The Writing Is on the Wall

Should we mourn the death of cursive handwriting?


Is the bounce tail of a cursive capital Z the thin line that stands between civilization and anarchy? Two years ago, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) set out to canonize a set of subjects and skills that all K-12 students are expected to learn as they prepare themselves for "college, workforce training, and life in a technological society." Teachers and administrators were surveyed, expert opinions were solicited, the public was asked to contribute its two cents. The end result is the Common Core State Standards, a comprehensively superficial roadmap designed to ensure the efficient, standardized, easily testable flowering of young minds.

By now, all but a handful of states have adopted these standards, and each time one does, a chorus of lament echoes outward across the land. That's because the Common Core State Standards jump straight from advising students to "compose opinion pieces" by means of "drawing, dictating, and writing" to advising them to "produce and publish writing" by means of a "variety of digital tools." That these  standards are designed to inflict millions of five-year-old bloggers upon the national discourse may seem bad enough, but what really has people alarmed is the document's failure to even mention penmanship, a fact that is being interpreted as penmanship's death knell. "The handwriting may be on the wall for cursive," ABC News advised in January. "With schools focused on preparing students for standardized tests, there is often not enough time to teach handwriting," The New York Times reported in April. "Educators warn of negative effects of not teaching cursive in schools," CNN exclaimed earlier this month.

Naturally, penmanship's greatest champions have been furiously typing testimonials to this archaic communications technology. In the Times, historian Jimmy Bryant worries that "a connection to archival material is lost when children turn away from cursive." A Tucson graphologist worries that those who haven't mastered cursive will make themselves easy prey to forgers. The Wall Street Journal reports that "writing by hand" can "improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development."

No doubt much will be lost if we abandon cursive completely. Without it, how will we be able to understand the full historical significance of Sarah Palin's motorhome? If we stop practicing looped descenders, will our fine motor skills be honed enough to thread needles and assemble motherboards in hellish Chinese factories? And what will we use to teach our kids the efficacy of valuing style over substance? As Vanderbilt education professor Steve Graham points out in the Journal, "People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting." According to at least one study he cites, visually impressive handwriting can elevate a "generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile" while sloppy penmanship "could tank it to the 16th."

In an interview at the blog Jane's Ride, handwriting teacher Kate Gladstone offers the most compelling examples of the dangers of poor penmanship. In 1965, she says, "a NASA satellite exploded during its launch because an engineer's ?hand-scribbled last-minute correction to a few lines of programming code left a semi-colon looking like a comma." In 1992, a pilot misinterpreted the poorly scribbled directional heading his co-pilot passed him and crashed their plane into the side of a mountain.   

In the end, though, isn't a freak air accident every 30 years or so a relatively small price to pay for freeing up more time to teach kids how to render their thoughts so clearly even machines can read them? Whatever apocalypse the death of cursive might bring is one we're already familiar with because cursive has been a graphic zombie for some time now. It started in the 1920s, when a growing number of educators began to conclude that teaching children to write via the "manuscript method," i.e. printing by hand, was faster and more effective than teaching them to write cursive.

"Commercialized systems of cursive writing are so entrenched in the schools throughout the United States that manuscript writing enthusiasts find it difficult to effect changes in educational practices even in the primary grades," Columbia University professor Thelma Voorhis told The New York Times in 1931, but eventually it caught on as the preferred mode to introduce children to writing. Cursive was rebranded as a more advanced—and thus less practiced—technique. This downward promotion, coupled with the proliferation of typewriters, mimeograph machines, and other new printing technologies made cursive less and less consequential. By 1967, the Times was running features in which educators were calling the ballpoint pen a "quaint artifact of linear culture" and predicting that penmanship would be "minimally useful to tomorrow's citizen of the world."

Of course, tomorrow's citizens of the world invariably romanticize the past. In addition to championing penmanship's positive impact on our fine motor skills and cognitive development, we also hail it as a source of profound self-expression. But it wasn't always thus. "It was print that endowed handwriting with its own, new set of symbolic possibilities; script emerged as a medium of the self in contradistinction to print, defined as characteristically impersonal and disassociated from the writer," observes historian Tamara Plakins Thornton in her 1998 book Handwriting in America.

