The dying art of handwriting; is cursive cursed?

September 5, 2012 |  by  |  Wordbliss  |  , ,

 

Flash back to elementary school and you’ll recall learning cursive handwriting. You swooped loops, dotted and dashed, trying your hardest to mimic Mrs. Anderson’s delicate letters on the board.

Most kids in school today will not share this memory. I learned recently in the National Geographic’s  “Disappearing Act” article* about cursive’s path to becoming obsolete in our digital age.

First, a mini history lesson. Did you know cursive filled the need of the quill pen? “Fragile and prone to splattering,” the quill made for tricky learning in grammar schools, but cursive’s “continuous paper contact” made writing easier for beginning youngsters. When block print was introduced in the early 1900s, “cursive classes slid to the third grade.”

In the past two generations, the widespread adoption of computers has sealed cursive’s fate. “As of the start of 2012, 45 states had adopted the Common Core State Standards for education, which included instruction in typing and use of digital tools for writing but leave out cursive altogether – the ‘start of the end,’ according to handwriting historian Steve Graham.”

Call me a literary preservationist. I can’t help but feel sad the age-old form of communication, letters written in cursive, has become an archaic art.

I’d love to know: What do you think about the dying art of cursive? What about a future world where handwriting may not exist? Do you think that will ever happen?

*National Geographic magazine, July 2012, quotes from the magazine article

Image courtesy of Practical Pages.


20 Comments


  1. My cursive may not compare to Mr. Hancock’s, but although it’s in cursive and usually quite neat, I’m surprised at how many people struggle to read it (especially those younger than I). And it’s honestly not sloppy. The art of reading cursive will be only a step behind the demise of writing it.

    By the way, my German professor was appalled that I couldn’t read old German script (http://bit.ly/OaZRqH) fluently.

  2. Never!! I love cursive and I often use it in personal letters. I want it to live on!

  3. The art of historical transcription will be much more difficult. Even people doing family history in their spare time will have a difficult time if they have never had to learn it. But it is a general trend now in education. I don’t doubt that in the near future History will be an elective in high school and who knows how long they will still teach art, music, literature, etc.

  4. I think it’s a shame that cursive is not being taught in schools anymore (at least not in Box Elder County). Maybe it could be taught in art class now that it’s not a “practical skill” since everything is digital?

    I will say that I’m glad to see all records being digitally recorded now. I’ve spent too many hours frustrated over difficult-to-read cursive census entries while trying to index 🙂

    Long live handwriting (it’s just too pretty to let it die)!

  5. My kids love to make and use quill pens and write letters, notes and create fake treasure maps! Nothing beats real ink and nib pens. Is it really necessary to learn cursive? Well, my kids must be able to read cursive – how else can they understand granny’s cards and letters?
    I love to use my fountain pen to journal. Apart from utility and technique, cursive is expressive and beautiful. When we watch Jane Austen movies,the girls are inspired!
    Interesting comments here.

    • Making fake treasure maps sounds like a blast – great idea, Nadene! You’re right, too, about reading granny’s letters. My grandma has the most beautiful penmanship, always in cursive. I love her cards and letters, seeing how she delicately captures letters. And I surely am grateful we found each other in the blogosphere. Thanks again for letting me use your cursive letters graphic.

  6. I mostly use cursive if I’m taking handwritten notes because I can write faster in cursive than in printing. None of my kids write in cursive, although they learned it in school. When I went to school, almost all of our homework was required to be completed in cursive. In high school, a few assignments had to be typed (yes, on a typewriter). My kids? Everything had to be done on a computer. I’m intrigued by your question, “What about a future world where handwriting may not exist?” My first reaction is, “Nah, how would I make my checklists?” But more and more, even I’m doing those on my iPhone. A world without handwriting? It could happen, but not for at least two more generations. That’s my prediction….for anyone who lives long enough to test it!

    • Mark, glad to see you here! Thanks for your comment! I agree it will take a few generations for (gasp!) handwriting to be obliterated. In just three generations, from my grandparents to my own, I see that the “need” to learn cursive has dwindled significantly. I just wonder if the upcoming generation will all have eyesight problems because of being glued to screens all day long?

  7. I was going to leave a comment, but I couldn’t write with my pen, so …

    …seriously, on a corollary note, I’m shocked at the number of people in high-level business today that can’t type. They still hunt & peck. They are TERRIBLE communicators because they do everything possible to avoid answering emails and texts. I send them a long email and they respond with something like “OK, but need to discuss.” That sort of answer helps no one. I assume, based on their age, that many of these people learned to write and think with pen and paper and they’ve never been able to make the leap to the digital age. One of these persons asked her admin to print out all of the emails she received, then she wrote out the answers, then her admin typed the responses. It only took 2-3 days to get an email back from her. What a mess.

  8. Several things came to mind after reading this interesting blog. First, ball point pens never adapted well to cursive.That is why younger people hold their pens in a vertical position. Awkward. Second, as one ages, arthritis can make hands stiff, so cursive writing is not as easy or lovely as it once was. Somehow typing is easier, and that is a great boon. Next,after reading the handwritten letters of the Founding Fathers, it makes me feel ashamed that after two hundred plus years, we as a nation have gone downhill. We have lost an important skill, not only in cursive writing but in marvelous content. We write notes and incomplete sentences. We all do it. Perhaps it is really an end of an era, or the end of civilization!

    • “…it makes me feel ashamed that after two hundred plus years, we as a nation have gone downhill.” You say it, Colleen! I agree with you that on the whole we’re losing our power of communication. It’s sad. I saw an article in Wired magazine a few months ago about “using your own words” and spelling however the heck you feel like it. Really?! Is that what we’re coming to? I agree that we need to protect our language, for that’s a large part of our humanity.

  9. ps I dont have a web site but writer son Paul does. I will borrow his!

  10. This has been a topic around our house for the last couple of years. There is an angle here that people aren’t mentioning. The reason for elimonating the instruction of writing in cursive is because we now live in a “typing” world. But…. If they aren’t being taught how to write cursive how will they know how to read cursive? Say good by to all those pretty script fonts we have loaded on the computer! No need for the script fonts in a typing society if no one can read them. All you future brides out there… 15-20 years from now we all look forward to getting your wedding invites in helvetica or times roman. All you graphic designers out there…. Go ahead and start eliminating the script font from your hard drives and design layouts… you’ll be designing for a generation gone by…. NOTE: I hate writting in cursive! hated it in school and refused to do it because it took so freaking long to do. But I learned it and I can read it.

    Jason: Social studies and spelling are already being phased out of our school district here in FL.

    • Good points, Matt. Despite living in a typing/digital world, there’s still a need to READ cursive. I had a discussion with my mom and aunt about this yesterday and they brought up that many “crafts” go the way of the dodo bird – things like shoeing a horse for your daily buggy ride. While we, as a society, no longer know how to shoe horses, there are specialists who keep the craft alive. I think the same will go with cursive. Give it a generation or two of having it out of school curriculum, and most won’t know how to read/write it. Yet, we’ll likely have cursive specialists.

      And yikes! That’s scary that SPELLING and SOCIAL STUDIES are being phased out in FL. I’ll have a spelling bee post sometime in the near future – I always loved that as a kid. Thanks for joining the conversation, Matt!

  11. Found your blog post when I was searching to see if the National Geographic article was online. It’s really sad to think of all the history that will be lost to people from this change.

    • Luanne! Glad to have you here! Appreciate your comment. I agree with you; it is sad. At the same time, we all benefit so much from the modern technology. After writing this post, I’ve made it my personal goal to use cursive more often and make sure my future children learn it – even if it’s at home from me, and not at school.

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