When I was seven, we moved from Tampa, FL to Illinois. Before I left, I exchanged addresses with my friend Anne who lived across the street. We had both just finished second grade so we had a lot in common.
Our letter-writing lasted for the next twenty-five years. The first letters were written in printed block letters, then cursive script learned in third grade. When I saw Anne’s envelope arrive in the mailbox I knew immediately who it was from with its well-rounded letters. In the early grades, penmanship was actually graded in school.
We never thought of not writing in cursive. Had I written in block letters, Anne would have written back, “What’s wrong with you, Tammy?”
Heaven knows every eight-year-old wants to be grown up. The reason I didn’t call Anne in 1965 was because a long distance call back then was too expensive. Our parents weren’t about to allow us to make long-distance calls to the tune of $5—worth at least $30 in today’s money.
Today young people marvel at the quaint thought of receiving a handwritten letter, writing back and waiting days or weeks for a reply.
Times have changed. The only documents handwritten these days are thank you notes and shopping lists. Everyone emails, posts, instant messages or snap chats. If something is really important, we make a phone call.
Don’t ask anyone under 20 to read a handwritten letter in cursive. Cursive writing instruction went out fifteen years ago.
This fact puts some adults in a dither. Not knowing cursive, they say, is the worst possible consequence for a free society. Without access to historic documents, future generations are condemned to repeat history—never mind that ignorance of history has existed for eons. Lack of cursive is a sad commentary on education, others say. Teachers are just being lazy. They’re doing our children a disservice.
I am the first person to bemoan lack of access to the past. I see great value in historic research but part of me asks a question few are asking. When was the last time we adults wrote a full letter to someone in cursive—a two or three pager? When was the last time we wrote a shopping list to ourselves and couldn’t read our own handwriting?
When was the last time you tried to decipher original images of the US census or a will from Colonial America?
Are history books published in cursive script? Not if we can help it. Cursive by nature is difficult to read given the wide variances in letter formation, neatness and so on. There is a reason why publishers use block letters as opposed to Italics or French script.
Let’s face it. Hand writing went out the window when the personal computer arrived with its cousins the laptop, iPad and Smartphone. It’s quicker and more legible to type a message than to write it.
Insisting that children learn cursive is something like traditionalists who demanded that Greek and Latin remain part of the standard curriculum. And while scholars lament the loss of these classics, few students take such classes.
Fewer and fewer jobs will require cursive. Little Emma and Nathan aren’t likely to become history scholars or researchers. Economics propels most of the real world. If it doesn’t make money, it will be abandoned.
Yes, Alabama just passed a law mandating cursive instruction in their schools. How else, they say, can anyone sign their name on a check?
The problem is that Millennials don’t have checks; Generation Z that follows probably won’t know what a check is. When the cursive flap subsides, the market will rule. It always has. If you’re following the money, don’t bet on cursive.