Before cursive became a signifier of our souls, it was just a communications technology. And now it's been largely replaced by a more convenient and powerful one. That keyboards are colonizing one of the last bastions of handwriting should be cause for rejoicing, not despair. As long as we continue to use our refrigerators as a primary medium of communication with our spouses, as long as we can demonstrate our good taste and discretionary wealth in chic cafes via $19 notepads, as long as our public spaces are filled with giant empty walls waiting to be tagged by budding graffiti artists, hand-writing will persist. But why use it in classrooms? Surely the intricately choreographed finger movements and memory skills that touch-typing requires has a salutary effect on fine motor skills and cognitive development. Surely the challenge of expressing ideas far more quickly than one can via handwriting encourages one to think more intuitively, completely, complexly. Add to that an endless, effortless capacity to revise, a way to take more comprehensive, easily searchable notes. Even as a mode of self-expression, keyboarding is where all the innovation happens these days. Cursive gave us pretty loops and flourishes, an individuality perfected through tedious repetition, an effort to conform to idealized letterforms. The digital era has given us, for better or worse, emoticons, hashtags, and a vast array of acronyms, all of which adorn our utterances not just with flashy visual effects but more meaning, more nuance, more us. 😉

Contributing Editor Greg Beato writes from San Francisco.

NEXT: 'I Don't Know What Ideological Point You're Trying to Make'

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  1. When I was in school they tortured us with Parker Penmanship. I was lousy at it and got a ton of grief. The day I started using computers was the day I stopped writing longhand. I can’t even write anymore, I block print. And what of it? I can’t shoe a horse either, but I can drive a car.

    I for one am glad “penmanship” is going the way of the quill pen, the horse and buggy, and the gas lamp.

    1. And if Brother Barry has his way, the car, too. So you won’t have to worry about your driving skills either.

      1. Got Obama on the mind?

    2. I have actually developed a fondness and appreciation for penmanship now that I no longer have to practice it. But then I know who to run a drop spindle, how to use a slide rule (despite being born after the engineer in my family put his aside for a calculator) and how to fletch an arrow with natural materials.

      I just like out-of-date skills.

  2. When Keanu Reeves and Gort come down from their spaceship and take away our technology in order to save the environment or whatever the fuck, kids are going to wish they knew longhand.

    1. Michael Rennie, not Keanu Reeves.

  3. Good riddance.

  4. For as long as I have been able to write I have been afflicted by left-handedness and thus terrible hand-writing.

    To see that never again will another lefty be forced to write with a stupid rubber thingamajig intended to make you hold the pencil “properly” warms my heart.

    1. Screw lefties. They’re as much a menace to society as gingers.

      1. Screw us? You’re not smart enough to catch us.

  5. It may seem odd to some, but my father is concerned about the loss of cursive because he worries that it will lead to children losing the ability to read the original versions of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. While I don’t lament the lack of cursive writing, his concern may not be without merit.

    1. Why? We can read calligraphy. It’s not like it will be written in another language. Most of the letters still look like their printed counterparts, the ones that don’t should be pretty easy to figure out in context.

      1. I’m sure there’s some kind of program or “app” that our children will use to scan and decode the Sacred Documents.

      2. On the other hand, I knew classmates learning German who had trouble with Fraktur.

        And don’t get me started on S?tterlin.

        1. “On the other hand, I knew classmates learning German who had trouble with Fraktur.

          And don’t get me started on S?tterlin.”

          I am all for bring back runes though, that would be pretty awesome.

    2. They also won’t be able to read Coca-Cola cans.

      1. or buy Ford vehicles.

        1. “What is this sanskrit shit? I ain’t buyin’ no Arab truck.”

          1. Sir, I’d like to buy some Titleist golf balls, but I don’t want none o’ these here ferrin’ balls with yer cuneiform writin’ on ’em. Telluwhut.

            1. What are them there Tit Leist balls?

      2. Those are iconic trademarks. Illiterates and gibberish-spewing foreigners know what they mean w/o reading.

    3. It is far easier to read cursive than to write it. One is a dumbass who can’t read it just because the letters are connected.

      1. It depends on the quality of the handwriting. Yes, you can print sloppily too, but because cursive is faster to write, people get sloppier with it.

