursive leads to less forgeable signatures, and increasing chances of career success (apparently some businesses place a high value on good penmanship – it gives an impression that you can work quickly and effectively, while also understanding the importance of keeping up appearances).

Judging from the articles I continued to stumble across on the New York Times website (where this is apparently a very hot topic), there is a significant mixture of opinions on whether or not cursive is on the way out, with a 50/50 split on whether it should be taught in schools, but with three out of the four articles arguing that it is still an important skill to have, both in terms of reading and writing the script.

From all these opinions, I can’t help but find myself at the conclusion that cursive still has a place in our lives. Certainly, typing is faster and more relevant in the current era, and the use of the basic printing style in handwriting is cleaner and clearer in most cases, but neither of them really offers the same amount of room for personal expression as cursive. The flourishes and the cleanliness of the lines and the flow of the letters: it’s as close as you can get to flying across the surface of a page. It can be magical, it can be swift, and it can be beautiful, and even though we may not all possess the ability to be great painters or architects or writers, through the freedom allowed to us through the development of our own personal cursive style, we have the opportunity to leave our own unique mark on the page of our choosing.

*****

Post Script: Since writing this post, I’ve discovered that American cursive is about a bajillion times more complicated than Australian cursive… Like, to the point where it’s too much. So yeah, maybe the U.S. should let go of their incredibly fancy old script and move towards the Australian model? I don’t know. Just a thought!

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