Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2011 Issue

Cursive Suffers Another Deadly Blow

Students practice the Palmer Method of writing years ago. No more.

There is one less subject schoolchildren in Indiana will have to master when school reopens this fall - cursive. For younger readers unfamiliar with that term, it has nothing to do with bad language. It's that old style of penmanship (what's that?) also known as "handwriting," or "longhand," where letters of a word are strung together in one stroke of the pen. It is faster to write this way than it is to print. It is also a disappearing art of little use to those who only write with a keyboard. It is a skill like knowing how to ride horses faster - of limited use to those who only drive cars.

 

Of course there is a tinge of sadness for those who love books, or even more so, manuscripts. How many of the great works were first created by an author spelling out the words in cursive? It is unlikely anyone knows, but it certainly must be a large percentage. Then again, many of the great books were first written in Latin, and how many people can read or write that anymore?

 

The Indiana Department of Education was just bowing to reality when it sent out its memo over the summer. Schools in the state will no longer be required to teach cursive. They will not be prevented from teaching it if they so choose, but it will no longer be a requirement. One can only suspect that some will drop it this year, with more removing it from the curriculum in the years ahead until it effectively disappears. The handwriting, so to speak, is on the wall.

 

The death of cursive can be blamed on the same cause as the death of books, retail stores, personal interaction, objective news reporting, intelligent thought, good manners, and everything else good and worthy - computers and the internet. Young people grow up today pecking at a keyboard. Even printing letters may seem unusual to them, but at least the letters look similar to what they see on a computer monitor. They can imitate. Cursive writing looks like another language from the one displayed on the keys of a keyboard.

 

If the computer/word processor took away the need to write out schoolwork by hand, the internet removed the need to handwrite letters to your friends. That has been replaced by email, instant messages, text messages, and social network postings. All of those are written on a keyboard as well. Teaching a faster method to do something people don't do anymore is not a particularly good use of school time.

 

Now people do still occasionally have to write out messages. If you are trapped on a mountain alone, outside of cell phone range, you need to be able to carve out "Help" in the snow. However, what we find is that even though cursive was still being taught in the schools, recent generations haven't been using it anyway, even when compelled to write with a pen. When the College Board, creator of those ubiquitous SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests), added a writing section to their tests in 2006, they found that only 15% of the students used cursive. The remaining 85% printed their essays, even though these were timed tests, giving an advantage to those who could write faster. Use of cursive had already greatly atrophied even when people were called on to write with a pen, and write quickly at that. I stopped using cursive, even for note taking, many years ago, using a self-invented shorthand of printing with abbreviations. I thought what I did was unusual. It turns out this was about as "unusual" as 85% of the population.

 

This does leave me with one question. How will coming generations sign their name? Will printed signatures appear sufficiently unique to be used on legal documents? Perhaps people will just make up their own squiggles. So many signatures these days are indecipherable anyway. Or, maybe we could adopt the Chinese system of "chops," a personal carved ink stamp that is used as a signature. Then we won't have to know how to write or print at all.

 

Lest anyone think what has happened here is an aberration, remember - this is Indiana. Indiana is not the center of cutting-edge, radical new thought, be it in politics or education. It is a very conservative, heartland state. If a long established tradition cannot make it there, it cannot make it anywhere, Indiana, Indiana. Rest in peace, Austin Palmer.


Posted On: 2011-09-01 00:00
User Name: borogoveb

Thanks for this thoughtful essay. My son (now 18) studied cursive in school but it didn't take and he never uses it except when signing his n


Posted On: 2011-09-26 00:00
User Name: DavidAust

I remember greatly enjoying the learning of cursive writing. We always said it like that, a two-word phrase. For the first time in decades I


Rare Book Monthly

  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000
  • ALDE, May 28: KIPLING (RUDYARD). Le Livre de la Jungle. – Le IIe livre de la Jungle. Paris, Sagittaire, Simon Kra, 1924-1925. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: NOAILLES (ANNA DE). Les Climats. Paris, Société du Livre contemporain, 1924. €50,000 to €60,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MILTON (JOHN). Paradis perdu. Quatrième chant. S.l., Les Bibliophiles de l'Automobile-Club de France, 1974. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LEBEDEV (VLADIMIR). Russian Placards - Placard Russe 1917-1922. Saint-Petersbourg, Sterletz, 1923. €1,000 to €1,200.
    ALDE, May 28: MARDRUS (JOSEPH-CHARLES). Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris, F.-L. Schmied, 1927. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: TABLEAUX DE PARIS. Paris, Émile-Paul Frères, 1927. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LA FONTAINE (JEAN DE). Les Fables illustrées par Paul Jouve. S.l. [Lausanne], Gonin & Cie, 1929. €4,000 to €5,000.
    ALDE, May 28: SARTRE (JEAN-PAUL). Vingt-deux dessins sur le thème du désir. Paris, Fernand Mourlot, 1961. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: [BRAQUE (GEORGES)]. 13 mai 1962. Alès, PAB, 1962. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MIRÓ (JOAN). Je travaille comme un jardinier. Avant-propos d'Yvon Taillandier. Paris, Société intenationale d'art XXe siècle, 1963. €1,000 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MAGNAN (JEAN-MARIE). Taureaux. Paris, Michèle Trinckvel, 1965. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: PICASSO (PABLO). Dans l'atelier de Picasso. 1960. €15,000 to €20,000.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions