Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Importance of Handwriting

If you are one of the select group of readers of this blog with whom I've exchanged handwritten letters, you are already familiar with my style of's sort of a mutated version of the elegant Palmer Method script drilled into me by the nuns at my grade school many years ago:
Nice, isn't it? Of course, my handwriting today doesn't always look too much like that, at least not after the first few lines of a letter when I tend to rush more and get sloppy. Of my fellow bloggers with whom I have exchanged letters, the neatest (or, at least, most elegant) cursive writing belongs to the Green Canary, with Amanda not far behind. Andrea and Fiona have nice cursive writing also. John's handwriting is perfectly legible, but not as neat and tidy as that of the ladies, and Mike's ... well ... since Mike writes in invisible ink, it's hard to tell just how legible his handwriting is.

Okay, I wrote all that so that I could set up this topic about whether or not cursive writing should be taught in schools.

In the September issue of the Costco Connection magazine (which you receive if you are one of those folks like us who purchase things in huge bulk at the Costco warehouse stores), there is an interesting discussion in the "Informed Debate" section titled "Should Students Still Be Taught Cursive Writing?" You can read it online here, and there are also links to other articles on the topic.

The arguments against teaching cursive seem to center on these: it's a useless skill at a time when everything is typed on a keyboard, the skills of fine motor control that come with cursive writing can be taught in more efficient ways, and time spent in learning cursive can be better applied to improving reading skills. Arguments in favor of teaching cursive include: teaching focus and attention to detail, improving fine motor skills, and helping connect the written word to the spoken via phonics.

Who's right?

As you all already know, I'm a great fan of the written word. I love sending and receiving handwritten letters (although I don't send as many as I used to because it takes so long to write the sort of letters I enjoy writing and receiving). There is nothing quite like the thrill of holding a handwritten letter in your hand and knowing as you read that the same document was held in the hand of your correspondent ... there's a personal connection there that an e-mail, a tweet, or a typewritten letter just can't match.

And knowing cursive writing is more important than just for the ability to write letters, too. Although I am able to poke out short reminders and shopping lists on my trusty iPhone, I find it faster and easier to just write them down in good old ink on whatever paper is available. I have piles of notebooks and scratch pads to catch random doodles and thoughts. If nothing else, I'll still be able to read those handwritten notes if the electricity goes out or the batteries die.

I personally think it would be a tragedy to stop teaching cursive writing in schools. While it's true that keyboarding skills are important in an age when everything is done electronically, there's a lot to be said for having the skill to sit down and thoughtfully compose and write by hand. Even allowing for the fact that I'm a traditionalist, I think that elegant (or, at least, legible) cursive writing is a skill that says a lot about us and the things we value.

So join me in resisting the move to eliminate the teaching of cursive in our schools. And if you want to see just what ol' Bilbo's handwriting looks like, e-mail me your snail mail address and I will write you your own personal letter to compete with all the bills and junk mail that fill your unhappy mailbox every day.

Have a good day. Write someone a letter. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

A fiend of mine has a son with a form of dyslexia that makes writing very difficult for him. Interestingly enough, if he writes in cursive, few of the letters end up backwards and even his letter order is correct. He has no problem keyboarding, but PRINTING gets him. Thank goodness they still teach cursive for kids like him.
That said, my handwriting is now almost as horrid as any I've tried to decipher. It is bad when I can't read my OWN cursive!

John said...

For handwriting, I think I print faster than writing cursive. It's also more legible.

Bilbo said...

Katherine - I've known you and experienced your handwriting for a long time. You should have been a doctor.

John - I once worked for someone who wrote in a wonderful, calligraphy-quality printing. His cursive was, oddly, awful, and he could do his marvelous printing faster - go figure.

KathyA said...

If poor, illegible handwriting is a sign of brilliance, I'm really screwed. I, too, attended parochial schools and, in fact, started out left-handed. The nuns didn't like that so I learned Palmer method using my right hand. Actually, I never learned to print!!!
My snail mail address is coming your way -- want yours in return. Kathy

Mike said...

I with John. I cursive write like a doctor. And only when it's required by law.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I love to write letters, but my writing does go a little skewy after a while.

Mike said...

And if I could only get an invisible ink post card through the mail. Would that be cool or what.

Bilbo said...

Kathy - Bring it on!

Mike - I take this as a challenge...

Jean-Luc - You and I appear to have the same problem.

Raquel's World said...

While I love handwritten notes/letters I DO think that teaching cursive is a waste of valuable school time. I think soon that the entire English language will convert to "text type talking/writing". I think cursive should only be taught if you are gonna need it for your job, but yet I cannot think of many jobs that would need that skill. I think cursive is going much in the way of the stone tablet my friend. But the bright side is, if our kids aren't taught cursive then we can still write inappropriate or private things down in our secret old school writing and they will have no clue what it says.

KateGladstone said...

Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?
Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters 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 appear below.)

Often, cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are taught to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters. (These requirements do not align with the research findings above.)

When following the rules doesn't work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)

Reading cursive still matters — this 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_.)

Remember, too: 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. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)


/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