Monday, July 13, 2009

Another Dying Art Form

A man’s penmanship is an unfailing index of his character, moral and mental, and a criterion by which to judge his peculiarities of taste and sentiments.” – Philip Dormer Stanhope

Last week I wrote a post expressing my regret that future generations would no longer have the joy of finding yellowing letters hidden in a dusty attic or forgotten in the back of a drawer. Letters that expressed love and revealed the dreams and thoughts of a past generation. At the time I wrote the blog, I believed hand written letters and notes faced extinction due to email and texting. Now I am shocked to discover there is another reason for their demise.

I read that some schools are no longer teaching cursive at all. Those schools that still teach it, dedicate 10 minutes a day or less compared to two or more hours a week in the 1940s and 50s. There are kids that cannot write their own name in cursive, much less read anything written in letters that flow. To me this is a form of illiteracy and I didn’t want to believe it.

I asked my son-in-law, a ninth grade counselor, about this and he said it’s true. He sees kids panic all the time when faced with having to write out anything in longhand, including their name.

Evidently this is not new. I ran across articles dating back to 2003 discussing whether or not cursive was an important skill to learn in this age of technology. I guess my head has been buried in the sand on this subject.

The following is from an article in According to the College Board, when the SAT added a handwritten essay to its 2006 exam, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. But those who did earned slightly higher scores.

And, according to the LongIslandPress: The demise of handwriting is also a cognitive loss. The enhancement of neurological processes involved in the skill of writing is wide-ranging.

If our kids can no longer sign their names, how will they make credit card purchases? Oh, right…online. Well, how about signing checks, oh yeah…online banking. Okay, but at least consider those poor souls whose job is to analyze handwriting—what will they do now?

I’ll admit I don’t know if the ability to read and write in cursive is necessary for success in the future, I only know it makes me sad to see it disappearing. After all, if spending hours a day making endless circles and loops and curlicues was good enough for my generation…

Should all schools require a proficiency in handwriting in order to graduate? Or, should cursive be allowed to go the way of the dinosaurs?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Philip Stanhope, cursive, SAT,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said... cursive was horrid in school. When I reached 7th grade, they no longer required me to use it and now I don't even remember how to make all the letters. My signature is the only time I use script.

My son, rising 7th, was taught cursive for only a few weeks. He prints. They've taught keyboarding every year, however.

No, cursive won't be around much longer, in my opinion.

Mystery Writing is Murder

L. Diane Wolfe said...

My experience is similar to Elizabeth's - my cursive was terrible! We learned around 3rd or 4th grade and I was so thankful it was not required by the time I hit Junior High. (However, I've been told my print is very legible and clear.)

L. Diane Wolfe

Alexis Grant said...

I had a conversation with a teacher friend about cursive this weekend. Honestly, I'm not convinced they need it. Besides signing their name, what else do we use cursive for? I think kids would be better served in a typing class, so they don't become hunt-and-peckers.

Karen Walker said...

It may be true that kids don't need it, but it makes me sad. The connection from the heart, which is necessary in so much of my writing, is much stronger with pen on paper rather than keyboard.

Helen Ginger said...

I used to have beautiful handwriting. Seriously. I practiced. I do so little cursive writing now that it looks like jagged scribbling. I would like to see it taught, but I have to admit, it's use is declining.

Straight From Hel

Galen Kindley--Author said...

This is absolutely news to me. At first read, I was outraged. How could kids not learn to write long hand? Then, the more I thought about it, the more I saw the logic behind it. I tried to recall the last time I wrote anything more than To Do notes? Couldn’t recall. I reach for some kind of key board for everything. Not sure if that’s good or not.

Jane, are you also saying they can’t read cursive? Now, that could be a problem.

Best regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Thanks for the comments Elizabeth and Diane - obviously the decline of cursive has been going on longer than I first thought.

Alexis, did you teacher friend also feel that cursive was no longer important? It is true, I don't use it like I used to.

I know what you are saying, Karen, and I agree. There is something special about the feel of writing things out in longhand.

Helen, I bet with the slightest practice you'd have that beautiful handwriting back in no time - just not sure what you'd use it for!

Galen, I reacted like you did. I'm not sure it's important either. Yes, I did read one article about a 7th grade teacher (I think) who wrote on the board in cursive before realizing more than half her class could not read what she wrote! Scary.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Like Galen, I was a bit shocked at first. Then I thought it over.

Nope, still shocked. Like grammar and punctuation, handwriting should be taught in school, and all of these subjects are being seriously neglected.

Anonymous said...

Well, the next thing you know the kids won't have heard of, or understand piglatin either! What's it coming to?
I suppose if they can print it and other people, such as customers, employers and prospective employers can read it, and they can properly punctuate it, then hurrah for them. Cursive will go the way of old Victorian English.
Gee, I still hate to lose Piglatin though....

