The Impending Death of Cursive

Article Published: Aug. 22, 2012 | Modified: Aug. 22, 2012
The Impending Death of Cursive

When my Aunt Peggy passed away last month, members of my family gathered at her house and sorted through boxes and boxes of photographs, letters and scrapbooks.

Something of the family “documentarian,” Peggy had collected all sorts of mementos, from report cards to a lock of hair from her sister’s (my mom’s) scary trip to the hospital, to a cigarette butt from her first date with my Uncle Bob. (It’s true, the cigarette butt was taped onto a page of the scrapbook with a description of where they went on their date.)

I was pleased that my cousin, Donnie’s, teenage children were able to read the letters and scrapbooks, all written in their grandmother’s distinctive cursive handwriting.

Because, you see, most teenagers today cannot read cursive.

In this month’s National Geographic magazine, there is a short article about the impending death of cursive that states, “By the mid 2000s, 88 percent of elementary teachers felt under-trained to teach cursive, and a 2010 survey showed 85 percent of collegians printed when they wrote.”

Another recent article stated that in the future, scholars will most likely rely on cursive translating computer software when studying the letters of people from the past.

In my opinion, the death of cursive in America should not be taken lightly. Is there a similar move in China for children not to learn how to make their calligraphy-based words in ink and paper before moving on to computer keyboards? I have not heard of any such move.

Two decades of newspaper work and mile-high stacks of reporter’s notebooks have left my cursive handwriting in a dismal state. But I still use cursive every day and find it the quickest way to write down what someone else is saying.

Over the years, I have developed my own version of “shorthand,” to the point where my notes are practically useless to anyone but myself, which can be a good thing when the subject I am interviewing tries to see what I’ve written.

I’ve noticed more and more young people in stores signing their names on credit card slips with block letters. I’m sorry, but in my opinion, if you don’t have an honest to goodness cursive signature, you don’t qualify for adulthood.

In a lot of old movies, there is a cliché about an illiterate bumpkin from the sticks who drives his jalopy (or mule) to the courthouse or a bank and has to sign a legal document. Unable to read or write, he makes an “X” on the document in front of literate witnesses who dutifully sign their names while making “tsk, tsk” noises.

Invariably, the next scene in the movie is where the bumpkin loses his house, farm or favorite daughter because he didn’t really know what he was signing.

The moral of these old black and white movies is fairly obvious: Learn how to read and write in cursive, so you can sign your name with more than an “X.”

For me, the abandonment of cursive is equal to our country abandoning its past, and you know what they say about societies who forget their past. When the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were drawn up, there were printing presses in existence. Our forefathers decided that these documents were somehow more impressive when handwritten – in cursive!

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