Is Cursive Virtuous?

Irreal has a large corpus on the problems with cursive handwriting (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) but I haven’t written about it for a while. I was going through my queue of unpublished blog ideas and came across this New Yorker article on The Lost Virtue of Cursive by Mark Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer begins with a nostalgia-soaked story of writing his daughter longhand letters while she was at camp and how it reminded him of getting such letters from his parents when he was a child at camp. He goes on to say how he always gets a warm feeling when he reads about efforts to keep cursive in the curriculum:

When I read that Washington state is now considering Senate Bill 6469, “an act related to requiring that cursive writing be taught in common schools,” I gave a little fist pump in the air.

But then he writes, “This is sheer nonsense, of course.” Of course it is. He admits that it’s just nostalgia and snobbery. It’s fine to bring up memories of those golden feelings one got as a child upon receiving a letter from Mom or Dad but that’s no reason to inflict cursive on children who neither want nor need it.

If this subject interests you, Anne Trubek, whom I’ve mentioned before, has a book out on The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting. I really enjoyed the articles she wrote on the subject and am looking forward to reading her book.

This entry was posted in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Why limit expression? Use printed or cursive or Morse or Scheme and say whatever you want however you want it. Then again I indulge in nostalgia, too.

    • jcs

      No one's talking about passing laws making it illegal to write in cursive, anymore than it's illegal to write in Latin. The issue is, should we waste years of young students' lives teaching them something that they won't need or (probably) want. Those who enjoy calligraphy or simply yearn for the old ways are free to use cursive if they wish. The problem will be that, like Latin, very few people will be able to read it. That's already happening. See the linked New Yorker article about the difficulty that Oppenheimer's daughter had in reading her father's letters.

      For me, the most exasperating thing about the whole debate is the emotional irrationality that many people bring to it. Even Oppenheimer admits that that's what's going on--even in his own beliefs.

      • Thanks for helping me get out of the box on this. This reminds me of the uproar when MIT switched from Scheme to Python.

        • jcs

          Now you're really yanking my chain. Don't even get me started on doing away with SICP. It makes my hair burst into flame and I start drooling. Not a pretty sight.