Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Death of Cursive Writing

After reading about the demise of cursive writing in public schools, actress Kirstie Alley quickly took to Twitter and wrote: “I'm HORRIFIED to hear that American children will no longer learn CURSIVE!!!! AMERICAN children would not be able to read the CONSTITUTION.”

She’s correct. Beginning with President Washington’s inauguration in 1789, job applicants (all of whom were men) vied for positions as federal clerks. The most important qualification was good penmanship. Since the typewriter hadn't been invented yet, records and correspondence were written by hand. Men holding these positions were called copyists or clerks. If handwriting wasn’t up to par, applicants would most likely receive a rejection letter like the following one written by Postmaster General Timothy Pickering:

    “As to a clerkship, altho’ your letters are tolerably   
    correct, yet several words are misspelt; and if your 
    composition were perfectly correct, your handwriting is not 
    good enough for a public office. Do not therefore entertain 
    the smallest hope of being introduced to one – I cannot 
    recommend you.”

Penmanship (cursive writing) remained the most in-demand office skill until 1874 when when E. Remington & Sons, the venerable rifle manufacturer, introduced the “Sholes & Glidden Type Writer.” The price was $125. The machine used the QWERTY keyboard, but only typed in capital letters. It was also awkward and temperamental.

After working out most of the quirks the company debuted the Remington No. 2 in 1887 which typed both upper and lower case letters using a shift key. When Patent Office Commissioner Halbert Eleazer Paine learned of the new model, he predicted that it would transform the way business was conducted and ordered several for his offices. Other departments followed and by 1892 the U.S. Government became the largest user of typewriters in the world. More than 2,000 Remingtons were in operation, and another 400 built by other manufacturers, making a grand total of nearly 2,500.

I recommend a terrific article about the importance of continuing to teach cursive writing that was written by a young journalist named Vignesh Ramachandran. He explains that learning cursive writing stimulates brain development and serves as a great equalizer among kids who don’t necessarily have access to digital technology. You can read Vignesh's article by clicking here.

1 comment:

  1. Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

    Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters?

    Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?

    Cursive's cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

    All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.


    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May - June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September - October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at

    [AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest