Cursive under fire

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While New York schools debate whether or not to cut cursive from the curriculum, legislators in the Carolinas have apparently introduced bills that would mandate its instruction. And though I value seemingly obsolete art forms as much as the next paper geek, I found this analysis from handwriting expert Kate Gladstone, who calls the legislation “ill-advised and ill-motivated,” to be enormously compelling.

Reading cursive, of course, matters vitally. However, cursive’s cheerleaders forget that one can learn to read a writing style without learning to produce it. (If we had to learn to write every style that we needed to read, we would have to learn to read and write all over again whenever anyone invented a new font.)

Reading cursive — when one does not have to learn how to write the same way — can be taught in 30 to 60 minutes to any small child who has learned to read ordinary printing. Why not just spend an inexpensive hour teaching children to read cursive — then use the time saved, and the money saved, to teach them to use some more practical form of handwriting themselves?

Most adults, after all, no longer use cursive.

It seems to me that technology has obscured the real issue here: that language is a moving target, and that forms of communication change over time. It drives me nuts when people say “between you and I” or use “less” when they should have used “fewer.” On the other hand, I split infinitives with abandon, and I’m grateful I live in an era when the so-called rule can be debated.

Similarly, I shudder to think we’ll reach a day when handwriting won’t be taught. But cursive? Perhaps it’ll go the way of Secretary and Anglicana, medieval “hands” we learned in graduate school for the purposes of reading manuscripts.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Cursive under fire

  1. I’m a booster of cursive, and not so old that I’m a relic of an earlier era (quite). I rate it as one of those skills that doesn’t look vital until it’s lost. However, I’m not quite sure what else one might remove from the brimming platter of Vital Things Kids Must Learn to make room for it.

    As far as infinitives go– and they be in English, then split to your heart’s content. The rule’s a foolish import from Latin, much like the ‘m’ on ‘whom’.

  2. Oy – don’t get me started on less vs fewer.

    [Or people who reject knowledge. Not only do I still write in cursive (in English), I learned Russian cursive in my 40s.]

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