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.