jot it down

handwriting sample

A few days ago, I saw this post at TPM linking to this article about the decline of cursive handwriting. The basic idea is that primary school teachers spend very little time on any handwriting and almost no time on cursive handwriting. It appears that students without a good grasp of writing cursive also cannot read it, and this missing skill may have a negative impact on cognitive development. Much of this is, of course, attributed to the growing use of computers.

I started school in 1985. If you’re older than I am, feel free to take a moment to go ohmygodyou’resoyoungi’msoold and then move on. I was skipped past kindergarten, mainly because I could already add, subtract, read, and write at a much higher grade level. Even so, I remember very clearly spending a lot of time on phonics and penmanship, particularly in first, second, and third grade. I don’t remember much about the handwriting practice we did in those years aside from spending a lot of time on it. Oh, and I went through a ton of Big Chief tablets. What I remember very well is the handwriting review unit we did in middle school.

I’m left-handed, and I learned to write before I started school. Like most lefties, I don’t hold a pencil the way you’re taught to do it in school. Instead of the whole pinchy thing, I hold my pen between the first and second fingers of my left hand, with my thumb keeping the pen steady. I can’t remember any teacher in elementary school even commenting on my technique, much less asking me to change it. When we reviewed cursive writing in sixth grade, my cursive writing was just as good as everyone else’s until the teacher noticed my unorthodox pen-holding technique and forced me to hold it in the proper pinchy way like everyone else did. She told me she would take points off my grade every time she caught me holding the pen the old way, because the technique was just as important as the result.

I hated it. I sucked at it. It made my hand feel weird and crampy and my handwriting was horrible, as if I were writing with my right hand. I was pretty much a total dick every day that we practiced this, because I argued with the teacher constantly. I didn’t see why I had to change the way I held the pen when my former handwriting was perfectly legible and I got my points across clearly. In fact, the only advantage to the new pinchy method was that the outside of my left hand didn’t drag on the paper anymore.

Of course, the minute that damn unit was over, I went back to the way I’d been holding the pen before, and I’ve written that way ever since, draggy hand and all. I have trouble writing on vertical surfaces and slick paper because of the draggy-hand thing, and I have trouble using chopsticks because everyone tells me to hold them like a pencil and I don’t hold a pencil properly, but otherwise I’m pretty comfortable.

I also used to always write in cursive, because it was faster and because my teachers always required it. I’m not sure about this, but I think my teachers stopped insisting on cursive right around the time they started requiring us to type our papers – sometime in high school, I think. I’m also not sure when I began the print-cursive hybrid I use today, because I don’t think I ever had a problem with cursive writing before. I used to get bored with my writing a lot though and while sitting bored in class, would decide to start making one or two letters and numbers differently. So I’ve gone through the rounded W and M and the pointy versions of the same, sharp clean Es and softer loopy ones, an S like a checkmark and an S like a figure eight, and so on. Sometime before college I started the R technique I still use today. One weird thing about my handwriting is that I make Os both clockwise and counterclockwise depending on what letters come next. I start my name with a cursive capital L or a print one depending on my mood. The only thing I write in total cursive is my legal signature, and for the record, I think my legal signature is ugly and I hate it.

I think it’s interesting that we spent so much time on proper cursive in school when almost no one I know uses it today. In fact, of all the people I know, I can think of exactly two who use proper textbook cursive, and it’s almost like a novelty to read it. Almost everyone prints or does the print-cursive thing. Personally, I wrote a lot faster when I wrote in straight cursive, but my handwriting is easier to read now. I always thought textbook cursive was too loopy anyway.

One part of that article says that some people “lament the loss of handwritten communication for its beauty, individualism and intimacy.” Though I agree that people don’t write a lot of notes anymore, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t write something down every day. And I love to see how everyone writes – I think that handwriting is just as interesting and individual as it ever was. In fact, I can recognize most people’s handwriting after seeing it only once or twice. Every person’s writing is different – even the two textbook cursive people I know.

I wonder when teachers really cut back on teaching handwriting. If you’re younger than I am, especially, how much time do you remember spending on handwriting in school? For all of you – how’s your handwriting? Is it messy? Neat? Are you more into print, cursive, or the hybrid? Do you like your handwriting? Do you change it very often?