    4. I’m pretty sure they can get a printed copy. Their Congressman, who has probably never read it, will give them a copy for free.

    5. I actually think it is without merit. Cornell University and other websites have transcripts of the document.


  7. “he worries that it will lead to children losing the ability to read the original versions of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution

    He’s about a hundred years late on that..

    1. [::blank look::]

  8. Holy fuck it can’t die fast enough. No I will not decipher your martian squiggle bumps. I can remember significant amounts of time being wasted in my second and third grade classroom to cursive, and all I could ever think of was how useless it all seemed to me.

    In my 5th-8th grade school you were required to write in cursive. My handwriting was so bad that I switched to printing and none of my teachers said anything, though.

    The only problem I ever had was on the SAT. You had to write out this “I promise not to cheat” paragraph, in cursive. The first letter was a capital “Q”. How the hell do you do a capital “Q” in cursive? I still don’t know.

    1. Here’s a helpful little rhyme.

    2. It looks like a fancy 2.

      Had the same problem with the GRE. Especially since I have to print for my job, so I really lost cursive.

    3. I had the same problem — hadn’t written anything but my signature in cursive since 7th grade. I just wrote a regular Q with a curvier “line” coming out of the lower right corner. tbh I doubt they even read those things.

    4. I just figured that the SAT’s could go fuck themselves and substituted print for cursive I didn’t know/remember.

      Have written in cursive, except to sign my name, since 4rth grade.

    5. You had to write out this “I promise not to cheat” paragraph, in cursive. The first letter was a capital “Q”.

      Care to share the sentence with us no-SAT-takin uneducated troglodytes? I’m just curious what fucking “Q” word they started that topic with. “Quoth”? “Quietly”? “Quick”?

      1. Being dyslexic i prefer print, it is less flowy to a dyslexic. Now the Q, but what about the Z i never got that one.

      2. I only vaguely remember my GRE experience, but it’s highly likely to have been “Question(s)”. A big part of the agreement was that you wouldn’t divulge the questions that were on the exam. I don’t think it was the first word, though (but myself and the original poster are talking about totally different exams).

        1. Ok, “questions” didn’t even occur to me. Fair enough.

        2. (oh, can you tell I’m terrible at Scrabble?)

  9. hooray !!! great news for us that can’t write for shit, but type all day.

  10. Am I alone in being more disturbed more by the fact that schools are focused on preparing students for standardized tests, than that they are not teaching them handwriting?

    1. Teaching them handwringing is a more valuable adult skill than handwriting.

      1. Very nice.

    2. No. Everything revolved around being able to spit out standardized answers. It’s all about the funding!

    3. Standardized test are an objective measurement.

    4. Standardized tests are great. Grades are a poor indicator of the actual educational level of your child. I know this firsthand from my own kids. The standardized tests tell me a lot more about where they are having trouble and where they excel than teachers conferences and grades ever did.

      I’ve never understood the complaint that the teachers will “teach the test.” WTF were they teaching before, if not what was going to be on the test?

      1. If the teachers are “teaching the test” at least we know they’ll be teaching *something*.

  11. Aesthetics aside, cursive is only better than printing if you are using a fountain pen (or, I suppose, a quill pen).

    For every other kind of writing instrument, printing works just as well. And is nearly always easier to read.

    1. When I write at all, which is increasingly rare, I print using large and small caps and have since the 4th grade. I’ve done OK without cursive.

    2. Cursive is faster than printing, on average.

      1. [Citation Needed]

      2. Faster for the writer, slower for the reader.

      3. And why is it that everyone assumes that they will always have a keyboard handy when they need it?

        Seriously, the government schools are producing drooling, illiterates who are obsessed with identity politics and environmentalism – well, at least those 50% or so who don’t drop out before the end of high school – and people are worried about the teaching of cursive?

        Dropping the teaching of cursive strikes me as being less about eliminating the teaching of an obsolete skill and more about defining standards down.

      4. Being another lefty, I developed a bastardized hybrid of cursive/print in elementary school that is def faster than block print, and didn’t make my hand turn into a useless claw after 30 seconds. Not one single teacher complained.

  12. I don’t see a downside to this.

  13. Cursive is left handed racism.

    1. Southpawnacht is coming…

      1. *chortle*

      2. It’s gonna be sinister.


        The great Southpaw Jones says it all.

