From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Handwriting is Still Important

My opinion on the cursive writing debate



Spencerian handwriting sample from The Graphics Fairy.

This morning, I learned on Michael Leddy's blog that today is John Hancock's birthday and National Handwriting Day. I suppose that's why I thought about handwriting, as I was making a mental list this evening of some large and small changes during my lifetime. In the last half-century, I've seen schools nearly give up teaching cursive writing.

My grade-school teachers in the 1950s and 60s had nice handwriting, and they were determined that we would learn a similar longhand script. We had daily assignments to complete from our Palmer's Penmanship books, and we were graded on our efforts.

How I detested penmanship!  But the agonies of penmanship practice were worthwhile. By the time I was a young adult, I had developed a personal, legible, and fairly fast style of handwriting. Because my teachers insisted on mastery, I've never been handicapped or embarrassed by my handwriting skills or an inability to read (most) handwriting.

Today's teachers still "cover" cursive during spelling classes in second or third grade. However, the necessary practice to develop a smooth, flowing script is no longer required. Many students never give up printing. Some young adults can't read cursive handwriting. Some cannot even sign their names with connected letters. I don't blame the students. If schools no longer insist on a mastery of handwriting, most children will not choose to master the skill on their own.

Yes, times have changed. I realize that today's schools have a lot to teach. I realize that we're all typing and texting on our various electronic devices and not writing by hand as much. However, cursive handwriting remains a skill that's worthy of practice. In the adult world, neat, clear handwriting lends dignity and authority to every pen-and-paper communication. This is especially true of an attractive, distinctive handwritten signature. Consider John Hancock's famous signature. Then imagine his name, hand-printed in manuscript letters. Need I say more about the gravitas of good handwriting?

A person who cannot read and write in cursive is not as well-educated as a person who is fluent in cursive. It can't be denied. I think it's a shame -- yes, shameful -- that schools are doing such a poor job of teaching the handwritten form of the language.



Interested in improving your handwriting? Here are two good articles to read:

Op-Art: The Write Stuff
Tips for Improving Your Penmanship

James of the The Heelers Diaries recently told an interesting story about handwriting -- see #3 in his list of nuns from Planet Zorg.

6 comments:

Sarabeth said...

I teach my children on my own to write in cursive.

Michael Leddy said...

I really like your observation about Hancock, printing, and gravitas.

Limey said...

I've tried over the years to neaten my handwriting, but it still looks as if I'm trying to write while strapped to a jackhammer :)

RunAwayImagination said...

I believe the demise of cursive handwriting, like the demise of playing music at home (the subject of a recent post), listening to long symphonies are all victims of the increasingly fragmented and hectic pace of modern life. Even blogging seems to be giving way to phone texting and tweeting in 140-character bursts.

Sometime about 40 years ago I lost the ability to write in cursive and took up printing instead. When I have time I enjoy writing in my journal - but only when I have time. Otherwise I type at the computer like I'm doing now.

Genevieve said...

After writing this little rant, I've been really watching my penmanship. I wrote as neatly and nicely as I could today, as I was writing checks and addressing a few envelopes to send off some bills, and filling out some forms at work.

ptg said...

My profound dyslexia kept me from developing decent cursive writing skills. Later in life, I studied calligraphy and now am able to write legibly, although with some effort. I can print in either direction and produce mirror writing with ease. No one knew about dyslexia when I was in grade school; teachers just thought I was sloppy or lazy.

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