Curse the Anti-Cursives!

They’re trying to condemn kids to a life of functional illiteracy.

I come to praise cursive writing, not to bury it.

My colleague Joel Mathis yesterday wrote that cursive “sucks” and he was glad to see it become extinct. With all due respect, such a thing would be a mistake of massive proportions, especially for a dumbed-down youth culture that can barely read.

I curse you, anti-cursives.

I’m not talking penmanship here. I’m talking the ability to connect all the letters in a word, by hand. To script full words on a sheet of paper — remember paper? — without lifting one’s writing instrument from the page.

It’s a manual running commentary. To wit, the word cursive itself is rooted in the Latin currere, which means “to run.”

Yes, language evolves, as Mathis wrote, citing the inscrutability of Chaucer’s Middle English in his Canterbury Tales. The reference jolted me, because I did read Canterbury Tales in Middle English, as an undergraduate. Ol’ Geoffrey had a real fascination with farts.

The logic of the Middle English–cursive connection escapes me, however. While no one speaks Middle English anymore — well, except rappers — the cursive style will continue to be a force in its most basic iteration: the personal signature.

Think of all the things we sign every day: bank checks, credit-card receipts, legal documents, job applications, greeting cards. The Secretary of the Treasury’s signature is on every dollar bill, although current Secretary Jack Lew’s doodle looks more like a petit mal than a signature.

If schools stop teaching cursive, future generations will have to print their official signatures, like kindergarteners. The Founding Fathers would not be pleased, in particular John Hancock.

Formal invitations are written in cursive. So are thank-you notes and condolence cards, if the sender has a modicum of class. Of course, this requires an envelope, a postage stamp — remember those? — and a mailbox.

Being Old School, I do this when it matters, and I expect the same courtesy. Electronic cards and emails don’t carry the same weight as a thoughtful expression in writing. Recipients know the difference, and they appreciate the extra effort.

Apart from writing cursive, what about reading it? American children would be unable to recognize their own history in the original Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution, both written in cursive. Or any other document in cursive, for that matter.

On a more practical level, the red flags are more dangerous. An adult who couldn’t read script would not recognize his own signature if it were forged on a check or bill of sale. The criminal possibilities are endless.

Most important, people who can’t read cursive appear stupid, even if they’re not. In fact, they are functional illiterates.

Case in point: Rachel Jeantel, star prosecution witness in the George Zimmerman trial, could not read aloud the letter she said she had written to Trayvon Martin’s parents because, she said, “I don’t read cursive.”

Along with reading and ‘rithmetic, writing needs to have a place in the curriculum of public schools. Send a letter to your local congressman, with your signature. That is, if you know how to write it.

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  • Joel Mathis

    It’s possible my left-handedness has distorted my thinking on this. Writing cursive for this lefty is just a huge pain in the butt, and there’s no way I can tell to make it not so.

    • Candy Sneed

      im also left handed and i can write cursive just fine, yeah it took me longer to learn but i just figured out that if i turn my paper sideways it works just as good! besides think of all the crimes that have been solved by comparing signatures its much easier to forge print than a signature in cursive.

  • critical mass

    It’s never made sense to teach children two different forms of expressing the same thing. This is particularly tough for children with learning disabilities as well as those who have penmanship issues, including in some cases lefties like Mr. Mathis. They need to focus on reading and writing clearly, not on learning how to make curlicues and doodles so that one day they can sign their name to the Declaration of Independence. We don’t use cursive fonts on our keyboards or newspapers or books or anything else except, at this point, signatures. If we must preserve this relic of pedagogical confusion, we can always teach students how to sign their name in cursive. But let’s let this pointless practice go.

  • Joshua Speed

    Cursive is the only way. It is classic, like classic Coke! Adults who print block letters make me think of the developmently disabled. No offense, But…this is one standard we cannot afford to lose.

  • KateGladstone

    Reading cursive matters indeed — but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Consider: parts of the Declaration and the Constitution are written not in cursive, but in elaborate “Olde Englishe” Blackletter: which no children, and few adults, are taught to write. If writing a style were the only way to learn to read it, we would stand forever helpless before certain portions of our nation’s founding documents.

    Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters? (That style is unlikely to be cursive. The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. Research sources on the matter are available on request.)

    Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. (The source — a web-site operated by the cursive publisher in question — is again available on request.) When even handwriting teachers shun cursive, why prioritize it?

  • Nan Jay Barchowsky

    ‘the word cursive itself is rooted in the Latin currere, which means “to run.”’ But, but, but I have been writing by hand, legibly and rapidly for years in a running hand, but do not connect every letter in every word. The Latins didn’t either, and handwriting in the Renaissance is about as legible and efficient as it can get.

    Writing the “cursive” that is fancied today takes an unreasonable amount of classroom time when a simpler method could suffice.

  • Alan Taylor

    When they do completely phase out cursive writing and reading in public schools is when all the important binding contracts will be in cursive.

  • LeslieFish

    Oh, come on! “Cursive” is just *one style* of penmanship, and far from the best. Other styles — like Italic, Blackletter, Copperplate, and so on — are much clearer, quicker to learn, easier to teach, and frankly more beautiful. Cursive lends itself far too easily to the illegible scribbles for which doctors are notorious, thus causing thousands of deaths from “medical errors”. If only for the lives it has cost, Cursive deserves to die!

  • Tom P.

    How does one write a letter that they can’t read?