    2. If that is the case then Arabic is the Affirmative Action Alphabet.

  14. Doctor’s handwriting however, will remain illegible regardless of the writing technique.

    1. McDonald’s uses computers with pictographs for taking orders. Why can’t doktors use dedicated computers that print out standard prescriptions with standard instructions, especially since most doktors only routinely prescribe a small number of medications that are related to their medical specialty? Not only would it reduce mistakes, it would probably reduce legal exposure.

      Oops, I just gave away another of my many brilliant ideas for products that would make me massively wealthy, if I were not too lazy to start my own business.

      1. Almost none of the docs I’ve been to in the last few years hand write scripts anymore. They do it on a computer and send it directly to the pharmacy or PBM. Or, as the law requires for narcotics, they print it out and I hand carry it.

  15. The government should worry about the fact the children it teaches can’t read before it worries about how they write.

  16. I fared well enough in penmanship classes, but the only time I practice cursive now is for my signature, which still looks like it was ejaculated by an epileptic rabbit. I never understood how some people could develop those naturally flowing signatures.

  17. Next you’ll be telling licking your quill before dipping it is passe, and wax seals on envelopes has gone out of favor.

    And I’ve been ejaculated by an epileptic rabbit. It’s novel at first but just sort of sad the longer it goes…

    1. “I’ve been ejaculated by an epileptic rabbit”

      You are a rabit?

  18. How will people sign their names?

    I, too, sucked at penmanship and have used block printing since I was a teenager.

    There’s something to be said about the beauty of script as art, though. I learned D’Nealian, which is rather artsy, but some of the older scripts, like Spencerian and Lydian are downright gorgeous.

    … Hobbit

    1. You can learn to write your name in cursive much easier than learning to write everything in cursive.

    2. I’ll just make my…

  19. According to at least one study he cites, visually impressive handwriting can elevate a “generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile” while sloppy penmanship “could tank it to the 16th.”

    Sounds like a reason to ban cursive handwriting for graded assignments. It also sounds like the teachers aren’t really reading what the students write.

    1. Content is only part of writing — presentation is important too. Even in calculus I grade students partly on how well their answers are presented …I can imagine it’s even more crucial when grading page after page of handwritten English papers.

      1. Ban hand written papers. Problem solved.

      2. Even in calculus I grade students partly on how well their answers are presented

        You suck shit!!!

        1. That’s what they always say when I explain this policy. Years from now they’ll probably thank me though.

          1. That’s what they always say when I explain this policy. Years from now they’ll probably thank me though.

            1. And if I were coercing the students in any way, that would be a valid comparison.

        2. How would you like to deal with computer code written by somebody else which hasn’t been well-commented-out?

          There’s something to be said for presentation.

          1. If I had ever seen well-commented computer code to compare it to, I might know.

        3. One of the most valuable courses I ever had was a graduate level physics course in which the TAs were instructed to be fanatical about requiring a clear presentation of absolutely every aspect of a solution. Not thoroughly defining a variable, for instance, was the same as getting the answer wrong. That course really taught one to be rigorous in one’s thought processes even though many students got mad that they were marked down when they had a valid solution. Interestingly, it helped me to overcome a laziness about presenting answers that I first developed in high school calculus.

        4. This is actually a common way to grade in the advanced science and math courses I have taken. Even in my circuits, boolean algebra, and logic class we had to present our answers with clear explanations and show how we solved the question.

          “How would you like to deal with computer code written by somebody else which hasn’t been well-commented-out?

          There’s something to be said for presentation.”

          Have you ever seen linux documentation? Oh god, just trying to get the thing to print off the network was a nightmare in itself.

      3. “I grade students partly on how well their answers are presented”

        What an asshole.

        1. I explain my method of grading for presentation at the beginning of the course, so those are very easy points they can get without even doing the problem right, as long as they follow very basic rules.

          1. Ignore the haters, Tulpa. They’re just lazy or rebellious.

            1. “haters”
              You fail Grade 4.

      4. Even in calculus I grade students partly on how well their answers are presented

        Thus demonstrating how much of a worthless asshole you are.

