The Lost Art of Penmanship

Some States Ensure Penmanship Art Won’t Fade. Boston Globe December 2, 2012

For decades cursive handwriting has been a staple of elementary school, often an essential skill learned in the third grade.  However, the introduction of the computer, and with it the keyboard, has led to a growing trend of typing over handwriting.  In fact, penmanship has become an optional portion of the curriculum or even removed entirely in elementary schools across the country.

45 states are moving toward a national curriculum that does not have any guidelines for cursive writing, but does require computer keyboarding proficiency to be achieved in elementary school.  Has the keyboard replaced the all-mighty pen?

Several states have decided to add cursive writing as a requirement to the national standards, including California, Massachusetts, and Georgia.  These states that wish to preserve the art of hand writing are in the minority.  Longhand has become obsolete in the digital age.

Everything from essays to standardized tests are being conducted on computers, pen and paper tests and essay writing is a thing of the past.  Still, penmanship isn’t going down without a fight.

Many proponents believe cursive benefits the developing brain, improving coordination and motor skills.  It also connects them to a past, our Constitution is written in elegant longhand.  Many believe longhand to be an art of expression and a symbol of personality, and fear its disappearance will have implications on a new generation of students, still many believe it is simply a sign of technology replacing outdated means of communication.

While my cursive is shaky at best, it is a skill I learned early on, in third grade.  While I can’t remember the last sentence I wrote out in flowing script, I can attest one important attribute to cursive– my signature.  My autograph is a product of my lessons in cursive, without it I would still sign my name as it appears on my fifteen year old library card, in big block capital letters.  But my signature isn’t just a stamp on legal documents, it is a sign of my personality and my individualism,  It is uniquely mine.  While digital signatures are becoming more common, it doesn’t leave the same unique mark my handwritten signature does.  It has become my identity on paper.  Will students without this skill grow up never identifying their own unique autograph?  How will they make their own mark?

Surely the keyboard is becoming second nature for many students growing up today, and the pen is fading out, but I would be hard pressed to get rid of all my writing utensils.  Longhand is an art that many people utilize every day without a second thought, scribbling out a signage that has become a reflex.

As we push toward the future we cannot forget our past.  Students without a cursive curriculm could lack the very basic markings we end our letters and our legal documents with.   Cursive script may be a dated and inefficient means of communicating through writing, but there is something uniquely personal about writing out your own name in your own way.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Lost Art of Penmanship

  1. Lindsay Durkin

    This topic is actually something I am pretty passionate about. Two years ago, my bosses father (who happens to be the chairman of Disney), asked me what I was studying in school. When I told him I was an English major, he immediately became intrigued and asked me my thoughts on the extinction of the hand-written letter or document. Up until then I hadn’t really thought about it. Sure, I was living my day to day life sending out email after email, or text message after text message, but it hadn’t even hit me that I wasn’t writing any hand-written notes anymore. After that conversation with him, I really thought about my feelings on hand-written documents, my own hand-writing, and cursive. I realized that I actually treasure hand-written documents. For me, a written note to something is such a personal thing. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it before because every single hand written note or card I have ever received – I saved in a memory box. Now, I am constantly writing and sending notes to the people I love…and I’m sure they mean more than a simple text message or email will ever mean. Also, I realized that because we as a society have moved more towards typing documents/notes/cards/etc…that our handwriting suffers. I saw it in my own writing, I was trying to write faster – so my handwriting transformed into an extreme mess of letters. Even worse than that, when I tried to write cursive….I barely could. We learn cursive in elementary school and then rarely use it. I think cursive is so beautiful, and it really made me sad I wasn’t good at it anymore. Ever since, I have randomly practiced writing in cursive….and even write some of my notes to friends and family in cursive. It’s sad that the progress in technology has taken away from these things. I don’t want them to disappear in the fast pace of emails/iphones/texting.

