Sunday, April 14, 2019

Handwriting and Cursive Handwriting: Once more, with feeling

The New York Times reports that cursive handwriting is making a comeback, and the headline is this: "Cursive Seemed to Go the Way of Quills and Parchment. Now It’s Coming Back."

I've written (though not by hand--hah!) on this blog about handwriting and specifically cursive handwriting, most recently in response to Anne Trubek, who has a lot of strong opinions about it

But I have a few issues with, well, this issue.

First--you see what I did there in the title?

Writing by hand is not writing in cursive.

Writing by hand means making marks on a piece of paper (or with an Apple pencil on an iPad, or whatever else isn't typing). It can be printing letters rather than connecting them. It could probably mean shorthand.

Cursive is a subset of handwriting in which the letters are connected. If I could draw a Venn diagram in Blogger, it would show a little circle inside a big circle.

Second,  what's the evidence?

The evidence is that writing notes by hand, not writing notes in cursive handwriting, is what helped students learn back in those studies done earlier in the century. Cursive may be faster to write, but it's not a defining factor. It'd be nice if students learned it, but no classroom has 18 hours a day.
Figure 1. My precious.

Third, there's an ominous political tinge to all this.

Now, I happen to like cursive, and yes, I think that, like languages, music lessons, and unpaid internships, it will become a class marker to separate the haves from the have-nots, if it hasn't already. I also like fountain pens. I mean, who wouldn't like to write with those beauties in the picture?

And yes, it'd be great to have students who could read cursive so that they can read letters from ages past, or letters from their grandparents, or handwritten notes on graded papers. (If they can't read the last-named, they will have a hard time in my class, but so far, no complaints.)

But the idea that they have to be able to read cursive in order to read the Declaration of Independence or other documents from the founders--well, those documents have been in print form for quite some time now.

Figure 2. Go ahead. Tell us what it says, cursive-reader.
And the idea that "Magna Carta" was "written in cursive" is kind of like saying that a tiger is a cat. Technically, yes, but its being written in cursive isn't as much of a stumbling block as that it is written in Latin, which the NYT doesn't mention. Let's not even get into the varieties of handwriting, like 5th-century Uncial or secretary hand, which have to be learned as a separate skill.

There's a fantasy going around now in conservative circles about how if students can read cursive, we can just get back to the originary documents, including the Constitution, written in cursive, that will mystically reveal extreme right-wing principles about how God hates the poor, the rich deserve to be richer, etc. and other principles dear to the GOP heart.

I do like cursive. I am glad it is being taught. But I don't agree with the reasons now being touted for teaching it. 

Figure 3. Something about "all men are created equal" seems to be missing from the reasoning of some state legislators who promote cursive handwriting.