        1. Actually, he is right, especially if his students are going to be something else than full-career mathematicians.

          In the real world, getting the answer right is just part of the task. (Mathematically said: necessary, but not sufficient). The solver must then be able to communicate his results to the rest of the team he works with, and to do so in a legible/comprehensible manner.

          As a co-owner of a small software-producing corporation, I can say that it sucks when an extremely smart employee produces something that only he understands, even if it is “only” a bunch of source code. The moment when he gets run over by bus, you have a Da Vinci Code on your hands – and possibly in your product.

          (And no, the people I know do not do that for job security. They just do not know how to communicate, even with their technical peers, who are usually weirdos).

          1. I’m curious. How often do your employees get hit by busses?

  20. How can anyone in good conscience send their children to a government school.

    1. The game is fixed. Most people have no choice.

      1. Bullcrap. People the world over still raise their children AND support the family without the aid of a stare-run dayca-er, “school”.

        1. How much does this overlap with countries who have compulsory schooling laws?

  21. Cursive was doomed when we stopped using quill pens. It was a writing style developed in response to the limitation of quill pens in order to keep the ink from blobbing all over the place.

    I have exceptionally fine print handwriting, but I write so small (I use a 0.3 mm pencil) that cursive would be a nightmare.

    1. Hallelujah for 0.3mm pencils. Back in the day, I used a 0.5mm pencil to take notes putting two lines of notes per one line of college ruled paper.

  22. My German grandmother still sends us Christmas letters in Gothic script.

    1. That’s some formidable handwriting. Tried to teach myself but it didn’t stick. But it’s fun because no one outside of northern Europe and under the age of 75 can read it no matter neat it is.

      1. it’s fun because no one outside of northern Europe and under the age of 75 can read it no matter neat it is.

        Security Export Restrictions May Apply.

      2. I was able to get my last batch of checks with my name printed in all caps Gothic Script. Very hard to read, which was the point.

  23. I write some of the laziest cursive in the world – a strange mix with some block letters thrown in. It’s almost impossible (even for me) to read which is why I’m glad for the computer.

  24. I still write checks in cursive…

    I think i just figured out that there is no reason why i should be doing this.

    In fact i don’t even know i sign my name in cursive.

    What the fuck is cursive even for?

  25. I only use cursive for writing checks. And it’s barely readable. Which leads me to wonder what will be used as signatures when people no longer have signatures. Will we go back to signet rings? Or use thumbprints?

    1. The Mark of the Beast.

    2. Will we go back to signet rings?


    3. Why can’t your signature be in print?

      1. My mortgage company wouldn’t let me print my “signature” on the docs so I just scribbled illegibly.

    4. DNA

  26. I started using cursive exclusively during my freshmen year of College when I got sick of people asking for my notes. My life went from: “Dude, can I borrow your notes? Common man! Please bro, just this one time. Quit holding out man!” to “Dude, can I borrow your notes?…. I can’t read this shit!”
    Now I write in cursive all the time unless someone else will read it, then I’ll right in print.

    1. I had one guy ask me if I could borrow HIS notes so I could read what he wrote because he couldn’t. He’s in health care now.

      1. *re-reads Russ’s post a few times*

        *head asplosion*

    2. I used to write my notes using Gregg shorthand. I never had a problem with people asking to borrow my notes until a (smokin’ hot) Russian expat named Svetlana saw them. She knew shorthand because, after reading Cosmopolitan, she thought that secretaries in the US lived glamorous lives, always being wined, dined and romanced by powerful men of industry. Shorthand was not her ticket to American glamor, but it was my ticket to 6 of the most unforgettable months of my life.

  27. “That these standards are designed to inflict millions of five-year-old bloggers upon the national discourse may seem bad enough”

    Bad? That’d probably raise the level of discourse.

  28. I’ve thought about this before, and I think the authors might be leaving out one thing: little girls.

    My daughter was begging me to teach her cursive handwriting before she’d ever really mastered print.

    I substitute teach in a high school, and most teachers don’t care which method a student uses, as long as its legible. Almost without exception, the boys print their work, and the girls write in cursive.

    Cursive is pretty. Nuff said. As long as there are little girls, cursive handwriting will never die.

    1. True-women’s cursive writing is almost invariably better than men’s as well. Since the overwhelming majority of elementary school teachers are women, well, guess why we still teach cursive to young children.

