Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Is Cursive Writing Obsolete?

Not too long ago, I entered into a conversation with the lady who was doing my pedicure.  Turns out she is just about done with her degree of Elementary Education and was telling me about the various internships she’d had and the process she was about to embark on to secure a full-time teaching position. Naturally, I inquired as to what grade she wanted to teach. She told me that she was interested in 3rd or 4th grade because at this age, she felt the children were old enough to really enjoy being at school and learning but not yet at that God-awful stage of the know-it-all pre-hormone raging Tween. 

As we were talking, I remembered that I’d read something not too long before that it was very likely that children would no longer be taught cursive writing, at least as part of the required curriculum.  I asked her about this and she acknowledged that it appeared this was indeed the direction the Florida public school system was headed.

I’ve thought quite a bit about this since and, although I understand why, with the reality of people relying on emails, social media and text messaging to communicate with one another, cursive writing is no longer really necessary, I’m still not sure I entirely agree with its dismissal.  Here’s why.

A person’s handwriting is unique to them.  I doubt that there could be any two people with the exact same handwriting.  Whether the letters are flowery and flowing or small and cramped, precisely formed or all over the place, elegant or sloppy, legible or not; handwriting is a person’s signature.  If a sample of handwriting from people who have figured prominently in my life were put in front of me, I’m fairly confident I’d be able to correctly match each sample with each individual.  And, like other things associated with people I’ve loved, catching sight of a departed dear one’s handwriting can instantly bring that person back to me, if only for as long as it takes me to read what they’d written.  I’ve run across many people who have said they treasure letters from grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses, children; that it brings them comfort to see their handwriting.

Aside from personal reasons, a more practical one for reconsidering doing away with the practice of learning cursive is that in learning to write cursive, one also learns how to read it.  The pedicure lady told me that, when her teenaged niece received a birthday card from an older female relative with a handwritten note inside, she handed the card to her aunt and said, “I can’t read this.  What does it say?” 

Ok, ok, those who know yours truly might always say this about MY handwriting; in fact, there are only a handful of people in my life who can actually read it (my Father recently told me he’s come to call my handwriting “cursing” instead of “cursive” because he curses the entire time he’s trying to decipher it), but, I do think I’m sort of an exception rather than the norm.

There are millions and millions of historical documents, letters, journals, logs, etc.,  that are in cursive.  If future generations cannot understand them, we’re going to need an entire new occupation for those few who can decipher cursive!  Yes, yes; if we continue to go the way we’re going there will eventually be no more cursive, but, still.  We’d best get busy with the translation, then.  And what about all of the museums whose various exhibits contain placards of snippets of original letters or journal entries or, or, or?  Will the museum curators have to be able to stand ready to translate?

So, then, these are two reasons; personal signature and the ability to read historical documents.  Are these sufficient to continue with the practice of teaching cursive?  Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, there were, obviously, subjects taught in grade school hundreds of years ago (or maybe even just 50 years ago) that, by nature of scholastical and sociological evolution, became obsolete and would be totally ridiculous to teach in this day and age.  It could be that cursive is just another of these subjects. 

There is another excellent point that eliminating cursive frees up the teachers (and students) to focus on more important and relevant studies (I personally think that, sooner or later, there will be a subject centering entirely on how to effectively figure out a new cell phone!)

Perhaps there will eventually be an elective offered, either in high school or college (or both); a class in cursive writing that someone can take instead of, say, home economics, auto shop, choir, or French.

Who knows what will eventually befall cursive writing.  After thinking this through as I wrote this entry, I am sort of on the fence as I can truly see both sides of the argument. 

What does everyone out there in Blog-Land think?

As for my own writings; my diaries and journals, my secrets are safe, regardless!


Nan jay Barchowsky said...

You don't have to write it to read it! I have taught kids to read cursive in about a half an hour. Ask me. Visit me: http://www.bfhhandwriting.com/blog/

Mrs. B said...

That's ok, Nan. I know how to read cursive already :-)