It has suddenly become fashionable to assert that children must be taught cursive handwriting or there has been some sort of failure in their education. In fact, here’s a New York Times article on the topic, posted after I had written this.
Do children in a keyboard world need to learn old-fashioned handwriting? There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.
I am, here, drawing a distinction between cursive and other handwriting forms. I firmly believe children must learn to write, by hand, but that cursive is not necessarily the best vehicle for learning writing. Cursive has a very distinct writing pattern that increases pressure on downstrokes and decreases pressure on the upstroke. This makes downstrokes thicker. However, this style makes a lot of sense if you’re writing with a quill. Made of a cut feather, a quill does better on the downstroke and worse on the upstroke, because the point is asymmetric. This reduces breakage and splattering, keeping the quill in shape and making sure ink doesn’t fly anywhere.
Very few people write with a quill, today, so why should we write like we are writing with a quill? Modern ballpoint pens, rolling ball pens, and razor point markers present a smooth symmetric interface with the paper, as does a properly sharpened pencil. Having a writing style designed to accommodate the equipment is essential, and cursive isn’t it. In fact, I write almost exclusively with a fountain pen (mostly a Waterman Expert for the last 6-7 years), with a modern iridium nib, which allows ink to flow freely and almost symmetrically, cursive is not necessary to write properly.
Is abandoning cursive really so terrible, that we can’t do it. Probably not, other handwriting styles have been abandoned before. Blackletter, staple of faux-Gothic print, dominated the English language until the mid 1600s. The English government mandated the use of chancery hand until the 1800s. Discarding cursive as no longer necessary is hardly a tragedy. Let’s let the kids focus on what really matters: The content of their writing.
Image by Unsplash / Pixabay.