Wednesday, May 01, 2013

NY Times Q: "Is Cursive Dead?" (A. It's very sick!)

The New York Times has weighed in with one of my minor obsessions, cursive handwriting and poses (not, for the love of God, begs) this question: "Is Cursive Dead?"

Answer: Well, yes, kinda, sorta.

  • There's an education expert who uses "impact" as a verb and says he personally doesn't use it, so it sure is dead.  
  • An archivist who doesn't want it to disappear. 
  • An occupational therapist that says brain science (true!) shows that it helps develop portions of the brain. 
  • A handwriting expert that says a hybrid works just as well. 

My take?

  • Pro: It helps with brain development, and it reaps a more useful benefit than Baby Einstein videos. 
  • Con: On the other hand, teachers have enough to do. I'm not in the K-12 trenches, so I'm not sure that I get a vote.
  • Pro: As far as cursive becomes elective in the schools, it'll become a status marker, like languages or other such "useless" knowledge. The ruling class will know it, and by those markers will know each other. The grimy proles like the rest of us will not. If we are working on increasing class stratification in this country by educational methods as well as by redistributing wealth to the top 1%, this is just another step in the process. 
  • Addendum: I am still befuddled by how hard this culture says it works to develop everyone's brainpower and potential yet how loudly it howls whenever anyone is asked to do anything but the bare minimum of learning, saying that people are learning "frills." Since when can learning anything not about the Kardashians be considered a frill? 
  • Con: The argument "we haz the shiny things now and we type instead of write" doesn't cut much  ice if you need to handwrite something, but that can be taken care of by printing, mostly. 
Conclusion: I like cursive handwriting aesthetically and intellectually, but I can't make a case that everyone needs to know it or teach it. They do need to know how to read it, though, which one of the experts says can be done in one hour with no followup. 

Your thoughts? 

9 comments:

nicoleandmaggie said...

My son goes to a fancy-pants private school. He is learning cursive. And it looks much nicer than his father's even though he is only 6. (It looks better than mine when I'm being speedy and not quite as nice when I'm trying to be legible.)

Thomasina said...

It depends very much on what is meant by "cursive".

This can range from copperplate (which should be left in the hands of calligraphers with the correct flexible, pointy nibs for the task) through various styles of joined-up writing (some ghastly, some more or less aesthetically pleasing) and on to enlightened adaptations of the Italian italic hand that flourished around the 16th century (sometimes known as "chancery" script). This is beautiful and elegant in its original form and adapts well to modern writing implements and contemporary needs. It is legible at speed and when written carefully can be positively gorgeous. Whether you want to call it "cursive" or not, I don't care, but I think every child should learn it.

Here are the benefits to the child (and adult-to-be) of learning a mature style of handwriting while still in school:
* they are armed with a pleasing, legible way of expressing themselves on paper, of which they need never be ashamed
* through writing legibly and beautifully they are able to offer a simple courtesy to everyone who is obliged to read anything they might write
* eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, yadda yadda, but more important…
* it's a step in developing an eye for design, balance, placement, form and proportion. And you don't have to aspire to be an artist or a designer for this kind of aesthetic sense to be very useful indeed.

jo(e) said...

I learned cursive as a child. (I'm in my 50s.) I stopped using it after high school. I can't remember the last time I used it for anything other than my signature.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--I'm glad his school is teaching cursive. There are lots of benefits to it and few downsides, once it's learned. Oddly, like keyboarding or driving a stick shift, it's something that you don't have to think about after the initial learning curve.

Thomasina: Teaching students to write the modified Italian italic hand would be a good way to go, for all the reasons you mention. Cursive helps students to develop that aesthetic sense, as you say. The arguments against it seem all to be about how to apportion children's time.

Jo(e): Like you, I learned one kind of cursive as a child but have retrained myself to use more of an italic handwriting, the kind that Thomasina talks about. When you write in your journals, do you print, then? I'm always curious about writers' processes.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I swear I'm going to start teaching cursive in my classes and calling it book history.

If knowing how to write a decent fist is becoming a class marker then teaching cursive is definitely within my sense of what my real job is.

undine said...

Dame Eleanor--great solution! If handwriting isn't a class marker now, I'm betting it will be in a few years after it disappears from the public schools.

Anonymous said...

Impact is a verb, as judged by the OED and Merriam-Webster (and, apparently, the Times).

JaneB said...

No-one has mentioned speed and ease for the actual writer - am I unusual in finding handwriting in cursive instead of print to be faster and therefore better at capturing what I'm hearing and transfering it to paper whether I'm 'hearing' someone else talk, the thoughts in my own head, or observing something like say watching a film. That's the most important thing for me - joined up writing is faster, more fluent writing which has to feed back into thinking and processing and all the other stuff we want students to do...

undine said...

Anonymous--"impact" is a verb now, and so is "gift," and so is "enthuse," for that matter, but I'm kind of old school about their use. Sorry.

JaneB--some of the research says exactly that: the joining-up of letters and speed makes a difference with comprehension.