16 Replies to “jot it down”

  1. I’m slightly older than you, as you know (28). I started school I believe in 1984 (I don’t remember exactly, as I also skipped kindergarten). We learned cursive writing, and I remember having to practice it at least twice a week, all the way through eighth grade (it was a Catholic school, and as part of our spelling lesson every week we had to fill in however many lines with that week’s letters). We started learning cursive in second grade, and actively learned/practiced daily through third. I also learned phonics. I also have the cursive/print hybrid handwriting (sample forthcoming… you inspired me!) thing going on, and while I think knowing how to write cursive isn’t necessary, it freaks me out to know that people also don’t know how to READ it. Also, all those cognitive skills that go along with it! Madness! For what it’s worth, in Russian, no one EVER EVER EVER prints. It is cursive all around.

  2. I’m 23, and I remember spending a lot of time on cursive in 2nd grade. My teacher had a contest to see who had the best cursive handwriting at the end of our unit, and I was bummed when I didn’t win. I think they stopped insisting on cursive in high school, where I also changed the way I did a lot of letters – my lower case g, my a went back and forth a lot, my 8 was either a figure 8 type or 2 circles, etc. Now my handwriting is print, but neat, and the only time I use cursive is with my signature as well (which is kind of only half-cursive). I don’t really miss cursive, but I guess it’s important to learn if people can’t read it otherwise.

  3. wow. you make me want to post on this myself and steal your post idea. cause i’m afraid this comment will turn into a post.

    anyway … i remember that in grade school we definitely were taught “penmanship” and that i consistently got bad-ish grades for this. i also skipped first grade, for whatever that is worth, so i may have missed something there.

    i think i was always trying to write faster than i could think (?) does that make sense .. i couldn’t write as fast as i could think or that the words were coming out, thus i couldn’t or wouldn’t make the perfect d’nealian letters we were being taught. it was sloppy and unreadable or whatever to teachers, my parents.

    and i did eventually find the print-cursive thing to be much more suitable to my needs. i love fonts and such, and i found myself (find?) stealing things from other people’s fonts that i like/d. certain j’s or g’s or z’s or 7’s (you know sometimes, i’d cross my z’s or 7’s for flair every now and again). i’m glad everyone’s picked up on the euro phone numbers (312.523.312_) because i think it’s way stylish. so, i created my own font/s and stuff.

    what’s weird is two separate things. — first, that i have several of my own fonts. i have printing fonts and capital fonts and cursive fonts and casual fonts and wow i’m trying to write really neat fonts. — second being that even when i’m totally spazzed out and think it’s totally lame ass handwriting, i get compliments on my “penmanship.” so fuck you, grade school!! i have flair now! people dig my distinctive handwriting. i just had to grow into it, i guess.

    but even i can scrawl quick notes for a blog entry or something, and go: what the HELL does that say!?? i nearly always figure it out, though. so nyah.

  4. I totally support stealing this post and posting about it on your own blog, particularly if it includes samples of your handwriting.

    For the record, I currently cross my 7s and Zs. I kind of want to stop but my Zs are often confused with 2s so right now I can’t.

  5. I remembering spending entire afternoons on cursive complete with complementing videos should the teacher actually suck at illustrating it correctly.

    Though I remember being introduced to the computer in 5th or 6th grades (the school had two and hand-picked certain kids to play with the thing. The mouse was something that I can only visualize as being a large block of wood. We entered commands and once I made a dragon, green lines, dots and dashes produced as consequence of the code I’d entered.

    Anyway, this was still a long way from the introduction of the home computer and, though it was not required, I used to type all of my papers. My teachers actually discouraged this as they felt it would take away from cursive-writing practice. …so I did both.

    My writing, I’m told is “pretty”. It does have lots of loops and slants but I don’t think it’s very great. Some have confessed that, yes, while they thought it was very attractive, they, in fact, could not easily read it.
    Oh, and I cross my 7s and Zs (when I don’t just write the cursive “z”) also.

    This post was very long. I’m so tired.

