Old Fashioned and Useless: Or the Great Cursive Debate

Posted on January 8, 2017


“Old fashioned” and “useless” I thought could be me and my cohort of pre-boomers (those born before 1946) on our way into retirement homes and given to just doddering around the garden watering the petunias.

Writing cursive, or “long hand” as we used to say, is, I quickly discovered from a short search on the Internet, a hot topic among educators. I had no idea it was an even a topic open for discussion.

But a few weeks ago, at a Christmas party, one of the young people there, a freshman in college, said, rather matter-of-factly, “I can’t read cursive.”

I was dumfounded. She might as well have said “I can’t read Chinese,” to which I would have added, “neither can I.”

It was as if someone had told me I don’t know the sum of two of two. Or, to my mind, “I’m illiterate.” And I think she also said she was a pre-med major and wanted to study medicine.

I was into a big disconnect here. How could one be illiterate and in college?

She saw my confusion and wide-mouthed look of surprise, and added, “We aren’t taught to write in cursive,” Her mother nodded her head.

So, Internet maven that I have turned in to, I did a quick research job on the Net the next day. Sure enough. Cursive is on its way out, or already out in many states and communities, a victim of the Common Core.

Since I haven’t had school-age children now for at least ten years (depends on when you stopped poking into K-12 affairs), I only had a passing acquaintance with Common Core. As one blog summarized the problem, or the challenge:

“Today, the vast majority of adult composition takes place at the keyboard, not the paper tablet. Is handwriting, particularly cursive, really necessary in the digital age? Increasingly, the answer is not really. Common Core standards issued in 2010 do not include any requirements for handwriting instruction.”

But, as the blog also noted, “handwriting isn’t going away without a fight.”

The question becomes, if I may simplify it a bit, is the fight to save cursive worth it?

BTW, multiplication tables are also on the chopping block. Who needs them when everyone can just open the little electronic calculator in a second or two?

I would add another relic of “traditional” education: a foreign language requirement.

Not only does the Common Core not require cursive training, or learning the multiplication tables as we understand them, but it doesn’t require a foreign language either.

I was afraid to look up what the Common Core says about mathematics. Perhaps that two plus two equals four is negotiable depending upon your sex, race, national origin, and color of your eyes.

But not all is lost. Aside from the scientific and pedagogical arguments in favor of cursive, everything from good practice for coordinating left side and right side brain training to thinking better, more clearly, and logically when writing cursive rather than composing on a keyboard, good manners and style may be coming to the rescue.

Still using the old tacky Bics to sign your checks and documents? And, God forbid, for writing (actually writing, not keyboarding) invitations and other forms of communication? Fashion is coming to the rescue as described in a recent article, “Sticking to the Script” in the Wall Street Journal.

People wanting to project power and style are snapping up snazzy new pens that lift you above the “crushing vulgarity” of the digital world into the smart world of stylish “self-expression” with pens by the likes of Louis Vuitton.

“A crystal Bic looks like rubbish when you’re in a meeting,” observed the article.

Style, however, can be expensive. A Marc Newson pen could set you back $1670, but you can spring for a Mario Botta Fixpencil by Caran d’Ache for $53.00. I don’t know what a Fixpencil is either but I bet it would look good next to my Rodrigo Torres Kastor Pencil Sharpener, $67.00, on my desk.

My problem would be finding my new Rodrigo Torres Kastor pencil sharpener amid the clutter of my desk which my wife periodically cleans up and “organizes” to suit her sense of order. It sometimes takes me days, even weeks, to find out where I left off on the last manuscript I was working on but it keeps my mind nimble and fresh as I search for my last set of notes to throw into my computer screen.

Published as “Is Cursive Handwriting Necessary in This Age?” in Sunday Jan. 8, 2017, The Tuscaloosa News.