Only the dedicated will crack the cursive

The majority of today’s students cannot write in cursive, nor can they read it.

If you love to journal but lately you’ve been censoring your thoughts before committing pen to paper, worried what your grandchildren  might think of you if they ever read some of your entries, here’s liberating news from a New Jersey teacher — the majority of today’s students cannot write in cursive, nor can they read it.

I met proof of that. Replying to my posted letter written in the cursive style I was taught 70 years ago, a teenager told me bluntly, “I can’t read your handwriting. Type.”

In a newspaper article, a teen said she leafed through her grandmother’s journal shortly after she died, but could barely read her cursive handwriting. “It was kind of cryptic, like code.”

Cursive handwriting has been replaced by typing or block printing, as though students attend school in Nunavut.

The American teacher goes on to say, “At the same time, their printing skills are awful. Not only is it difficult for me to read, they themselves often cannot read back their own notes.”

When I was in grade nine, my handwriting was so illegible I couldn’t read my assignments. The frustration of not being able to read what I had written made me determined to improve, and concentrating on one letter at a time, by the end of the grade my writing was legible to all. I still pride myself on a decent handwriting; it makes journaling pleasurable.

How important is cursive in this age of computers, smart-phones and Blackberries?

If you enjoy recording your private thoughts as I do every morning while I sip my breakfast coffee, cursive writing adds to the experience.

A beautifully penned word is a delight to the eye. One word tugs you into the next, something that doesn’t happen with a keyboard or printing.

My morning jottings also serve as a barometer of my health. On good mornings, my writing is smooth, with small snug letters, and few if any misspellings or crossouts. Then there are mornings when my pen  skitters across the page like a seismograph needle during an earthquake.

Cursive is faster than printing; the pen slides over the paper rather than stopping and starting with each individual letter. Much of shorthand speed comes from combining several words in one stroke of the pen.

Controlling a pen or pencil develops fine motor skills, an ability transferable to playing a musical instrument, embroidering, knitting, or crocheting.

Spelling improves while writing cursive. One letter suggests the next, similar to a sequence of musical notes in a familiar tune.

Cursive has an elegance all its own if properly taught. Two of my teachers — one a principal who as a child milked up to eight cows every morning before she attended grade school, and the second who could pitch a zinger fast ball — modelled perfect cursive for us. In remarks on our report cards they showed off their fine handwriting to the approval of our parents.

Even my Dad and his sister Millie wrote a fine cursive hand, clearly taught by the same teacher. But back in their day, writing well was important if you wanted to appear educated; speed didn’t enter into every move.

Any invitation hand-written in calligraphy feels special. But learning to write so beautifully takes  discipline. Who remembers what that means.

People who block print may come up with a sort-of cursive signature for use on cheques and documents, but both these rudimentary signatures and block printing can be more easily forged than true cursive writing.

The older I become, the more revealing are the thoughts I record in my daily journal.

Since I learned cursive is as good as code, I journal with abandon.


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