Cursive handwriting: a lost art

Letter by Herman Melville

As a home-educating parent, I found this New York Times

For centuries,
cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is
a mystery. The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless
love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk
boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and
smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the
fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.

I’ve taught cursive handwriting to all my
children, starting in the second grade, but not all of them continued to use it
when they grew older. Like other teens, they text with cell phones, spend time
online, and use word processors. But even when they do hand-written school
work, some of them insist on printing rather than writing. My 14-year old
sometimes has difficulty reading (perfectly legible) cursive written by other
people. Now I know they’re not alone in this, and I’m not alone in being
concerned about it.

The article suggests that people who print
only (can’t or don’t use cursive) may be at a greater risk for forgery. Children
who do not write are losing specific fine motor skills; university students who
cannot read cursive may be unable to read some historical documents, including hand-written
diaries, journals, and documents like the American Constitution.

Jimmy Bryant, director
of  Archives and Special Collections at
the University of Central Arkansas, says that a connection to archival material
is lost when students turn away from cursive. While teaching last year, Mr.
Bryant, on a whim, asked students to raise their hands if they wrote in cursive
as a way to communicate. None did.

Yet fewer schools seem to be making it a
priority to teach cursive to students.

“Schools today,
we say we’re preparing our kids for the 21st century,” said Jacqueline
DeChiaro, the principal of Van Schaick Elementary School in Cohoes, N.Y., who
is debating whether to cut cursive. “Is cursive really a 21st-century skill?”

With schools
focused on preparing students for standardized tests, there is often not enough
time to teach handwriting, educators said.

The home-educator in me, to say nothing of
the mom who wants to inculcate an artistic sensibility and connection with
history, thinks that perhaps utilitarianism does not necessarily have to hold
sway, or to have the last word.

Richard S. Christen,
a professor of education at the University of Portland in Oregon, said,
practically, cursive can easily be replaced with printed handwriting or word
processing. But he worries that students will lose an artistic skill.

“These kids are
losing time where they create beauty every day,” Professor Christen said. “But
it’s hard for me to make a practical argument for it. I’m not one who’s
mourning it because of that; I’m mourning the beauty, the aesthetics.”

In a world increasingly filled with
ugliness, that is reason enough to bring back the elegance of cursive penmanship.


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