Mourning the end of cursive writing
by Judy Elliott
July 26, 2014 11:36 PM | 3078 views | 7 7 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I’ve been writing to my granddaughter, Kathryn, who’s at summer camp. Kathryn is named for my mother, so it’s fitting to put pen to paper, remembering a woman who kept in touch.

My mother was a postcard writer. Filling the back of a card, she turned it on its side and kept writing, adding one more sentence before signing her name.

When I tell friends she wrote to me daily during my college years, they roll their eyes. They’re skeptical, and no wonder! We have become people of the “tweet,” of Facebook, emails, of texting. Unless we are tourists, browsing in a gift shop, who buys postcards today?

I dread asking, but the question looms: Who will write letters or postcards by the time Kathryn’s children are in college?

Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art. My favorite paper goods store has reduced its stock of stationery to one section of shelves. Half of the note cards are sale-priced.

Still, I hold fast to the words of a Yale psychologist who believes “with handwriting, the very act of putting words down on paper forces you to focus on what’s important.”

In most schools today, printing the alphabet is taught in kindergarten and in the first grade, then computers reign in classrooms, the keyboard taking the place of cursive writing, that dinosaur skill from the days of mastering fine penmanship.

Even as we give up the pads of paper with blue lines, those fat pencils guiding fingers to capital and lower case letter formations, research has found students learn better if they take notes by hand. Somehow, growing bodies with busy brains process information, say, from a lecture, with more clarity if the teacher’s words are written rather than typed on a keyboard.

Studies shore up cursive writing as a factor in teaching self-control. Maybe it’s the rhythm of holding a pen or pencil and learning to follow through, to take time to add a tail to a letter or conquer the domain of a capital “D,” over, under, up, ending with the flourish of a crown.

As the teaching of cursive writing disappears from curriculum after curriculum, surely we will feel its loss in literature, in play writing. No longer will a serious drama concern itself with the reading of personal letters, their words spoken from the stage. How can a novel tie a plot to secret information, sent by hand-written notes, passed from courier to spy?

I have just finished a book, its spine thick with letters from Japan, carried by the force of a tsunami, washed ashore on a beach in British Columbia. In the packet, letters wrapped in oiled paper speak to a novelist’s image of a Japanese pilot forced to train as a suicide bomber in World War II.

His history is preserved on paper, in ink, smudged and faded by time, connecting his diary to the young pilot’s nieces and nephews, yet unborn. He writes he will nose dive into the sea rather than crash his plane on the deck of an American ship. His superiors will call his fatal accident a “miscalculation,” but his letters reveal the truth. He refuses to kill young men, caught up in a war, those, who, in another life, might have been his friends.

God willing, generations still to come will not send letters from war zones, but without the angles and curves of legible penmanship, won’t declarations of love and promises of friendship come through cyberspace as emails, missives wedged between advertisements for Canadian prescription services and sales on designer shoes?

As we reinvent the “givens” in life, it is bittersweet to imagine an end to pride taken in the discipline of writing, bowing, alas, to printed lettering. Naming ourselves on paper has been a sign of literacy, of learning for centuries, a far cry from making a mark with an X.

Is it just me, or is losing sight of hand-written letters, of signatures, very sad?

Judy Elliott is a longtime resident of Marietta.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
July 28, 2014
Today's kids do not know have good vocabularies. Why waste time teaching them cursive if they do not know how to spell or have limited vocabularies.

Heaven forbid they should be forced to learn the English language,
Tony Maddox
July 28, 2014
No, it's not just you. I have a nice Waterman ballpoint & fountain pen set courtesy of my 2 sons (Father's Day gift.) I use them both all the time. Cursive is not entirely gone. You can see the eyes of the young cashier light up when I use my fountain to (get this) WRITE A CHECK, in cursive! Now they want one. But our types are probably accused of lamenting the passing of etiquette, manners, adult conversation on a high level, quiet meals in restaurants, personal cleanliness, etc. The millenials seem to eschew ALL of these good traits, preferring the easy way out of everything - a very sad existence. I'm 59 and still firing on all cylinders!
Edda Manley
July 28, 2014
More than sad, this is a very serious decline that will affect not only the students personally, but in the future it will affect their competitiveness in the global job markets because many other countries choose to have their students proficient in cursive handwriting AND computer applications. Even Mexico did not teach cursive handwriting for 22 years, and around 2000 brought it back into their curriculum. Most people don't know that printing was introduced to North America less than 100 years ago. Before that, children were only taught cursive. Many countries, and the better quality private schools, continue to teach cursive first beginning in grade one. Brain science research is also showing that handwriting develops more adult like brain connections in young brains. This doesn't happen when children keyboard or are read to.
I Say
July 27, 2014
It's not just you. The loss of penmanship is sad. I have a series of letters written by my grandfather to my mother. They encompass the year before he died (1931). My grandfather (who I never knew), was not an educated man, but a poor farmer in Kansas. I do not know if he had any formal schooling at all. These letters give me an insight into his personality and life. His handwriting was very ledgible; grammar and sentence structure very formal. The letters also confirm stories I had heard from family members when I was a child, i.e. an alcoholic uncle, Grandpa's glass eye, the closeness of all the siblings (my aunts and uncles) even they lived hundreds of miles apart. Had all that information been through e-mail, texting, or social media it would have been lost forever. As it is my children and grandchildren can come to know about their heritage.
July 28, 2014
"Had all that information been through e-mail, texting, or social media it would have been lost forever."

Yeah, because nothing survives in the digital age once you turn off your computer. What an inane comment.
July 27, 2014

It's just you.
Yells at Cloud
July 29, 2014
Things are different now and I don't like it.
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