Cursive or computer

Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2012, at 2:17 PM
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  • A lot of people, lately, have been making a lot of noise about the death of cursive handwriting. They don't want cursive to die. Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?

    Research shows that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations below.)

    What about _reading_ cursive? This matters vitally -- it takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

    (In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too ... not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

    Of course, some folks claim that cursive has magic powers not shared by any other handwriting. Without exception, the research they cite (when they bother to give actual citations at all) turns out out to be misquoted or misrepresented. Read the actual studies: you'll see that the mental benefits ascribed to cursive are in _all_ styles of handwriting. They are not limited to cursive. (will leave it to the misquoters and their disciples to ponder why the misquoting is done -- and why any medium of information has uncritically accepted it.)

    What about signatures? Is cursive needed there? Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, then verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger's life easy.

    The individuality of print-style (or other non-cursive style) writings is further shown by this: six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the writing on an unsigned assignment) which of her 25 or 30 students wrote it.

    There's also this to consider: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (On this, I could quote legal sources -- and lawyers -- but that would take more room than a letter permits. So don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

    In short, there is neither common sense, nor fact, nor legal necessity, behind the idolatry of cursive. Remember that research about the fastest, most legible handwriters? Most people who write that way were never taught to do it. Like the rest of us, they'd probably been taught otherwise. They had to stumble on those useful habits themselves, by consciously or unconsciously discarding what didn't work in the printing or cursive styles they'd been taught, and keeping the best components of what was left -- which meant breaking some of the rules they had been taught.

    But why leave it to chance and breaking the rules? There are books and (in the texting age) software designed to teach those better habits from the get-go and save handwriting. (Which are they? A letter like this is not the place for product reviews -- though I welcome reader inquiries.)


    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.


    1998: on-line at


    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.


    1998: on-line at

    (NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.

    Shouldn't there be more of them?)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone

    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

    and the World Handwriting Contest

    -- Posted by KateGladstone on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 3:42 PM
  • Dear Kate, thanks for your comments. I believe cursive is on the way out. But I connected with four teachers (one a principal) who think that it should stay. One fourth grade teacher says she writes everything in cursive on her blackboard. She teaches as much cursive as she can, but she does not take grades. Once the student leaves the fourth grade, it doesn't seem to matter how they write; it's the content they are graded on, one teacher said. "I'm just old fashioned enough to think cursive should be taught and used," she said. The reason I wrote about cursive writing in my column is that I was surprised to read how few schools are teaching cursive writing or will be by 2014.

    -- Posted by on Tue, Dec 11, 2012, at 5:46 PM
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