The arrival of Father’s Day cards brought home to me the truth I have been trying to avoid facing: Cursive writing is dying. Is it dead yet?
These most welcome greeting cards from our three daughters and their children all bore sweet personal messages expressing love and good wishes, most of them printed by hand. Our adult daughters, all college-educated professionals, enjoyed excellent schooling in their early years. They were taught how to write in cursive style, connecting letters. Today, two of them continue to write in cursive, and one prefers to print.
As do all six of our grandchildren.
The word cursive refers to writing in which the letters are joined and formed rapidly without lifting the pen or pencil. The word derives from the Medieval Latin cursivus, which means running. It has nothing to do with curse, despite what some might think.
My siblings and I were taught cursive writing in elementary school. I can still see the alphabet, capitals and lower-case, illustrated in graceful script, displayed around the perimeter of classrooms atop the blackboards. Clear, legible penmanship was considered important, a sign of intelligence. Our parents both had wonderful penmanship, Mom’s a flowing, feminine style, and Dad’s a firmer, more masculine form, with crisp edges.
What has happened to cursive writing? Why is it disappearing? Studies indicate that about 23 percent of Americans use it anymore.
Should we continue to teach it in our schools in this computer age? Unsurprisingly, educators and parents are divided on the question. Opponents argue that penmanship isn’t as valued in society and education as it once was. It can be less legible than printing, leading to confusion and error. Those favoring continuing to teach and use cursive writing cite studies that writing and reading cursive activates a certain part of the brain, and fewer errors occur. They also argue that cursive helps one focus better on content and retain more information, it improves motor control, and using it improves spelling.
An entire generation of children and young adults consider such arguments laughably out of date. Many of them write with their thumbs on their cell phones now, and they have developed impressive skill at this. Who needs to write anymore?
They have a point, but I can’t help but feel saddened by the disappearance from our world the cherished personal message, lovingly handwritten in cursive. Like you, I do most of my writing on my computer keyboard. I’m doing it now. But for those especially personal messages, I’ll stick to cursive.