Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2011 Issue

Cursive Suffers Another Deadly Blow

Palmerstudents

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 That has been replaced by email, instant messages, text messages, and social network postings.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

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Louisa May Alcott, autograph letter signed, 1868. Sold June 2 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Anne Bradstreet, <i>Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight,</i> Boston, 1758. Sold June 2 — $21,250.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression,</i> London, 1632. Sold May 5 — $161,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Bronte, <i>Jane Eyre,</i> first edition, London, 1847. Sold June 16 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.
  • <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> George Washington ADS, One of the Earliest in His Hand, A Survey from 1752, the Same Year He Inherited Mount Vernon.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Rare JFK Signed Check & Transmittal Letter During Campaign for 1956 VP Nomination, Both BAS Slabbed; Possibly A Unique Combo!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Daniel Boone Signed Receipt as VA Delegate; During His 1st of 3 Terms, Boone Was Kidnapped by British Forces Gunning for Gov. T. Jefferson & Other Legislators.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipt for “Pennsylvania Gazette,” Important & Beautifully Displayed
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lincoln & His Civil War Cabinet: 8 Signatures, Beautifully Presented!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> G.A. Custer ALS from Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory to Capt. Yates, Who Also Died at Little Bighorn, Re: Acquiring “good horses” from Kentucky for 7th Cavalry.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Jefferson Davis ALS: “the negroes are humble and generally inclined to cling to their masters…neither crop or stock could be protected from their thieving” – Incredible!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lee Harvey Oswald Signed Letter: “if we finally get back to the states…maybe we’ll…settle in Texas,” Warren Commission Exhibit.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Babe Ruth First Edition Biography Signed Just Months Before His Death, Excellent Signature!
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> “B Arnold” ANS on Pre-Revolutionary War Promissory Note Dating From His Days as a New Haven Merchant
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Bob Dylan Signed LP “Blonde on Blonde” with Jeff Rosen COA.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio Signed Checks, Handsomely Displayed.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions