Monday, August 22, 2016

Okay, I get it: you don't like cursive handwriting

Figure 1. You can read this, right?
In "Handwriting Just Doesn't Matter," a clickbait-y title that considerably overstates the evidence supplied in what turns out to be a surprisingly reasonable essay, Anne Trubek lists all the usual suspects about why we don't need cursive handwriting.

Actually,  I agree with a lot of her reasoning:

1. More people are writing more than ever before, so the kids are all right. (Pretty much true).

2. Typed work levels the playing field since bad handwriting can prejudice teachers (which is true).

3. The current proponents of cursive have seen it as a patriotic act, which is pretty sinister (which is sort of true and really one of the strongest arguments).  Typing is more small-d democratic.

4. She and her son had a hard time learning it, so it's not needed. (Can't judge this one.)

Weaker arguments:

1. Everyone has a keyboard or phone (and by extension is presumably wirelessly connected, with fully charged keyboard/phone) at all times. (Nope, not buying this one. Do we have free hardware and free software and free connectivity for everyone in this country? Disgracefully, no. )

2. It's not important to be able to read cursive, since only "experts" can read documents in cursive: "Reading that 18th-century document [the Declaration of Independence] in the original is difficult for most people who know cursive, as the script is now unfamiliar." Proof? Source? No, it's not difficult to read. It's not necessary, though, to be able to read it in cursive, although this seems to be an obsession with the #3 people above.

 The stronger corollary is that these documents are also written in foreign languages, which, although she doesn't say it, is something the U.S. more or less gave up on a while back.

3. She glides over all the studies that show that students who write notes by hand--which is NOT the same as cursive--retain information better.

Where Anne Trubek and I agree most is on this benign and sweeping conclusion: "The cultural values we project onto handwriting will alter as we do, as they have for the past 6,000 years."

As I've argued a lot on this blog, unlike Anne Trubek, I think that handwriting and/or cursive is important but isn't a hill to die on. But like other forms of creativity or self-expression (or the humanities, for that matter), we need to think a little before we can argue for its elimination on utilitarian grounds.

 Every time some form of handcraft goes extinct, whether it's canning or calligraphy or drama clubs or music--or, worse, becomes a class marker, as in prep schools will teach it  but public schools will not--we lose a little something of our small-d democratic systems.


Anonymous said...

Yup, definitely a class marker. My son learned it at private school.

Personally I do think cursive is faster for taking notes. I print anything I want someone else to be able to read, but I use cursive when I'm trying to be fast. But I type faster than I write in either case, so maybe that use of cursive will go the way of short-hand.

Anonymous said...

p.s. That #4 excuse is used a lot with math. Math is still plenty useful. More useful, perhaps, since many people learn as much as they could.

Bardiac said...

I want students to be comfortable taking notes by hand, because that's been shown to contribute to learning in all sorts of ways.

I rarely use cursive (I can print about as fast), and I've learned to read a couple older scripts (secretary, for example). I think scripts change, and people who want to learn to read older ones can do so, and that's fine.

But your point about the class marker is really important.

But, oh, a beautiful italic hand is such a thing of beauty!

Nicoleandmaggie said...

Since *not* many people

xykademiqz said...

I think people are unaware how different cursive is between nations. For instance, there are many (Latin) characters that are written differently in many European languages than they are in "modern American cursive" (so it says in my kids' materials). I was quite shocked at the writing of A, H, L, M, N, S, Z, etc., when I saw my eldest kid learn it. I would argue that cursive is not a helpful tool in globalization by any stretch.

When I went to school, all essays had to be turned in in cursive. What I use now is some combination of print and cursive, optimized by me for maximal speed and not for beauty. Many people end up with something like that that they use daily.
I have had a couple of students who do take notes in cursive and for some it's been legible, for others not so much. Seriously, one kid took all his lab notes in cursive, and while it looks nice, it's really difficult to decipher.

I can tell you that my Eldest uses cursive only to sign his name on things. He takes notes in print. I don't think my Middle Boy (entering 4th grade) even had it in school, or at least not very seriously.

Anonymous said...

I don't really have a horse in this race, but it seems silly not to teach it. Having dealt with it does help people read it, and yes handwriting of various sorts is still used in many places. And being able to write is very useful, and I notice I get rusty at it myself by typing all the time.

Another thing I don't understand, by the way, is trigger warnings. I've always warned students about strong content, and my professors warned me, but one wasn't excused from dealing with it (although was allowed to excuse self from really graphic violence on film, etc.). I have not figured out why this came up as a controversy now.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--I predict that in a few years, someone (besides me) will figure out that it's a class marker and pitch a humongous fit to get it back in the curriculum.

Bardiac--it is beautiful! One of the things that went through my Twitter stream the other day was a manuscript of a speech written by Queen Elizabeth I, and it was gorgeous as well as entirely readable.

xykademqz--good point. Maybe it's time for an overhaul--an international form of cursive that combines the best of all the nations? I can dream.