More News From the Cursive Front

Yahoo News has an interesting article on the cursive wars. Should cursive handwriting be abandoned as an anachronism or should it be preserved as an important life skill? Regular Irreal readers already know where I stand on the matter but might want to see the arguments for the other side in Yahoo's article.

Some schools are hanging onto cursive tenaciously, insisting that their students receive at least some instruction in it. All the usual reasons are given but there's a new entrant in the article: cursive is necessary to teach fine motor skills. The same folks pushing that idea would doubtless become apoplectic if someone suggested that improving fine motor skills was a good reason to encourage video games.

By far the most interesting thing about the article was the comments. I read a couple of pages worth and didn't see a single comment that wasn't hostile to the idea of eliminating cursive. People feel extraordinarily threatened by the idea. I've suggested before that this has a lot to do with “I suffered through learning it, why shouldn't they?” but no one admits to that. Instead they all give the usual silly arguments such as “this is dumbing down our students,” “if they don't learn cursive they won't be able to sign their names” and others that are just too embarrassing to repeat. Many are simply irrational and brimming with anger. If you're interested and feel up to it, see the comments to Yahoo's article; it has a good representation.

There's another Yahoo article that explores these points a little further and discusses various home-based resources for parents who feel their children need instruction in cursive. It's worth looking at these two articles if only to see what arguments can be brought to bear in favor of cursive.

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  • Josh Tolle

    While I agree that cursive is a dying art and does not serve any practical use to most people, I do not believe that abolishing it from education is a worthy cause. My reasoning is based entirely on the fact that it is a reliable technique used to treat dyslexia. Since there is a large stigma associated with dyslexia (children at that young an age are ruthlessly unsympathetic), it is better to approach the initial treatment of dyslexia as an exercise that everybody is doing rather than singling out the children who are struggling. Since there is a proven association between writing and memory, it seems that hand-writing is the best initial approach to learning letters and how to spell words.

    I'm not saying that hand-writing and/or cursive holds any direct long-term value, just that hand-writing is probably the lowest resistance way to learn letters and spelling, and that cursive is the lowest resistance initial treatment for dyslexia (which has varying degrees, the slightest of which is probably remedied entirely, and the greatest of which is at least lessened with the exercise of learning and practicing cursive). Personally, I haven't written in cursive (other than my signature) since primary school, so I don't see a need for it in daily life.

    • I am dyslexic,and cursive made things far, far worse — something I also see in many of my clients who are dyslexic or have other neurological disorders.

      Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?
      Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations appear below)

      When following the rules doesn't work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)

      Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

      (In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too ... not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

      Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)


      /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.
      1998: on-line at


      /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.
      1998: on-line at

      (NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.
      Shouldn't there be more of them?)

      Yours for better letters,

      Kate Gladstone
      Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
      and the World Handwriting Contest

      • jcs

        Thanks Kate. Facts, rather than emotion, are difficult to find in this debate so I'm glad to have your contribution. Strangely enough, my signature has evolved into the semi-cursive that you describe. Everything else I print.

  • As an amateur calligrapher who practices regularly, I'm rather saddened by this. I've found the physical act of writing very introspective. It's helped me explore parts of myself that I never thought of before. I imagine it would be the same with many such subtle skills but don't have anything concrete to back it up. It'd be a pity if we ended up removing something from our lives that's actually giving us a lot.

    • jcs

      Yes but I believe handwriting and calligraphy are two different things in the same way that texting and writing great literature are two different things. In both cases they share a common basis but neither depends on the other or, really, have much to do with each other.

      I view calligraphy as an art form practiced by those who have the skill and patience to practice regularly. Cursive handwriting as taught in school serves no real purpose anymore. Those who find joy and satisfaction in calligraphy will pursue it regardless of whether the rest of us are forced to endure years of torture at the hands of the Fucntional Handwriting System and others of their sort. As with most art, the majority of us will take on the roll of art consumer as we enjoy the beautiful products of calligraphers--just as I enjoyed seeing the scans of calligraphy from your latest movie.

      • I'm not totally convinced that there's a strict dichotomy. A cursive hand at school can slowly "become" calligraphy. It's not going to be that common and it's not going to be there for most of the people but I think the link is vital and breaking it will cost mankind in the long term.

        Much of my feelings on the matter are just that - feelings. I haven't really given the issue a cold hard look .

  • A cursive hand SHOULD be amenable to becoming calligraphy ... But the cursive that's conventionally taught in North America impends in multiple ways (rather than facilitating) such a desirable development.
    To see practical handwriting that CAN develop into a practical yet attractive calligraphy:,,,,,

  • I came across a talk by a modern master Penman named Jake Weidmann. His skill is something that I hold in awe and aspire to replicate (atleast to some extent). He has some interesting perspectives on handwriting and calligraphy which are quite different from your own. I think you'll enjoy the talk -

    • jcs

      I finally got the chance to view the talk. Very Interesting. I especially enjoyed some of the history and I certainly enjoyed seeing his beautiful work. None of that changes my mind, however, about the usefulness of cursive handwriting for the general population today.

      To be sure, the facts he gives concerning the link between cognitive development and handwriting are thought provoking but I'd want to see the studies themselves as well as other research on the matter before I would find it dispositve. It's nice that Weidmann found learning cursive inspirational; I, like most others I suspect, are more apt to view it as a form of child abuse.*

      * Yes, yes, that's clearly hyperbole and meant for comic effect but I bet it resonates with many.