  29. I guess we could make the school day 2 hours longer and year round.

  30. Really an effort to come up with an excuse not to cut back.

    Surely schools have more important subjects to teach. If you want to complain about educational cutbacks, complain about art programs or something.

    Complaining about not teaching cursive just makes you look like you have no fucking sense of fiscal responsibility.

    1. I learned cursive in the 2nd grade. I’m sure there are more important subjects to teach, but I’m not sure they could be taught to 7 year olds.

      How much can it cost to teach cursive? You don’t even need a textbook. Just a piece of paper and a pencil.

    2. “Surely schools have more important subjects to teach.”

      Amen. Teaching Gay History, conflict resolution, values clarification and the rapacity of white privilege cannot be short changed.

  31. My aunt is a public school teacher, hates the union though, and the new up and coming thing is to ban books, paper, and pencils from classrooms and buy every student an Apple macbook. EVERYTHING is done on the computer.

    So what do you think is going to happen? These kids will grow up always having a computer in front of them, and the second you take it away, they can’t do shit.

    How sad is it that teachers can’t make math, literature, etc interesting enough to make WANT to learn it? Instead, they have to present it to kids in a form with flashing buttons, cool sound effects, and bitchin’ graphics. As a result, the next few generations of kids will be dumbshits who can’t focus on anything unless it’s spoonfed to them, and will be distracted by someone shining a laser pointer on the wall.

    Believe it or not, there are still some things that computers do not do very well. For example, I’ve had more calculus classes than I care to remember. In my information theory class, we ran out of greek and latin characters to use as variables, so we started using Hebrew. How long would it take to type out calculus problems with greek, latin, and hebrew characters versus writing it out by hand?

    As an engineer, the majority of ideas are drafted on the backs of napkins and scratch paper. When I took philosophy in high school, I spent an hour before each paper I typed outlining arguments and counterarguments by hand on scratch paper. Not to mention there have been studies done that show better memory retention when notes are taken by hand rather than typing them out.

    In another fifty years, we’ll be reduced to “making our sign” instead of using our signature. Is cursive really that difficult to learn?

    1. And I’m not an old, nostalgic fart. I’m 23.

      1. So you’re a young fart, then. :-p

    2. This is because union teachers want new macbooks on the taxpayer dime. If they have to pretend it’s for teaching, then they’ll happily pretend.

      1. I’m not surprised.

        And of course, everything will be presented as a powerpoint presentation. If you think teenagers cut themselves too much now, just wait until they have to sit through 8 years of powerpoint presentations.

      2. knowing some public school teachers, this is absolutely true. Although I think they want ipads now.

    3. My aunt is a public school teacher, hates the union though, and the new up and coming thing is to ban books, paper, and pencils from classrooms and buy every student an Apple macbook. EVERYTHING is done on the computer.

      The sooner the better.

      Today’s classrooms are barely distinguishable from 19th century schoolhouses. Whiteboards instead of blackboards, digital projectors instead of filmstrips, and a couple of computers that the kids have to fight for time on because there are never enough for everybody.

      At least we could take our books home. Most schools won’t even allow that any more.

      1. Not that they had filmstrips yet in the 19th century. No, that was the great technological leap to the 20th. Amazing!

      2. Yeah, let’s make sure schools always have state of the art technology in the classrooms. Who cares how much more it will the taxpayer?

    4. That’s the thing. Using cursive for a signature works better the worse the signer is at reproducing the perfect workbook cursive that teachers used to work so hard to instill in their students. An artful squiggle, a poorly-learned Chinese character, or a hanko stamp would work as well.

      1. My legal signature is literally a crypto-Cryllic form of my first and last initials. Literally impossible to forge. And no one can bitch, it’s on file that way with banks etc.

        I can’t remember the last time I wrote my whole name in script, much less any text.

        1. After this thread, I’m thinking about replacing my boring, old cursive signature with something better. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to change it now, though.

  32. Can we teach the kids fractions? I’m tired of having to explain how to add fractions to college freshmen in my physics classes.

    (Why not just do it on the calculator? Because most calculators can’t do x / (x + 1) + (x + 1)/x. If you can’t do fractions, you can’t do algebra.)

    1. ::sits still thinking furiously::

      That’s it!

