Recently a conversation came up at work about cursive writing which lead to me finding an article on CNN about cursive vs. typing which in turn leads finding blog articles such as one questioning if it is obsolete and of course it doesn’t take much effort on Google to find articles that declare it dead. Now, this might not be much of a surprise coming from someone that has reviewed a fountain pen, but I do think that any reports of the death of handwriting are greatly exaggerated even though I think that cursive is largely reminiscent of a bygone era.
As near as I can tell, I was taught D’Nealian script when I was in grade school and my ability write in it was largely limited my early years of high school before it atrophied into my pretty much just limiting my writing to some sort of odd block writing. Of course now I have been making a dedicated effort to learn Italic script and eventually I will be moving on to Spencerian script. Now I have a fairly long list of reasons for this, but a lot of it boils down to the fact that I still hand write letters to people and take notes by hand as well. Even with my fairly good typing skills I’ve always found that handwriting notes tended to cause them to be retained better (which is backed by science) but the past couple years I did find myself being annoyed at not being able to read my own handwriting.
But I digress, with regards to cursive I tend to be very opinionated since even when I was in grade school I thought that the script that we were being taught was fairly unattractive and even if you look at the exemplars that are out there it is kind of blah. In short, it was something that you learned because you had to, but it usually was something that I remember fellow students being excited to learn. On the other had, learning Italic script is something I’ve been learning on my own because it interests me.
Now part of this might simply be dismissed as the difference between learning something as an adult versus being forced to learn something as a child; however, I think there is more to it than just that. While I did have to learn cursive when I was in school, I don’t seem to remember it really being emphasized and something that was consistently practiced. Of course, the fact that the Common Core is looking to de-emphasize or remove entirely the requirement to teach cursive doesn’t come as much surprise to me given what I remember from when I was in school.
However, is this a side effect of technology or is something else going on? Personally I’m inclined to believe that it is a combination of the two. Just as you hear that Japanese are reporting that their skills at writing kanji is declining due to computers, you can see the same argument being made in the American media with regards to cursive and handwriting skills in general. As for what the “something else” could be, I’m not really sure to be honest. The fact that you really don’t need to be able to hand write something in the modern era certainly means that there is a lack of motivation (i.e. “Why should I learn this when I’m just typing things anyway?”) but on the same token, people I’ve met over the years still like getting a handwritten letter regardless of their age. In some ways, I think if students were taught a more attractive script and it was continuously emphasized over the duration a student’s compulsory education that you would see more writing being done.
Is there really any way of fixing this though? To be honest, I kind of doubt it. In order to get good at writing you need to be doing exemplars on a daily basis and even if it is only fifteen minutes a day, that is fifteen minutes that are being used to teach something that is not required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Plus, to be honest, most of the more attractive scripts require tools other than just your basic writing implement. The Italic script I’m learning works best with a fountain pen that has a good nib and Spencerian script tends to work best with a flex nib. Factor in pen ink (which can be a mess even when you are being careful) and I can see how teachers would want to side step the the issue all together.
In the long run I’m inclined to be somewhat cynical and I can see handwriting being something that people can still do, but not do well. I don’t think that we will ever see it disappear completely since there are many skills out there (i.e. hand spinning) that still exist as hobbies even though technologically “superior” alternatives exist. With any luck handwriting will make a comeback, but I’m seriously doubtful unless that comeback occurs in art class.