Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guest Post: Life as an Addicted Cursive Writer by Alice Jenkins

Author: Alice Jenkins is an aspiring screenplay writer and current freelance writer with a passion for penmanship. She writes for personalized pens supplier PensXpress.
Ever since I learned cursive in the 3rd grade I have used it as my everyday form of writing. No, it was not because nobody told me I could stop doing it once I got to 6th grade, but because I just grew into it. Plus I was frequently told I had nice penmanship. However, it seems more and more that cursive is being viewed as a useless skill and something many public schools should cease to teach. As a (for the most part) lifelong cursive writer this baffles me. Cursive writing has not only given me a seemingly unique skill amongst my peers, it has allowed me to record my thoughts in a quick and elegant manner. Still, I can’t pretend it didn’t have its cons growing up.

Troubles I’ve Experienced Being a Cursive Writer

Writing in Non-Language Subjects: You would not believe how many well-educated math teachers can’t read cursive. After Geometry in high school I felt it was time to compromise so that I stopped getting half credit for making my teachers consult the internet in order to translate what I was saying. Most of the time I was able to get them to change the grade if I could make it reasonably clear what I was trying to say. In the end I opted to use strictly print for math classes from then until I graduated college.

Writing any Sort of Instructions for Somebody Else: From notes of household tasks to be done to grocery lists, my friends and other peers have always found it more difficult to read my writing. Not because it is sloppy or unorganized but because it is in what some might consider another language. You can imagine what it was like if I tried to write in cursive on a white board at the front of a class. Everyone that I know my age or older was required to learn cursive at one point but it seems it was a lot like parallel parking for them, they’re required to show they can do it but never try to do it if they can help it.

Social: This one is perhaps the least flattering of all. When you pass a note to the guy you’re scoping out and he doesn’t ever send a response back it gets all of the doubting thoughts to flood your head. It’s not until you find out that he couldn’t read what you wrote that you feel a bit foolish. This happened with two guys that I knew of back in high school. Plain and simple, common people of the past two decades do not want to see cursive outside of a signature or a classroom focused on teaching cursive.

Benefits of Writing in Cursive

Taking Notes: I am the fastest and most efficient note taker I know who records them by hand. Cursive allowed me to write so much faster because my pen or pencil leaves the paper a lot less often than it would if I was printing. I read my cursive just fine so my notes are as good as they need to be and as an added bonus I never had to worry about being asked to take notes for friends that decided to skip class. My notes were useful to me and for the most part, only me. This is one of the few situations where it felt good to be on my own little writing island.

Private Thoughts: Its cliché, I know but I did have a journal in which I recorded my thoughts and goals throughout the end of high school and college. I wouldn’t say it was a diary, I definitely didn’t write about all my deepest secrets every other day. I would rather call it my own personal confidant in which I could list my own personal goals and ideas that I would rather not share with the world. A few of these more personal goals would revolve around dieting for a targeted weight, career passions I wanted to pursue, outlandish goals I wanted to reach, etc. Cursive writing made people take one look at my writing and immediately give up after a sentence. Consequently I was never worried about leaving it out on the living room table.

Social: In the most contradictory statement I have said all month, I would say cursive writing has given me a unique social standing that I feel blessed having. To my friends it has marked me as a writer and allotted me such respect in that regard that at least one person always sees fit to get me a custom pen for my birthday every year. My precision handwriting and habitual indulgence in something that is considered a dying art makes me seem special and I am grateful for that.

Studies have shown that writing in cursive may actually improve brain development in areas such as working memory and understanding of language. A New York Times article published this last April, featured occupational therapist Suzanne Baruch Anderson of the Beverly Hills Unified School District in California. She stated that “cursive handwriting stimulates the brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something that is absent from printing and typing”. If you were to type cursive writing into any major search engine “News” category you would see countless articles claiming it to be unnecessary to learn and something that should be dropped from the teaching curriculum in public schools.

What are your thoughts on cursive writing? Have you had similar experiences as I have? Is cursive truly a dying skill?

24 comments:

  1. I always write in cursive when writing fiction or notes for myself, and have a hard time doing "unjoined" printing even when making notes for others unless I print in block letters. It's just faster and easier...

    I do feel a great deal of unease that it's not being taught in most places anymore -- I had no idea that most math teachers couldn't read it now (that's scary...) and what on earth are people in the future going to do if they have to read historical documents? What happens when some author's lost manuscript is discovered, and the next great work by [fill-in-the-blank] is thrown out because "it's just a bunch of unreadable scribbling"?