    • I agree that one’s signature is a sign of individuality. However, my signature is the only script that I can produce. In elementary school, the attempts to teach me cursive failed miserably. My teacher told me to give it up, which I did. I can sign my name on contracts, documents, and paychecks, but that’s it. It’s all I need when it comes to the use of cursive. Those who attempt to read my handwriting without my clearly printed name beneath the signature are simply asking for trouble. In addition, I have to note that when signing anything official or legal, I don’t use my legal birth name. I just use the diminutive first name, no initial, and my last name. Fortunately, the ability of most people to read script is just as bad as my ability to use cursive handwriting.

      How have I fared in the adult world or “real world” when it comes to not being able to write in calligraphy? I have done very well. The only time my inability to write in cursive has become an issue is when taking standardized tests. For some reason, whether it is a lack of technology, a mistrust of photographic identification, or just a case of “that’s the way we like it,” the LSAT and the GRE both asked for handwriting samples. These test required rewriting a printed short statement in cursive. Apparently, my fingerprints were not sufficient in proving my identity in order to take the LSAT. I am sure that my fingerprints are more personal than any writing sample I might produce. In the cases of taking these two tests, the proctors and administrators were perplexed when it came to addressing my circumstances. After one or two of these encounters, I decided to call the administrators of the LSAT to explain my situation and how to address it. They told me that I could print out the type printed statement and add a note that I was incapable of cursive handwriting. That was the end of that problem.

      This is not to say that I don’t sometimes wish I could write in cursive. Others have told me that when taking notes in class or at a meeting, cursive is much faster than printing. I will have to take their word for it; however, given my propensity for taking notes, it would be nice to write faster and minimize lifting my pen from the paper. My primary issue with handwriting is a lack of quality on the part of those using that method of recording. When my father was in elementary school, it appears that every student in the United States was instructed from the same handwriting workbook. He was taught the Palmer Method, which was a way of attempting to teach every student to write the same way rather than putting his or her individual personality into his or her handwriting. My experience has been that it worked very well. When I worked at an engineering firm and most of the engineers were in the same age range as my father, I was able to read everything they wrote by hand. Many of them claimed I would have difficulty reading their “chicken scratch.” That was never the case as their cursive writing was nearly identical to my father’s handwriting. I think what might have started putting nails in the coffin of cursive writing was a proliferation of alternative textbooks on the subject. That and the “Do your own thing” movement that began in the mid-1960s.

      Handwriting may be a lot more personal than cold typeface on a paper or screen, but it has a much higher incidence of being misread. The Brookline Public Schools completely eliminated teaching cursive from the curriculum decades ago. What was the result? It apparently didn’t make any difference; Brookline still has an excellent school system. Whether they saw the writing on the wall well before there was any possibility of easy access to computers is hard to say. I believe that learning to write in cursive is in the same category as knowing how to diagram sentences. Some will state that diagramming sentences is a very useful skill; however, when I ask how often someone has diagrammed sentences post high school graduation, no one has ever said that he/she continues to use that skill.

  2. christinaspinelli

    I feel certain that writing with a pen in general won’t disappear in our lifetimes, however, I can understand removing cursive from the curriculum. Yes, cursive is beautiful and nostalgia is difficult, but I think the focus on writing should be on the words themselves and not the style of how the words are presented.
    To say that it connects a person to a past because our Constitution is written in cursive seems like a strange argument for the article to make. Was there similar dissent when students switched from quills to pens? Further, if anyone today claims to be able to decifer the words written on the Constitution in their original script, I would question their honesty.
    As cursive becomes more and more obsolete, and documents like the Constitution are transcribed into formats that are easier to read, the necessity of teaching it in a classroom is lessened. Perhaps it could become a component of an art class or history class.
    Jessica, I think it’s awesome and admirable that you are keeping the act of written correspondence alive. That just goes to show you that people’s individual drive to learn certain skills will preserve writing in longhand (or writing in general).
    Also, websites like Youtube have many cursive-writing tutorials to help those with the ambition to learn. Educators can devote more time to the content and development of writing skills if they can eliminate the class time spent on learning an additional, under-used form of writing an alphabet they already have mastered in shorthand.

  3. Pingback: The Pearly Droplets ~ April 2013 | The Pearly Droplets

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