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A Case for Cursive: Why Penmanship Still Matters

At the conclusion of one of my recent writing presentations, an audience member spoke up to encourage everyone who doesn’t type to handprint rather than use cursive penmanship.

Her reasoning?

She had handwritten an entire book of her memories for her grandchildren — in cursive — and they can’t read it.

They aren’t tiny tots who haven’t learned to read yet or are simply beginning writers. No, they are twenty-somethings who were never taught cursive in school.

Her point is valid, yet I find it disturbing and depressing that we should forego cursive altogether.

Just think of all the history that might be lost if the general public can’t read cursive in the future. Letters, ledgers, books, journals, certificates and countless other forms of documentation that have been written in script might simply be placed in the trash or filed away, rarely to see the light of day.

Beauty and Personality

While it’s true that cursive has evolved over time to become less flowery and fluid (you’ll understand what I mean if you ever try to read an early-nineteenth century document, as I have as a volunteer transcriber with the Smithsonian Transcription Project), it nevertheless remains an elegant form of artistic expression and a representation of an individual’s personality.

The National Pen Company conducted a study on approximately 5,000 personality traits linked to handwriting and created an interesting infographic that highlights some of those findings.

For example, if you angle your letters to the right, you like to try new things and meet new people. If you write with small letters, you are “shy or withdrawn, studious, concentrated and meticulous.”

Everything from how you dot your “i” and cross your “t” to your letter spacing — and more — is representative of a character trait.

According to an article on Business Insider, “Graphology, the science of analyzing handwriting for personality traits, has been around since the days of Aristotle. Today, it’s used for a variety of purposes, from criminal investigations to understanding your health. Some employers even use handwriting analysis to screen potential employees for compatibility.”

Academic Performance and Reading Abilities

In my research for this article, I came across many studies and statistics about the importance and benefits of cursive as it relates to academic performance.

For example, the National Handwriting Association (UK) claims that “[L]egible writing that can be produced comfortably, at speed and with little conscious effort allows a child to attend to the higher-level aspects of writing composition and content…Without fast and legible handwriting, students may miss out on learning opportunities and under-achieve academically.

A New York Times article, partially based on a study that followed children in grades two through five, stated that “When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”

This same article goes on to argue that the benefits of using cursive extend well into our adulthood, especially in the workforce:

“For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.”

But perhaps one of the most important and exciting benefits of penmanship is that combining it with basic print may improve overall reading abilities.

“[S]ome individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach…and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia” (New York Times, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades”).

Steps You Can Take

In this technologically driven world, it’s not surprising that there are programs available with handwriting recognition capability. As the UK’s National Handwriting Association states, “It seems that even in this modern age, handwriting remains an important skill for communication.”

Nevertheless, I believe that it’s also important for individuals to learn the traditional pen-and-paper method.

One of the first steps is to discover if your child or grandchild will be taught cursive handwriting in school. Where I live, it’s optional and up to each individual teacher, but the required coursework must be taught first, leaving little extra time to introduce the concept.

But as we all know, it takes much longer than fifteen minutes a day for a couple of weeks to learn and become comfortable and proficient at both writing and reading cursive.

If your children or grandchildren aren’t being immersed in cursive in school, consider teaching them yourself. Here are a few resources to help you:

· Teach Handwriting

· Pinterest tips for teaching handwriting

· The Guardian article, “How to teach…handwriting” (great tips for adults to improve their own handwriting, too!)

Remember, every effort you take to teach cursive will have long-lasting, beneficial returns.

What do you think of cursive handwriting…and do you use it?

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