02 September 2010

Is Cursive Writing an Essential Skill?

I think it is time to abandon teaching this antiquated and seldom used method of writing.

What would signatures look like if/when this happens? I'm thinking they will not just be block letters, but maybe each person kinda develop their own custom method of signing documents and letters.

Your thoughts?


Lewis said...

Was just chatting about this earlier. Check out this article about chinese young people being unable to write characters anymore, because they type everything.

I believe cursive is in a similar boat. Although I doubt our country feels that cursive is part of our culture.

Quimbob said...

When I write my signature on a credit card tablet thingie it comes out as a worse scrawl than when I write it on paper. Might as well draw an X.

Mati said...

We were just talking about this - my daughter is struggling with cursive and I'm at a loss as to the value of the exercise. It's awkward, inefficient, and less legible than hands with more distinct letters.

I write in a hybrid of semi-connected block letters that owes more to calligraphy practice than Palmer. Fast, comfortable, reasonably legible.

Anonymous said...

I asked the same question a few years ago when my kid was learning to write in cursive. The only answer anyone gave that made any sense to me was that supplied by my sister: it enables you to read *other* people's writing, when they write in cursive.

So maybe everyone just has to promise to stop using cursive all at the same time, and everything that's ever been written in cursive has to be translated into printing. Then future second graders can turn their attention and efforts elsewhere.

I don't think I've written in cursive since leaving elementary school.

Blue Ash Mom

KateGladstone said...

I doubt that signatures would look identical if done in some other style than cursive.

Many people print their signatures already -- this is fully legal; ask any attorney or check the "signatures" topic on the FAQ page of my web-site below -- and the signatures' styles are all distinctly different (just as different signatures of people writing in a cursive style are different).

Even in the printing of children just learning to write, no two children write quite alike. Any first-grade teacher, six months into the school year, can tell which child wrote each assignment even if some of them have forgotten to add their names.

Learning to read cursive is a quite different thing from learning to write it -- fortunately, it's also a much quicker thing.
Most people who are taught to write cursive tend to pick up, along the way, how to read it, without ever really having been taught -- but they don't always pick that up.
(I was one of the kids who had oodles of cursive instruction in second grade, third grade, and part of fourth grade -- but that wasn't sufficient to teach me how to read it: I did my best to copy what I saw in the book, but I might as well have been copying the outlines of a series of wet noodles, for all the sense I could make of it.)

Fortunately, if you sit down and *teach* someone to write cursive -- which is pretty easy to do, if done by showing them how each cursive letter evolved, or devolved, from an earlier and much more recognizably "print-like" form -- well, that takes only a half-hour to an hour, and can be done with people who don't write cursive at all.
(I have taught five- and six-year-olds how to read cursive, if they could read print and if they wanted to learn to read what the grown-ups were writing in those "squiggles." The kids certainly weren't writing in cursive -- just reading it.)

And it's also good to remember that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid writing in cursive anyway. Research shows that the highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins skipping the rest ... and these high-speed high-legibility handwriters also tend to use print-like forms of those letters whose printed and cursive forms disagree. So "good cursive" isn't necessarily equal to good handwriting!

Kate Gladstone
Director, the World Handwriting Contest
Handwriting Specialist, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

5chw4r7z said...

We were talking about writing the other day, I can barely get my signature out before my hand cramps.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Kate knows... Is cursive an earlier attempt at legibility? Given pens of years past were more likely to blot/blob on first contact with paper? For some reason, I had it in my mind that I was taught as a youth that cursive was a faster way to write legibly. It does seem that the evolution of printing and typing has made cursive (Just like handwritten letters) destined for an eventual extinction from most peoples' lives.

5chw4r7z said...

Can you imagine, 30-40 years from now, kids amd young adults taking letters they've found to nursing homes to have them translated.

KateGladstone said...

Re: "30-40 years from now, kids a[n]d young adults taking letters they've found to nursing homes to have them translated."

Something like that actually has been happening in Germany, which changed its cursive style in 1941.
The one that they changed from isn't legible to anyone who isn't either a really old German or someone who has taken a high-school or college elective in that form of writing -- these courses started being offered in the 1950s precisely so that people needing to read old handwriting would have some alternative to bothering their aging grandparents, and the electives are often taken by people who want to become historians (or who just want to pick up some extra cash by translating old documents)
You can see the pre-1941 style here: http://www.waldenfont.com/product.asp?productID=8 (type in anything you want, and it will be converted to pre-1941 German handwriting). The differences between those letter-forms and the familiar ones help give you an idea of how our own country's typical cursive models look to anyone who hasn't seen them either.

And, yes, in the 1960s/1970s when it became evident (on both sides of the Berlin Wall) that the younger generation couldn't read the previous form of handwriting, there were the same kind of irate newspaper articles and so on that we are seeing now -- but the previous form of handwriting stayed, well, previous: it was not revived, and the fact that people write differently from their grandparents has not brought on any cultural Armageddon.

KateGladstone said...

"Anonymous" asked about the history of cursive, which (like the history of handwriting generally) can best be summed up as a war between the hand and the eye.

The writer's hand wants rapid letters -- the reader's eye wants clear letters -- and the trick is to satisfy both demands as much as possible, rather than sacrificing one to the other. (Cursive tends to sacrifice the eye to the hand; print-writing tends to sacrifice the hand to the eye.)

Writing-styles generally start out as eye-friendly -- then are sped up, becoming more and more hand-friendly at the eventual expense of eye-friendliness. When the result hits a certain "critical mass" of illegibility (the reader's eye has been entirely, or almost entirely, sacrificed to the writer's hand), people start being dissatisfied with the resulting cursive, and look for other ways to get their writing done. Historically, "looking for other ways" has often meant reviving an older, earlier style (that was less hostile to the eye), but nowadays it tends to mean keyboarding!

Many people -- I am one of them -- believe that a Renaissance-era style called "Italic" (a more eye-friendly ancestor of cursive) provides the ideal balance between the needs of the writing hand and the need of the reader's eye, and we are reviving this in some slightly modernized forms. (The "slightly modernized" bit is that we haven't revived such archaisms as the old long-s-that-looks-like-f which was common in Renaissance Italic as in some other old styles.)
For more information:
Google "italic handwriting" and visit http://www.italic-handwriting.org

CityKin said...

I found your website extremely informative. I had no idea that this discussion was already so well-formed and researched. I think I am going to start the italic style handwriting myself.