Friday, February 1, 2008

Cursive is Dead

Cursive is dead.* Praise your favorite deity!

When I get handwritten assignments from students, most of them print. The ones that write in cursive, I curse. It takes me several times longer to read most student cursive and that distracts from paying attention to the content, which is what I'm grading here.

Obligatory no-I'm-not-just-young-and-lazy note: I can read cursive. I can even write it better than most of my students. (I remember the capitals!) I can read it well enough to decipher letters written a hundred years ago. I haven't written in it voluntary except when I sign my name or write with a certain type of pen.

I have heard people complain about the death of cursive due to computers and the widespread existence of printers. I think they're missing the point: cursive has been dying since the invention of the ballpoint pen. Writing in script is much easier and more useful when you write with something in which the ink is loose and flows quickly (quill pens). When you write with something that is stingy with ink, like your standard bic pen, cursive is actually more work.

Although I think the ability to read script will stay useful, considering all the documents written in it, I think that it is time to make it a much smaller part of the elementary curriculum. It's dead. It has no reason for existing, beyond signing one's name.

PS: This is directed at the people out there who still make their students write exclusively in cursive.

PPS: This will lead to a larger exploration of issues about tech and "in my day" and the like, but not today. It's Friday.

*Inspired by an instant message conversation...
"Andrew: there was a huge ridiculous project for stats due today. Doing advanced statistical calculations by hand. its just tedious and useless and time consuming and bleh. I got 5 hours of sleep
Me: ugh. I guess doing them by hand proves you know them or something
Andrew: I hate when I'm too angry to get the assignment done, thats a stupid feeling . . .its like, a required relatively basic stats course I don't understand why she wants that.
Me: because you're in grad school now, and grad school is HAAAARD. or some such nonsense
Andrew: but its not even hard in a intelligent way! its hard in a time consuming and unnecessary way! COMPUTERS WERE MADE TO HELP ME**
Me: but when the prof was in grad school, you had to do it all by hand and it was good enough for her.***
Andrew: I disregard that reality
Me: have I told you about how I think cursive is dead and shouldn't be taught or required in school anymore?
Andrew: . . . no, but I agree
Me: aww, then I don't get to argue my well-reasoned explanation at you! I'll just go write it up in my teacher blog instead."

**How many of your students are having this conversation about your class right now?

*** Seriously, don't even start telling me about how you can use a slide rule or studied calc back when you had to look up logs in the back of the book. The microchip is here to stay. Get over it.


Foxish49 said...

Oh thank goodness somebody else is thinking these things. Back in grade school, I would get assignments that were perfect handed back with zeros simply because I wrote in print. I also for years thought that banks wouldn't take checks that weren't written in cursive, and until I figured out that nobody gives a damn, it'd take me three times as long to write a check as it does when I print. That teacher was obnoxious.

I just don't understand the whole "do long, complicated, annoying math by hand" thing, when like your friend says, computers were invented to help! What on earth is the point of doing something with a mistake prone, time wasting method? Excel is there for a reason!

(Sorry, we got this crap in Silviculture last semester, "we want you to know how to do it without Excel!" Why?! I'm never going to do this without Excel!)

ckmr said...

I left you a comment on the Beyond School blog. Scroll all the way down. -C

Penelope said...

ckmr's comment from Beyond School:
"*For Penelope from one feeling like a fossil at 36: An Apologia to Cursive. Typescript gives students the false sense of neatness and precision in a narrative world marked oft by sloppy thinking and copy-paste. Plagiarized ideas and prose are a constant problem in college writing. A colleague (French medievalist) once told me she requires hand-written papers on the basis that the student who plagiarizes might actually internalize and thus learn from a copied idea. I recall from erstwhile college days exams written out by hand, and final papers typed on typewriters only after hours of toil scratching in circles around the margins of a handwritten page, all physical traces of the mind’s activities and discoveries as it is screwed up tight in the imaginary interstices between, as Foucault says, ‘le livre et la lampe’. The big invention when I was in college was self-correcting typewriter ribbon. My first memory of a word processor is circa 1992: a term paper on Lukacs that I’m sure Clay remembers. Today, some of my research on 19th century French lit centers on manuscripts and the genesis of great works: it’s the study of a kind of word ‘processing’ that leaves traces of itself for posterity, allowing for archeological digs into the way literature thinks and writes itself. A material link to the flesh and blood, sweat and tears of authors I live and breathe by.

Thanks for bringing up a topic of interest. Love your name, by the way, my almost 4-year-old is a Penelope, too!"

Ms. Ward said...

Hmmm...not sure I agree that cursive should go the way of the penny. I must admit that I write in cursive much more than in block letters for the simple fact that it is faster. I don't think this is a generational habit of mine. As one of the last members of Gen X, I used word processors and computers during high school and college. Instead, cursive is easier for me. I can get my thoughts out faster.

And there's a beauty to it, a tradition. Cursive reminds me of the beautiful epistolary tradition of days gone by. Okay, this is the English teacher in me coming out.

Penelope said...

I write so much slower in cursive, though. (If the pen particularly flows well, I'll write in a sort of half-cursive, connecting the letters that it makes sense to connect.)

Of course, I may just be biased because I'm a lefty.

cpultz [lps] said...

Amen. Have had this same thought sine i started teaching 3rd graders cursive in the mid 90's and had to "re-learn" it myself before I taught them. Sine we weren't writing with QUILLS, I was missing the point of the instruction. It was time I could have been teaching Social Studies, which was removed from the 3rd grade curriculum to make room for more writing (which happened to be on the state exams all of a sudden.)

KateGladstone said...


"It [cursive] has no reason for existing, beyond signing one's name."

It doesn't even have that reason for existing. The law doesn't require, and never has required, cursive for signatures. (Anyone who told you otherwise -- such as your schoolteachers -- has misrepresented the law of the land.)

Further, research (citation on request) has established that the fastest and clearest handwriters avoid cursive. Highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters tend to join only some letters, instead of all of them -- making only the easiest joins, skipping the rest -- and use print-lile formations for letters whose printed and cursive styles notably "disagree."

Think it over -- and if this throws doubt for you (as it does for me) on the USA custom of print-then-cursive, visit and learn a lot more that your third-grade teacher never wanted you to find out ...