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    1. I admit that I usually print (which is one reason I thought it would be great to have Alice's guest post here, just to share the other perspective!), but I do often use cursive when writing the first draft of a piece of writing. Helps me write faster and - because it's harder to read what I've written - I'm less tempted to self-edit.

      I'm sure there will always be at least some specialists who can read it, but cursive does seem to be passing out of the mainstream.

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    2. " . . . [O]ut of the mainstream." I sort of half-agree, Heather. Even game show host Alex Trebek mentioned a guest's hobby of writing stories in longhand as "unusual".
      Still, I'm missing something in the pro-keyboarding arguments. There's a nurse about my age who's literate and intelligent, and her penmanship is legible. Her texting is illiterate: misspellings aplenty, unpunctuated, occasionally incomprehensible with respect to meaning.
      Those video text ribbons at the base of a TV screen are sometimes filled with spelling errors.
      My sister taught at a local proprietary college. Among the instructors, there was a common thought that the "computer-neatness" of student papers covered in some cases for the occasional student's functional illiteracy and plagiarism.
      The pro-keyboarders have a way to go before they'll persuade me. I'm still seeing a confusion between means (keyboard, pen, skywriting) and ends (clear, literate communication). Jack/Ohio

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    3. I agree that illiteracy is a problem (especially having seen the poor writing skills of so many of my fellow students when I was at university), but I'm not sure whether it is directly connected to the issue of keyboarding vs. handwriting, or whether both are simply a symptom of a larger trend. It seems to me that many people can't even distinguish good writing from bad writing anymore, so it is no wonder that most people write so poorly themselves.

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    4. Penemuel, I pretty much write all of my initial fictional thoughts out in cursive now. It's a shame not only that some schools are thinking of abandoning it altogether but that it's not encouraged to be used on a regular basis. Cursive writing is at the point where once someone learns they are expected to be able to do it at will the rest of their life but it just doesn't work that way. I honestly think if more school followed through and required students to write in cursive at least part of the time through junior high or middle school it would retain better. Unfortunately some teachers in non-writing subjects get impatient with handwriting very easily and those students get discouraged from using it. Consequently students don't use it outside of english class and it dies off with a few years. Except for a signature.

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  2. I'm with penemuel in the pro-cursive corner. There just seems to be a whole lot of valuable stuff going on with cursive. I don't understand the baby/bathwater mentality, either. I can readily imagine a strong cursive curriculum, with its unique elements, even if much finished written work will be typed.

    FWIW-I'm able to compose at the keyboard when I know the subject. If I'm new to the material, I'll draft notes and early drafts longhand. I'll take a wild guess the blank computer screen imposes a "production discipline" that I flinch from when I'm unsure of my thoughts. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Alice. Jack/Ohio

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    1. Jack, that's almost exactly what I do. If I have a better idea what I'm writing, it's easier for me to start typing right away, but I find cursive best for first drafts and brainstorming - although I still usually print while writing otherwise.

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    2. Jack, Heather, I'm with the both of you. Typing to me is for the legit, final drafts. The raw nature of writing it out by hand seems to be more favorable to me in brainstorming new ideas.

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  3. I LOVE to write in cursive and I have worked hard to develop my own cursive 'style.' I do understand, however, the dismay of realizing that others do not know what I am writing. As a teacher, I once was asked to instruct a classroom of adults in English as a second language. I started writing on the board, in cursive, and began to hear complaints from the students. Almost none of them could read my words. I had to print for the entire semester! I think that there is nothing more beautiful than lovely cursive writing. If it is written in fountain pen, so much the better. I love collecting vintage letters, post cards, recipes and the like, simply because I love the beautiful handwriting on them. Thanks for a wonderful post!

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    1. Cursive is a lot nicer to look at than printing (most of the time, anyway). I think if my cursive writing looked nicer and was less messy I might use it more often. Perhaps I should do as you did and put more work in to develop my own style.

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    2. Thank you Cindamarie! Beautiful handwriting is my opinion continues to be undervalued, especially in the education system.

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  4. Nice to know that there's another aspiring screenwriter who writes cursive out there in the world! I have to say I find it odd and disheartening that so many schools aren't placing an importance on cursive writing nowadays. I've returned to study (at the tender age of 47) and a great number of my fellow students (mostly in their twenties) have dreadful handwriting. There, I said it. Some of them even go so far as to take notes on their laptops rather than use pen and paper.
    It's the end of the world as we know it.
    But I'm gonna go down writing...in cursive.
    Nice post, Miss Jenkins.
    Keep writing!

