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.