Once upon a time—okay, my childhood—there were some not-so-terrific things about going to school.
For starters, corporal punishment was the way of the land. I never got paddled, but even now, I can hear the screams that came from the principal’s office. However, I did have my share of skinned knees, since the dress code was exactly that: girls were only allowed to wear dresses (or skirts or jumpers) but never pants. This, despite the fact that jungle gyms, monkey bars and those scary low to the ground merry-go-rounds are clearly not intended for children in ruffles and bows.
Then, too, growing up in Southern California, I can still, literally, see the nasty smoggy air that enveloped all of us
Of course, there was awesome stuff, too.
Our little school, like every other one in our town, had its own orchestra, with a music teacher named Joe Burger, who visited us every week, rain or shine. When it did rain hard, we sailed right into a schedule that got us dismissed several hours ahead of the usual end of the day. Sixth grade had its very own rad adventure: we were bussed to a camp in the mountains for an entire week. I can’t forget the yummy school lunches either—with real cafeteria ladies on site in
a real kitchen.
For a whole lot of reasons, a lot of the ways schools were back then are gone.
And while I think that’s mostly A Very Good Thing (especially the physical punishment and the now much cleaner air), there was one big chunk of the curriculum that shouldn’t have disappeared.
But sadly, it mostly has.
I’m talking about cursive writing.
I was reminded of its elegance and beauty a few weeks back while going through a battered manila folder filled with drawings I’d made that my mother had saved. Stuck in as an after-thought was a page of poems she had copied in cursive.
Perfectly slanted to the right with artful whorls and curves, the pretty words harkened back to the decades when people took their time to write mindfully and purposefully, and write well.
I learned the same strokes in third grade.
With our own little workbooks and chunky pencils, we practiced one letter per day, upper and lower case, until all 26 letters were mastered. If someone was absent for a few days, woe to that child: that meant that he or she might never learn how to properly execute the letters taught on the days he or she had missed.
Like so many, I was proud of my ability to complete whole papers using cursive writing.
But once I landed in high school, typed assignments were the only way to turn in homework. Thanks to this new rule, my cursive skills eventually vanished. (Indeed, I only use cursive today for my signature. Those who are generous might call it “interesting,” but not necessarily readable. A few days ago, after examining my signed check, then looking at me, then looking at the check again, a grocery store clerk asked if I had been born in another country.)
And although my teenage daughter was taught cursive at a young age, she was also taught to type in second grade.
So, just like me, the one time I see her cursive skill is when she must sign her name. (And with electronic signatures becoming more and more common, there will come a day, sooner than later, when she won’t even be required to do that.) I’m also well aware that her taking class notes in only block letters is the opposite of unique: I see this every day in both the middle and high schools where I work between TV and other writing gigs.
I don’t know exactly why this makes me sad, but it does.
Perhaps it’s because I know that cursive writing still needs to be taught, and still needs to be used, at least sometimes.
I’m not in the minority.
A quick Google search using the phrase “benefits of cursive writing” comes up with 415,000 results, including articles from The New York Times and Psychology Today. One site from the United Kingdom breaks down the positives of cursive into 10 reasons, and frankly, a lot of these explanations are just plain common sense.
For instance, teaching cursive to those just learning to master words goes a long way in helping to prevent reversals and confusion of letters, especially with the letters B and D, and the letters F and T. Learning cursive also enhances spelling ability because kiddos learn how to correctly spell using hand movements—which create muscle memories that retain specific spelling patterns. And because cursive writing also promotes learning whole words rather than distinct letters, reading skills are improved.
The article goes on to say that once words are learned, sentences in cursive are easier to comprehend, which subsequently means that less students require remedial support. There’s more: one can generally write faster
using cursive rather than printing out the alphabet. Writing like this, a student can get ideas on paper down
more quickly, and as a result, be able to take more detailed notes in class. (The entire article is right here,
So will cursive writing ever make a comeback?
Of course not.
While a few of us might pen a letter now and again, mostly for the novelty of the experience, the instantaneous and magical communication provided by laptops and iPhones and texting make writing out homework and poems and other missives as extinct as the dinosaurs.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice to hold on to this graceful way of connecting with one another… at least for a few
What are your thoughts and stories about cursive writing? I’d love to hear from you!