Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The art of cursive

December 5, 2012

If any of my grade school teachers were around, this column would shock them: I really believe that cursive writing should continue to be taught in grade school.

When I was young I was an outspoken critic of writing class, and sometimes my comments landed me in hot water.

I will be the first to admit that my handwriting was always bad. Actually, deplorable would be a better term to describe it. While most had a tough time deciphering it, I had no trouble reading what I had written. I had an employee who once described it as looking like a chicken had walked through a pool of ink and wandered around a sheet of paper.

Actually I have almost totally used typing in my career. I cannot remember the last time I used cursive writing other than taking notes at governmental meetings when I was in the newspaper business. It appears that future generations will be using laptops or phones to take notes.

Really I think that it is a great way to keep track of meetings or classes, yet I still believe that kids should learn the basics of cursive writing. Almost all notes I receive from younger people are hand printed. It would seem that cursive writing has been dying for a long time.

The Kansas Board of Education recently took up the issue and finally said though it could not require the teaching of handwriting, it “strongly recommended it.” I have to say that I agree to a point. I really believe that cursive writing is important to know, although there is little doubt in my mind that it will be rarely used. It is simply a skill that it doesn’t hurt to master. With that said, I do not believe that there should be the emphasis on it that there was when I was young.

I read that one study said using a pen and paper permitted a more continuous flow of thoughts. In my case, I have to disagree, I frankly have a writers’ block unless I’m sitting behind a keyboard. There are many other benefits according to experts, and again I generally disagree. I can memorize a speech as quickly by typing it as I could by composing it using longhand. I really believe that it all comes down to the individual and the discipline that works best for him or her.

It is interesting that the history of cursive or connected letters form of writing dates back to the Romans. The use of lower case letters appeared in the fifth century. In the eighth century, English monks were given the challenge of standardizing handwriting. The explosion of learning in the Renaissance made handwriting more important and early books were reproduced by hand.

By the 1700s, handwriting was a skilled profession. Governments used professional penmen to copy all legal documents. I have read that this is the case with some of our most valued documents. Slowly over the years the use of moveable type and the advent of the printing trade began to slowly relegate professional handwriting to obsolescence.

Yes, I think that it is a good idea for young people to learn cursive writing, however with ever advancing technology I can see it fading away to be regarded as a skill from a bygone era.


KateGladstone 5 years, 6 months ago

Re your statement on Roman cursive. It actually wasn't connected throughout most of its existence. See

Re cursive generally: 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. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HANDWRITING STYLE AND SPEED AND LEGIBILITY. 1998: on-line at


/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. DEVELOPMENT OF HANDWRITING SPEED AND LEGIBILITY IN GRADES 1-9. 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


Commenting has been disabled for this item.