      That’s the thing I didn’t get that explains how lost some of those poor bastard were. And they didn’t ask. Putting this on the “list of prerequisites” I hand out for next time.

      Worryingly, they were 85% pre-meds.

      If those young men and women are the future of medical care in this country we are totally buggered.

    2. don’t even get me started….

    3. I taught a freshman chemistry lab section at Berkeley. One of my students didn’t know how to determine the sign of the answer after multiplying two integers together. Yes, U. of C. Berkeley, the premier campus for science in the UC system.

      Would you believe that she was black?

      (This is not meant to be a slam against her, just against affirmative action in university admissions and against the horrible K-12 education system in CA. The student was clearly smart enough to handle college work, probably even at Berkeley. It is criminal what has been done to education in America. Promising young minds are being squandered.)

    4. Just graduated with a Finance degree. I think I was the only student in my classes who knew how many “0’s” were in millions. Also, a thousand million is a billion. And finally, year-over-year calculations are quite simple, just look it up on Investopedia! Now, I’m an old guy, and I learned math, algebra, and calculus in high school (in Indiana). But all of my classmates in college were products of California public schools. They didn’t know jack shit.

      1. In continental Europe a thousand million is a milliard. A billion is a million millions.

  33. I moved a few times in elementary school, which guaranteed my handwriting would suck. I was originally taught cursive toward the end of the year in second grade, and started third grade expected to write the finished version of all assignments in cursive. Two months into the school year we moved to another state. In my new third grade class, they were still printing, and doing it on double space paper, something I hadn’t done since first grade.

    Naturally, my new teacher insisted on conformity, in spite of my explanation that going backwards in my learning made no sense. So I relearned that shit, which wasn’t easy. By the time cursive was introduced at the end of that year I found it much more difficult to do it neatly than I had a year earlier. Compounding the mess was the fact that my new school used a different proprietary system of handwriting materials.

    In fourth grade I moved again, to a district using yet another handwriting system. I never got below an A in grade school in any subject but handwriting. Starting in junior high I simply started using my own improvised print/cursive hybrid, which was easier for me and more legible for teachers.

    In my world, teaching formalized systems of handwriting in school is a huge fucking waste of time that is also unnecessarily anxiety provoking for kids. It can’t be abandoned soon enough.

    1. I tend to use a hybrid, too. I never use the cursive Q for instance. In fact I use the printed form for many other capital letters, but cursive for small letters.

    2. “teaching formalized systems of handwriting in school is a huge fucking waste of time”

      So is teaching spelling and standardized notation for mathematics. Everyone should be able to just make up everything as they go along. And when they get jobs, they should be able to intersperse their prose with hieroglyphs and oral histories captured on their smart phones.

  34. I vote to keep teaching it as it is time they can’t indoctrinate in some other commie bs. Also, have you seen kids handwriting today? They can’t even print legibly. Another few years and they will not be able to communicate without some electronic assistance

    1. About 10 years ago, there was an educational theorist, whose name I don’t remember, who was arguing that “reading” needed to be redefined to mean watching and creating video and audio recordings since “traditional reading” was an idea which has been made obsolete by technology.

      1. reading -> reading and writing

      2. I recall a short story I read—perhaps in the Probability One column in Analog—which consisted of a series of vignettes showing how the powerful and connect people of various eras communicated.

        Starting with an illiterate babylonian official dictating to a scribe and ending in some unspecified future milieu with a pampered illiterate of unspecifed occupation preparing a formal communication by dictating to a computerized scribe.

        See also Asimov’s The Feeling of Power.

  35. Here’s a website with scans of the signatures of a whole bunch of famous authors:

    Ayn Rand’s handwriting is terrible, by the way.

  36. Hmm, not sure what was wrong with my comment, but the squirrels censored it. This website has scanned samples of the signatures of dozens of famous authors:

    Ayn Rand’s handwriting, not so good.

  37. Hmm, not sure what was wrong with my comment, but the squirrels censored it. This website has scanned samples of the signatures of dozens of famous authors:

    Ayn Rand’s handwriting, not so good.

  38. Hmm, not sure what was wrong with my comment, but the squirrels censored it. This website has scanned samples of the signatures of dozens of famous authors:

    The filters won’t let me include the link, but it’s: purple house press dot com slash sig.htm

    Ayn Rand’s handwriting, not so good.

