I wrote the following essay a few years ago in response to an online discussion about teaching handwriting in school. Most people advocated abolishing handwriting as a “useless” skill in the modern age. I most emphatically reject this notion for several reasons. First and foremost, we are humans, not machines. The time has come to speak out in defense of a dying art form: cursive writing.
People commonly, and, I believe, mistakenly assume that technology has made certain skills obsolete. Does the ability to twist a knob or push a button to turn on a light or heater mean one need not know how to make a fire, or light a candle? Would anyone seriously argue that because we have personal stereos, no one should bother to learn how to sing anymore? It seems unwise to assume that even the most pervasive technologies excuse one from ever having to do without them. It is important that our children know how to type, but it’s also important that they learn how to write. And true handwriting is cursive, not printing.
All handwriting was cursive from the time man began to write letters instead of pictographs, up until the printing press developed. At that point, we created print because a printing press could not connect the letters properly! Thus printing is necessitated by the limitations of machinery, while cursive is human writing—organic, if you will.
Printing is inferior to writing in at least one glaring respect: printing is slower than writing. While it is true that most of our written communication in modern times employs keyboards, there will always, inevitably, be times when one must write to communicate with others. Whether or not one’s handwriting is legible is a responsibility parents share with children’s teachers. If either chooses not to care, or sides with the child against learning cursive, then that child becomes handicapped in a small but significant way.
Unfortunately, this point seems lost on many educators. Recent comments from teachers on a blog show just how poor we have become as a nation. One “educator” pointed out that his students’ penmanship was poor, but then, “they can’t powder a wig properly, and their horsemanship is atrocious!” I’m glad this person never taught my child! If the teachers of our nation are content to believe that we will always use keyboards whenever we need to write, we are in trouble. If teachers fail to understand the value of proper handwriting, how can they inspire any interest in students’ minds?
The better American schools are realizing the mistake of teaching children printing, then switching to cursive. Printing was probably used originally because each letter can be isolated and mastered individually, to ensure uniformity and legibility in script. Now, forward-thinking schools have adapted writing styles such as D’Nealian, in which the style and strokes used to form individual letters can connect naturally together as writing develops into cursive. In Europe they have far more sense—they start children writing with cursive, there’s no printing-to-cursive transition. End of problem.
There are many skills that we cannot afford to lose under the assumption that technology will forever render them obsolete. As human beings, we cannot complacently surrender these abilities in the naive assumption that our new tools will always be available to us in every situation.