  6. HA! That, um, 2nd paragraph just never had a chance. …nor the parenthetical statement that interupted it. And what’s up with my punctuation. I’m getting worse and worse all the time.

  7. Well as you know from our talk last night:

    I’m a Junior and currently use the hybrid method, but before now I mostly used cursive though I sometimes used print.

  8. So, long ago I decided two things that would make my hand writing acceptable in the eyes of me. For one thing, my teachers used to tell me that my a’s looked like o’s and they couldn’t tell what I was talking about, so I had to change my a’s to look like the ones on here. Secondly, I long ago decided to model my r’s after your r’s Lorie because I thought they looked cool.


  9. I still call it cursive because that was the operative word in school. (Third grade, I think: 1982-1983). Maybe the kids ain’t taught it much anymore, because that word sometimes causes brows to furrow. The division is perhaps made more often as print versus writing. But I have no idea.

    I’m right-handed but write more like a lefty, a feat that requires me to turn a notebook almost completely sidewise. The end result is a rather pleasant-looking, albeit difficult to read (even for me), mass of letters marching into a severe wind.

    I also do inverse paragraphing (First line flush left, all subsequent indented) in my personal notebooks, but have no explanation for this.

    And I could never hold a pen the way the teacher wanted me too. I can’t snap like other people. I probably hold chopsticks wrong too. But I get all this crap done just fine, thanks.

  10. My older (perfect) brother had crap handwriting in his younger days. One day when he was doing his homework, my mom, who made it a rule to never compare her children – coming from a household that was full of comparison – slipped one day and said to him, “Why can’t you write nicely like Lara?” He pitched a fit out of frustration and threw the book at her – literally and figuratively. She never made the mistake again, and it turns out that my handwriting has become absolutley atrocious. Practically unreadable…like my mom’s!

  11. Um… I remember cursive practice mostly in 3rd grade where we used lots of big cheif tablet and had the connect-the-dots worksheets. I think that a cursive capital Q is the stupidest letter in the cursive language and have always refused to make it “correctly” but I think that a cursive capital Z is pretty much the awesomest letter to make. I only write in cursive when I sign my name – which is also the only time that I EVER use Virginia – and I sign my name almost identically to the way mom signs hers, which was pretty obvious when we got our passports at the same time, which made mom think that I used to practice her signature to forge notes in high school, which i don’t think i did – but I digress (um, the spelling in the comment is probably the worst ever, btw).

    I also use a bit of a print-cursive gas-electric hybrid. I used to cursive entire checks, but I switched to print in the last few years. I’ve been told I have good handwriting, but I think it’s pretty crap, especially when I take notes, unless the class is boring and then I take my time. I really like to use alphabet stickers instead of writing things out when I’m being crafty because I don’t like my writing very much. I rarely if Ever write “Ginny” in cursive, but when I do, I use a G that I stole from this girl named Tamika who was in my 8th grade civics class, where the bottom circles up toward the top of the letter, instead of curling under.

    For the record… I think crossing z’s and 7’s is pretentious, and I loathe everyone that does it. :)

  12. Dude, someone totally found the copy of your handwriting sample that I printed out on Friday to copy, and left it on my chair. I came in today all, “What’s this? I have no idea where it came from!”

  13. Like any self-respecting scientist, my handwriting is atrocious. And since the only time in the last 15 years I’ve used cursive is to write checks (which I rarely do now as my wife takes care of the bills), I’ve started losing what little handwriting skills I had. I’ve seen cave hieroglyphics that made more sense than what I scrawl. You, on the other hand, have a pleasant font to your writing.

  14. Hooray for lefties!! =) I recall learning cursive in 2nd Grade…I also remember the boy in my class who already knew how to write in cursive, and it was from him that I ultimately got the cursive thing nailed down. I remember thinking he was so nice for offering to show me how. Funny, this post brought back that memory from so long ago… (I started school in ’85 as well — Tabb Tiggers represent, HOLLA!!!)

    My crackhead writing in it’s current form is here (GREAT recipe for anyone who likes artichoke & cheese dip), bad grammar, spelling errors and all.

    And you’re absolutely right on the extra fine point sharpies. They kick ass.

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