The Associated Press (AP) recently posted an article: “Cursive Writing Makes a Comeback in U.S. Schools”. That caught my eye, because I didn’t know cursive writing went anywhere in the first place. I assumed most everyone – regardless of age – can sign their name in cursive. Turns out the broad adoption of Common Core curriculum standards in 2010 removed “handwriting” as an essential skill. The teaching time once used for cursive now goes to learning the keyboard. Ask today’s student for a signature and you’ll probably get block letters instead of “continuous flow”.
I still remember my grade-school days spending hours on paper, forming my upper and lower-case letters. Then I graduated to cursive, and the “swoosh-curl” of the loops as I progressed across the page without lifting the pencil. Cursive evolved from block-letter writing as a way to speed up handwriting. If speed were the only criteria, no wonder today’s generation prefers the keyboard. In the race between my cursive on paper and my daughter’s thumbs on the smartphone, she wins by a landslide.
Speaking of cursive, here’s an example of my very own. Hopefully you can read it.
That’s right: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog – a sentence I wrote over and over in cursive practice. It’s a pangram – a sentence using all the letters of the alphabet. The quick brown fox… is the most famous pangram but there are several others, including: Pack my box with six dozen liquor jugs!
The shortcoming of my own cursive writing is my speed – or lack thereof. It took me almost sixty seconds to write the sentence above. You could probably write the same sentence in half the time. But I have a couple of challenges working against me. One, I’m left-handed, which means I’ve developed a curious writing style where I curl my hand around the point where pen meets paper. This forces my hand to stay higher on the page and avoids ink smears, but I can’t go very fast. Two, I have essential tremor, where my hands shake slightly when held in certain ways (like writing). If I don’t go s-l-o-w, my cursive is downright illegible.
If cursive writing was born of block letters, then block letters were born of calligraphy. Calligraphy is writing elevated to a visual art, where the lettering is created with wide and narrow strokes and requires the use of a special pen. Today’s computer fonts try very hard to simulate calligraphy but there’s nothing quite like the handcrafted version. The finest examples – using the Latin script – are found in early copies of the Bible; the so-called “illuminated manuscripts” created before the advent of the printing press. Today you’re more likely to find calligraphy on wedding invitations, college diplomas, and other formal documents. I have an aunt who mastered calligraphy and I wish I’d kept some of her letters and thank-you notes. That kind of penmanship suggests a certain level of elegance and refinement noticeably absent in today’s writing.
The AP news article claims fourteen states have reinstated cursive writing into their grade-school curriculum, so here’s hoping for more continuous flow signatures. But there’s still plenty of debate about the “usefulness” of the swooshes and curls when keyboarding is clearly king. To those who don’t see the value, consider this: our nation’s most important documents were written in cursive. If you can’t write the U.S. Constitution in cursive you probably can’t read it in cursive either. That would be a shame if you were ever lucky enough to see the original in the National Archives.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.