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?