Anonymous said...

We teach our kids how to write cursive. My cursive was pretty good in school, but outside of scribbling my signature from time to time, I never use it. Even when signing for using a credit card on thw swipe pad, I usually draw a smiley face. Cahsiers seem to get a kick out of it.

Steve Tremp

Marvin D Wilson said...

Interesting indeed. And what happens if the internet ever crashes? Dark ages. Chiseling books and receipts onto stone tablets. Those who can spell without spellcheck, that is.

The Old Silly

John said...

I proudly take my place in the chorus of those with poor cursive. But even then, my print is atrocious. Not that my parents and teachers didn't try. I just never developed the hand-eye coordination to make pretty lines. Same reason I was terrible at sports. I feel trapped any time I have to write anything by hand. My hand cramps up (and it's pretty painful) any time I have to write. The only time I use handwriting is to write in my daughter's journals, and even then I have to pause every couple of seconds to let the burning stop.

My media law class was terrible - because all the tests were written essays (each question coming in around a page and a half to two pages).

But behind a keyboard? I feel free, fast, and able to correct my mistakes. My hands, for once, can keep up with my brain and don't cramp. Cursive is pretty to look at, but so is calligraphy.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about handwriting. Some of the smartest people I've known have had the worst handwriting I've ever seen. Mine is probably poor from lack of use. Considering how it strains my hands after long periods of time and I need those hands for painting and drawing, I'm willing to sacrifice it.

Handwriting always seemed related to personality to me that I was never sure I could ever really improve mine. I don't think they should stop teaching cursive in schools, though. It's a part of our culture and it's pretty sad when we lose part of culture like that.

Nancy J. Parra said...

This is a really thought provoking post- thanks for bringing up the subject. I have horrible handwriting- because I type everything. When I do write letters I find myself writing in a combination of print and cursive. Crazy. LOL It will be sad to see it go.

Holly Jahangiri said...

What about the ability to read primary sources when doing scholarly research? Are we to assume that someone else has already transcribed everything?

I'm told that I have beautiful handwriting, even today, despite disuse. I know that I THINK differently when writing longhand than I do while typing - not necessarily better, just differently. Maybe it's a right brain/left brain thing. I remember things differently (sometimes better) if I type them AND write them in cursive. And my cursive reflects my moods, something a handwriting analyst might pick up on, but that's very clear to ME.

It makes me sad, too. I think I'll go home and make my son practice handwriting, just because.

Morgan Mandel said...

I have horrid handwriting. It used to be better, but from so many years of typing, it has degenerated immensely. One reason is I'm too impatient.

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

Although I learned cursive all through elementary school, I rarely used it once I got to middle and high school. Even on my SAT II and AP tests, my essay answers were written in my own mixture of cursive and print. Writing everything in cursive takes me much longer (and time is not a luxury you have when you're limited to 25 minutes to write a well-thought-out 5-paragraph essay), and my own handwriting is as legible as my cursive would be.

I resent that so much time in school was devoted to learning cursive, instead of something more useful like grammar and punctuation. It is good to learn how to read cursive, but it's really not that different from printing, and any differences should be easily resolved by context.

I also think that teaching typing at every grade-level is a waste of time. I took one-quarter of a year of typing classes (in 6th grade--could have been done earlier), and since I've used that skill since then, I've retained the knowledge. My cursive, on the other hand, is a little more shaky due to misuse.

Oi, sorry this is a little rambling, but teaching cursive shouldn't be upheld just because we had to learn it in school. It's never required, and really has little use in modern society. Few people learn calligraphy unless they want to. In my mind, cursive holds a similar place. I'm sure many will disagree with me, but it's really not a necessary skill.

Charles Roland Berry said...

I had no idea cursive writing had fallen into oblivion. As as child I was never any goog at cursive, and I envied the girls who wrote tidy and beautiful words. I resorted to printing the letters, and still do, except when signing my name. So much is lost without the nuances of cursive--- I have a journal my father wrote by hand in WWII, when he was in his 20's. Because he died young, I barely got to know him. So, having his handwritten words mean a lot to me, much more than any MS Word document. These days, when I write to my friends I move away from my computer and pick up a pen. Many friends are surprised to get handwritten notes.

As an aside... I am a composer, and I resisted using computer programs until it became a necessity. Every note I wrote before 2000 was written by hand in pencil, then copied in ink with my fancy fountain pen! I miss those days. When I look at manuscipts of Bach and Beethoven, I feel their music has much more character the the tidy print manuscripts which come from my computer.

Best wishes, Chuck

Charles Roland Berry said...

Also, computers allow reckless speed, which can cause really bad grammer and mis-spelled "goog" instead of "good."


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