  39. Cursive is basically an anachronism, best left in the dustbin of history, like Roman numerals and English monetary systems.

    I would argue strenuously against anyone who said that handwriting shouldn’t be taught at all.

    The act of forming the letters with pen/pencil on paper helps kids develop the neural pathways that allows us to instantly recognize a letter by it’s shape.

  40. Teacher: So, you never learned cursive?
    Bart Simpson: Well, I know “hell, damn, bit-“…
    Teacher: (interrupts) Cursive handwriting, script! Do you know the multiplication tables? Long division?
    Bart: (shrugs) I know *of* them…

  41. For those that don’t have the proper hand/wrist coordination the newly developed HandTutor should be used as a tool for improvement of coordination and movement of affected wrists and fingers.

    1. Hey, I’m saving my hand/wrist coordination for other purposes, OK.

  42. In the early 1940s I learned cursive (Palmer method) and typing, both required. I still use cursive for letters to family and friends. Why?

    Among my most cherished possessions are my paternal great great grandparents’ lengthy handwritten letters (early 1800s to late 1860s). He was captain of a sailing vessel, his wife traveled with him, most of their children were born and mostly educated aboard. I have letters handwritten by great grandparents, and by their children to my parents. During WWII, my father was a communications officer aboard a ship in the Pacific. Although he was an expert two-finger typist, he handwrote letters to my mother, and shorter ones to me and my siblings. Mom preserved them all, and after her death I made photocopies of them for my family. I also scanned and saved them as .pdf files. Those old letters contain much commentary on events of their times and personal lives. Our grandchildren (now grown) enjoy receiving my handwritten letters, though most respond via email or phone. (We don’t tweet, text, or use any social networking sites.)

  43. And when did they stop teaching students how to hold a pen? Nearly eveyone I know who is in their 20’s and early 30’s holds a pen like a 2 year old holds a crayon.

    1. That’s funny. I’m in my 50s and I’ve never been able to hold a pen correctly – even after much berating by my second grade teacher. You are supposed to hold it balanced on your flip-off finger while guiding with index and thumb. I can’t do that. I just can’t. I have to grip it in a death grip with all three fingers. Oh, and I’m not sure I remember how to write in cursive, except my sig.

    2. I’m just proud I’m the only non-Asian I know who can twirl my pen.

      1. Why are they so fucking good at that?

  44. Only people I know who use cursive for anything other than signing cheques are 85-year-old women.
    I know more people who understand Latin.

  45. Give up cursive? What’s next? Giving up knives and forks?

    It’s my experience that those who cannot write well by hand are the same people who cannot distinguish between their there and they’re.

    The dumbing down continues.

    1. “It’s my experience that those who cannot write well by hand are the same people who cannot distinguish between their there and they’re.”

      How well do they handle comma usage?

      1. Maybe “their” was supposed to be possessive. Like “…people who cannot distinguish between their there and their they’re.”

        So there.

  46. This is a great post. This writing contains lots of information, as like this site. think it will be helpful to all.

  47. I started the anti-cursive revolution back in middle school in the mid-80’s. I concisouly gave up on cursive around 7th grade or so, and even took a hit in some of my report paper grades as a result. I concluded it was inefficient and often illegible. You’re welcome.
    One of these decades, I predict printed letters will go away as we all converse in binary and bar codes.

  48. An interesting page:

    I think cursive writing made sense when there was a valid business need for it. Before typewriters became common, ALL business documents were handwritten. Before simple copying processes became available, ALL copies were handwritten. Only books, pamphlets, and important documents were printed by machine. This meant that documents had to be written or copied quickly and the results had to be accurate and clearly legible. Bad handwriting could be a headache at best. At worst, it could cause misunderstandings and financial loss. Hence the emphasis on perfect handwriting.

    I think cursive writing today is just a holdover from those times. It’s certainly useful to have good handwriting, but it’s no longer essential for doing business. If you’re not in a hurry and want to be understood, simple block printing is just as good as handsome cursive. I think block printing should be an absolute requirement for education and employment; cursive writing should be optional.

    On the other hand, if cursive writing lapses, what will become of our signatures? Will we all sign with our thumb prints or use wax seals?

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