Josh Marshall points us to this Washington Post article on the decline of cursive writing in the United States:
When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.Let me just say that I hate cursive. I hate to use it and I hate reading it except for the writing of those who are really, really good at it. OK, sure it can be “pretty” when done right but it doesn’t help convey a message.
And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.
Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it's important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.
Scholars who study original documents say the demise of handwriting will diminish the power and accuracy of future historical research. And others simply lament the loss of handwritten communication for its beauty, individualism and intimacy.
Most of my problem with cursive is personal, I’ll admit. I never enjoyed using it in grade school where we were taught “penmanship” and were required to write in cursive. By some time in high school I had given it up almost entirely, printing or, later, typing instead. I remember once being scolded about it by a teacher. He wasn’t angry with me but was annoyed by something else I had done and decided to add an “oh-by-the-way” indicating I just HAD to start using cursive for my own good. He even implied I’d never make it in college if I didn’t. Hah, I don’t think I ever used cursive in college. I printed on tests and quizzes and, of course, typed papers. I used to actually write letters (not e-mails) back then and usually printed those.
So I guess I’m biased against cursive as a practical means of communication. At the same time, it is still used enough that I think it’s important to keep teaching it. And there’s always the matter of signatures. For some reason, signatures, in cursive, are still the standard for entering into contracts. So I guess we all need to be able to write our name if nothing else.
I say there at least needs to be some reform, like changing the cursive capital “Q” and “Z”. What the fuck are those about? They look like some form of the number “2”. Even when I did write cursive, under duress, I refused to write them properly, opting instead for some hybrid of the printed letters that had a tail connecting to the rest of the word. And the capital “G” is kind of stupid too.
And finally, there is ease of use for the reader. There is a reason you don’t find any printed material, other than greeting cards, written in cursive. It’s harder to read, even if perfect. I’ll be honest; I’m more concerned with the message than the prettiness of the physical text. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for cursive, but communicating ideas effectively isn’t that place.
Update: Ezra has some thoughts on this as well:
In any case, the decline of cursive seems inevitable and healthy. Class time is finite, and it's hard to make the case that much of the time that used to go to penmanship shouldn't now be spent on typing.