Why We Should Learn (and use) Cursive


I’m a math teacher, and my handwriting is nothing to get excited about. In fact, I have had fellow teachers poke fun at the “boy handwriting” I have when I make posters for my classroom. One thing I have noticed is few, if any, of my students can read or write cursive. In the first week of school last year, I had a student watch me write something down. When they saw I used cursive when I wrote, they immediately asked me if I could teach them how to write cursive. Me. Their math teacher. With “boy handwriting.” In 8th grade.

Before I start on a long-winded explanation on why we should all know and use cursive, let me first say this: I know and understand why it is no longer something taught in school. Computers, tablets, cell phones, all of these things which have become ubiquitous in our everyday lives, and in our work do not require us to write at all. Instead, all we need to do is type (I’ll talk more about typing in a different post). College entrance essays, term papers, resumés, applications, letters of recommendation, and just about everything else are now typed in whatever font you choose. The need for neat, legible, and quality handwriting seems to have disappeared.

Despite the fact that many academic writing tasks are moving toward being done on the computer (even the GRE is on the computer!), there are still plenty of times when students need to write: in-class essays, the SAT/ACT, end-of-year standardized tests, AP exams, all of these contain written components. I know plenty of people, and I am one of them, who would tell you the hardest part of the SAT is when, after years of not using it, you are required to copy the agreement statement in cursive before the test starts.

Not only do these sorts of academic tasks contain written parts, but all of the written parts are timed. Cursive is faster, less labor intensive, and allows you pen and brain to continue moving. If you were able to walk into a room where students were working on any of these writing tasks, you would, invariably, see students shaking out their arms because they have writer’s cramp. If you were able to look at their papers, you would probably see no more than a few lines or a paragraph finished. Using print encourages the writer to use their wrist when they are writing, which is a pretty big strain on some small ligaments. Using cursive (correctly) encourages a writer to use their entire arm to keep the pen moving across the page evenly. The arm is a muscle much more equipped to take on the task of writing several pages over the course of 2 hours.

As one letter flows into the next, your brain, your hand, and your pen have seamlessly started to form the next letter and the next word. Some studies have shown there is a correlation between learning cursive and an individual’s ability to spell correctly. This might be because cursive requires the writer to think about the entire word instead of the individual letters. I would be willing to bet there is some muscle-memory involved as well. What I am about to say may sound harsh, but I truly believe it: when you write, and you misspell, you look stupid. Misspelling does not mean you are stupid, but, if I am reading your resumé, letter of intent, or essay on the importance of Hucklebery Finn in American Literature, and you misspell “Mississippi,” for better or worse, you have lost some credibility with me. Spell words correctly! Cursive can help!

If you have aspirations to be a writer, one of the pieces of advice I constantly see is you should still find yourself a good notebook or journal and write. Truman Capote’s response to hearing about Jack Kerouac’s caffeine and drug fueled frenzy which produced the final scroll of On the Road, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” Writing allows for more freedom and less checking yourself. Cursive allows the pen to keep moving and creativity to keep flowing. You don’t have to like everything that goes on the page, but it is important it gets to the page. (By the way, Kerouac liked to fuel his own legend with the story of writing On the Road all at once, but he actually had most of it written out in journal entries beforehand and typed out the final manuscript in one sitting.) If your doing a little more personal writing, like a thank you note or a hand-written letter (both of which are wonderful things to receive, and you will get more of them if you send them!), those pieces look really nice when written in cursive. Impress some people by sending a cursive letter their way!

It makes you look like an adult. When I was in elementary school, there were a number of academic markers or rights of passage. Learning to read, reading chapter books, long division, first research project, and learning cursive. Cursive seemed to be something reserved for grown-ups and the learned. Unlocking the secret of cursive in Mrs. Bell’s second grade classroom is something I will never forget. After spending nearly 20 years in school, as a student, I have accumulated a wealth of academic experiences, but the fact that I remember learning cursive speaks to the impression it had upon me.

Finally, your signature. If nothing else, learn cursive so you can sign your name (plus it looks pretty). Printing your name is not signing your name. Sign you name.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who is considered a Renaissance Human who can’t sign their own name, write a good looking letter, or sit down and write a well thought-out essay in the a nice, flowing cursive hand. If you need any more convincing, check out this TIME article for a few more reasons. Now, go out, find yourself a good pen and journal and revisit the dismissed art of writing in cursive!

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2 thoughts on “Why We Should Learn (and use) Cursive

  1. I so agree! Working in a small non-profit we have some electronic documents but many are still handwritten. I do notice misspelling often and I bet a factor might be that they’re writing in print. Absolutely, smart people may look stupid (especially if their case notes get subpoenaed) so I bug my staff about penmanship and spelling constantly. Thanks for the good read!

    Like

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