Saturday, July 25, 2009

the death of cursive

It may be a long death, slow and painful to some, but Time Magazine has an article this week virtually announcing the death of cursive. The article, entitled "I'm 26 years old and I cant write in cursive" by Claire Suddath seems to be OK with things. What good is cursive writing anyway?

While digital input devices have stepped in to replace the pen and pencil for most communication, the article suggests that our fixation on educational testing is responsible for the demise of cursive.
"If something isn't tested, it is viewed as a luxury"... in other words, schools don't care how a child holds her pencil as long as she can read.
What if in the loops and curls, the flow of words from the mind to paper, there are things that happen in the poetry of thought? Friedrich Nietzsche suspected there was... That the tool used in the expression of thought affected the qualities inherent in that thought.

We may never know. After all, the poems that are not written will never be missed... or will they? For some, however,at least for those still gifted or practiced in doing so, being able to write clearly, or even beautifully is a matter of pride. It is an expression that one cares about self and how self is expressed. Personally, I wish I could write more clearly, more legibly myself. Like any kind of craftsmanship, it requires practice, and through lack of practice we are rapidly losing many important forms of personal expression. We might as well, I fear, take our virtual places as disembodied game pieces, avatars on small screens. We can fly seamlessly through space, over wires and wireless routes until someone pulls the plug and we come crashing back to physical reality.


  1. It's not just digital technology; I think the real culprit is the rise of the ball point pen and its many successors, which have taken the pressure off of those who in times past were forced to write with fountain pens - a technology for which cursive script was well-suited. But now that writers can lift their pens from the page at any time without real penalty, well...

  2. Doug,

    I've been bemoaning this for several years. Last week the computers were down in our office at the beginning of the day...the staff were helpless. I said, "so, does anyone have a pen and paper?" I said it only HALF jokingly!

    One of the things I've been working on is a philosophy I call "Back to the Pen," which advocates dumping the computer and writing with a real pen (fountain) on real paper. I have been keeping a handwritten journal for several years, and I inherited that from my mother. She wrote in her diary religiously every day of her life from about her early 20s. Want to talk about a REAL treasure? Those little books are irreplaceable.

    Actually, she loved the physical act of writing so much that she wrote the ENTIRE Holy Bible out in longhand! Took her 7 years. To this day I remember her sitting at the breakfast table while I was eating breakfast writing on her unlined pads with her Schaeffer fountain pen. Best part was that when she died, the pastor read the scripture from her HANDWRITTEN makes me cry just to talk about it...

    So, thanks for this info...I'll check out the article...


  3. That reminded me of something I wanted to ask you. As part of your Wisdom of the Hands, do you ever teach kids to write with Quill and ink? I think that preceded the fountain pen, if I am not mistaken. I am a medium ballpoint penner, myself; with a preference for Bic, when they are making them right.

    My writing style tends to destroy the tip of fountain pens, so I am antagonistic toward them, but to each his/her own. I also prefer to print, since print is easier for others to read. Cursive is invariably a challenge to read by other people and you want to know the thought, not spend all your time trying to decipher the person's individual words.

    Was Friedrich Nietzsche the same fellow who wrote of the Superman and the Super Race or something like that, which the Nazis adopted? His handwriting might make for an interesting examination.

    What I found, by experience with cursive writing, was it led to receipt of much criticism and a demand for perfection the teacher usually did not have. Even so, this post reminds me I have been meaning for a long time to see if I still remember how to use cursive writing to write. Maybe I will do that today. Without Quill and ink, but with Bic medium ballpoint pen as my weapon of choice to attack and stain a piece of notebook paper with what's left of my sickly artistic gift. God bless you good people for reminding me.

    Now, about that Quill and ink question; do you teach that? If not, why not? What's a good Quill cost these days? ;-)

  4. Apparently Nietzsche's philosophy was of interest to the Nazis, but he died before they came on the scene, and anything is subject to misinterpretation. I wouldn't judge his contributions on their behavior.

    At Clear Spring, we make writing pens in the wood shop and now have to buy the nibs on eBay since they are no longer available at stationery supply stores. The first and second grade students practice and learn cursive with pens they have made themselves. You can search in this blog for what we do. Use the search terms, pen or cursive. I think the bic is a pretty sorry pen. You have to press down so hard to make them work... Ball point pens were discouraged when I as in elementary through middle schools as the pressure of pen on paper inhibited the free motions of the hand in expressing thought. I was actually in high school when bic pens were first introduced in the US. They were cheap.

    You can live a wonderful life without knowing how to write. You can certainly live a wonderful life, not writing with any level of beauty or confidence. But, still, to express oneself fluidly on paper is an increasingly rare gift.

  5. amylynn10227:38 PM

    I was almost ruined on cursive writing by some rigid teachers, especially in third grade when they made me learn cursive for a second time (I had transferred that year from a school system that taught cursive to second graders to one that waited until third grade.) The tedium and brittle perfectionism of most of my elementary school penmanship instruction did not help. I am glad that I learned to write; it is still a useful skill even in this computerized age. But it was a misery to learn and unneccessarily so. If my experience was at all typical don't expect to hear many calls for the return of old-fashioned penmanship lessons.