In response to a post on The Next Best Book Blog where they were lamenting the fact that most states have dropped cursive from the elementary curriculum, I wrote the response that followed. My third response was completely ridiculous in length, so I posted it only here. Head over there if you want the full back and forth.

First Response:

Well, cursive is designed for writing large chunks of text quickly, and no one does that anymore in business world or the academic world or the art world. Speaking as someone who stopped writing in cursive while in high school not quite two decades ago, I can’t see any practical reason to keep teaching it.

Second Response:

As with any other out of date and unused chunks of human knowledge, a group of amateur and academic specialists will emerge as curators of its history. Think of Egyptian hieroglyphics or the Greek alphabet to keep in same vein as cursive. As a society, we can still read them. If person wants to learn it or just get something translated, there are others who maintain that information – or even recover it. We can read Mayan hieroglyphs today, which is not something we could do a century ago. Sure, my grandkids might not be able to read my parents’ love letters without going to see an expert, but like many Americans, I couldn’t read my great-grandparents’ love letters because they’re weren’t in English. But I could find someone who can; specialists are wonderful people.

Dropping something that isn’t useful to the current world and not unique in ways it teaches a person to think is neither unreasonable nor unprecedented. Within my parents’ lifetime, Latin went from taught in every school to being taught in almost none. It wasn’t useful enough anymore. It went from the language of an empire to a language of the scholars to a language of just the scientists. Once it was supplanted in science by German and later by English, it was just a matter of time before it fell out of our curriculum. Sure, it was useful for learning any of the Romance languages, but you know what also makes learning those languages easier? Learning any one of the Romance languages. They’re not any further apart from each other than they are from Latin.

If cursive taught the kids something unique, I’d demand they’d keep it in school. But I know the kids are getting a second language in school earlier than I did. I also know they’ll be on their computers, running into Arabic and Japanese and Chinese scripts as they bum around on the internet. They’ll be changing fonts to Comic Sans for really inappropriate works with their word processors. They’ll understand that how language is presented can be more than upper and lower case.

So, yeah, I’m okay with saying goodbye to cursive. It frees up time to teach the kids something else about language.

Third Response:

Is cursive intrinsic to learning English in all its forms? I argue that it is not. We don’t use Old English anymore. We don’t use Middle English anymore. We don’t use the letter thorn. We don’t use English in all its forms. Why should we teach the parts that aren’t used or useful anymore to our kids?

Handwriting is not just cursive. It is both print and cursive. They are not dropping teaching printing, only cursive. TBBNC Super Mod, in your second response, I’m unclear if you think they are dropping both from the curriculum or that other circumstances will cause humanity how to forget how to write in print once the bomb drops. Really, after the apocalypse, the knowledge of how to handwrite long notes quickly instead of slowly is not the worst thing the average modern human will be missing from their knowledge base.

Cursive is just a specialized font for writing many words quickly. My concern about it becoming unreadable is that as a font, it distorts some letters to the point where there is only a passing resemblance between the print letter and the cursive one. It is not as bad as the differences between hiragana and katakana in Japanese, but it is a noticeable one. If cursive is not taught, I do believe that later generations will not be able to read earlier cursive without a specialist’s assistance. It is a loss, but not one I consider good enough to continue teaching it.

Some these things don't look like the others

I’m just saying the sets on the left look less like they go together than the ones on the right


We teach Roman Numerals to our kids. It’s not directly useful anymore, but I suspect it hangs around because it establishes early that the Arabic numbers we teach them first are not the only way to handle numbers. It’s a very useful bit to know when it comes time to learn binary or hexadecimal numbering systems, if their math education requires them to go that far. I’m not a math education specialist however, so my reasoning could be wrong.

The parallel between print/cursive and Arabic/Roman numerals would be the lesson that the print letters are not the only way to handle written language. My points about foreign languages and fonts were addressing this parallel. I believe that exposure to foreign languages and easy font changes will convey that lesson without also teaching them cursive. I apologize that I didn’t clarify that point.

The only lessons cursive teaches are how to handwrite quickly and the notion that the first language they teach is us not the only way to handle language. If there is any additional specific reasons to teach it that I do not have an objection to, I don’t see them here.

The reason that writing notes during lectures gives better results than typing sound reasonable enough that I will concede that point without asking for scientific proof. However, it does not address any differences between taking notes with print or cursive. Having survived middle school, high school, and college with just print, I’m afraid I will require scientific proof on the possibility that cursive is better than print for learning during note taking. However, I will not be offended anyone finds my anecdote insufficient to prove print is just as good cursive to note taking, as anecdotes are a lousy way to prove a sweeping statement about how people learn.

Actually, anecdotes are a lousy way to prove any sweeping statement. For example, writers who find handwriting assists their creativity are nice (Neil Gaiman is one award-winning author who prefers to work that way), but they don’t speak for all writers. For example, my first graphic novel script and my first novel were both handwritten and then typed up. Everything after has been directly into the computer. I haven’t noticed a drop in my creativity. It also doesn’t seem to be holding back authors who just use computers (John Scalzi is one award-winning author who prefers to work that way so much that he became award-winning without even owning a printer to make a hardcopy later.)

Yes, cursive is pretty when done right, but we have art and music to teach the kids pretty. (If you want get the knives out to go after those cutting art and music from curriculums, my blade is yours.) When cursive isn’t done right, it’s too often an illegible scrawl. I had both science professors and English professors express appreciation for the fact that I printed when I handwrote, since they knew they’d be able to read it. I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from that, except that it suggests that cursive was already declining in use then and that some human beings have really atrocious cursive. We already knew the second, or there wouldn’t be all those jokes about the bad handwriting of medical doctors.

There is no legal requirement that signatures be in cursive. I’m curious to see what the younger generation comes up with for them. After I dropped cursive myself, I changed my signature to an illegible scrawl that vaguely resembles the cursive script I was using before. Which meant my signature was now in the same illegible scrawl style that all the adults I knew used. In any event, I’m sure whatever the non-cursive taught kids come up with, it will annoy the hell out of the older people who will then moan about how bad the younger generation is, thus fulfilling the ancient prophecy and putting off the Apocalypse for yet another generation.

The objection that they’re cutting cursive without replacing it with something useful is just silly. Oh, I’d be happier if the replacement was of the teaching-how-to-think-critically variety, but it is not like cursive was great at that, since it’s mostly memorization, repetition, and practicing motor-skills. Let’s not pretend the secrets of the universe were hiding within its unbroken lines. Unless they were. In that case, we truly face a future of post-apocalyptic slowly written notes.