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    1. I'm not sure dreadful handwriting is just among younger people... Many of my older professors at university had fairly marginal handwriting as well :) I think our culture as a whole just places less value generally on good handwriting, and so fewer people are interested in improving their handwriting. And if they aren't exposed to good handwriting while young, they may not even realize that their handwriting could be better.

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    2. BYODs (bring your own device) seem to be adding to the fire that is burning up good penmanship in our culture. At this point so much is about getting things done right and getting them done quickly but not getting them done admirably. The focus seems to be on spelling words not writing letters. As Heather suggests, enforcing proper handwriting while they're young may be best solution but speed of technology is really hard to argue against. Oh and I'll be there going down writing in cursive with you! :)

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  5. When I look at student who can not write in cursive and have trouble printing text, I think about the illiterate sailors of 2 centuries ago that had to put a chop on their contracts. I feel very comfortable with cursive and use it every day. I take quick notes in class, outline novels in notebooks and use it in my personal diary.

    I will note that Europe still teaches cursive writing and the use of fountain pens. These students will be more competitive than American students in the workplace.

    What is interesting is that lately I've been seeing a real shift back to the use of paper and pens in work. This is not with older people, but with the younger students as well. There are real advantages to using paper over the computer keyboard and I feel that both ways need to be taught in our school systems.

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    1. "There are real advantages to using paper . . . both ways need to be taught . . . ." I agree, Wendy. Teach both without prejudice.

      I did a primitive (and very biased) thought experiment in which I learned the alphabet without ever writing a letter in cursive or block letters. Long story short--I wasn't making connections in my experiment: shape, sound, muscle effort, psychological empowerment, etc.

      I'll admit to a bit of crankiness, too. At my age (late 50s), I've lived through a lot of "over-promises" on the part of manufacturers, politicians, and so on. Thanks, Wendy. Jack/Ohio

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    2. I agree with you too, Wendy. When I was in university, I carried a pen case stuffed with pens around with me, and it was surprising how many other students commented on it and expressed some interest in pens and stationery themselves. So there definitely is interest in handwriting - if not necessarily cursive in particular - among younger people. Most students I knew still took notes by hand as well.

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    3. Wendy, I really hope we don't regress that far back haha. But yes both ways should definitely be taught. You all are amazing I'm so glad to see the interesting comments and conversation this sparked!:) :)

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  6. "Cursive allowed me to write so much faster because my pen or pencil leaves the paper a lot less often than it would if I was printing." That's exactly the reason I still use cursive in my daily writing! Schools here are (newly) allowed to teach either cursive or the new writing "font" called Comenia Script (you can check it out here, it's the website of the author: http://www.lencova.eu/en/home/comenia_script). I like the look of the script, it looks so tidy, but I doubt kids would be much faster when writing with it.
    Sadly, I see that young wolf cubs in my troop have trouble reading the cursive and tend to use print. Maybe they don't see as many cursive-written things as we used to. They have interactive boards and dataprojectors, we had a solid wooden board and a box of chalk and the crucial thing to learn in high school was reading our teachers' handwritings as we needed to decipher names written on the board :-)

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    1. Speed is often a reason why I choose to use cursive as well. When I want to get down a lot of ideas quickly, I choose cursive, but when I'm writing more slowly, I usually print.

      Although I think most people my age still learned cursive in school, I see few of them continuing to use it today. I knew a few fellow students in university who wrote in cursive, but most chose to print instead. I think you may be right by saying that as students see less cursive around them, they use it less as well.

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  7. Jarka, thanks. " . . . [C]rucial . . . reading our teachers' handwritings . . . ." I hadn't thought about it, Jarka, that reading a handwritten note or a teacher's writing on slate or whiteboard seems to require an act of will from the reader that's at least different from reading text.

    Let me toss out a neologism and a half-baked thought or two. "Fauxductivity", i. e., faux productivity. That's the neologism. The half-baked thought? In the late 19th century in my area, contracts and important business correspondence were frequently (I've seen them) 1- or 2-page handwritten papers. Then, I suppose, came the typewriter. My point, I guess, is I like the computer's advantages, but I try not to con myself into thinking I'm doing more than I really am just because I can choose from a bazillion fonts once available only to the best-equipped print shops. Jack/Ohio

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    1. Hi, Jack, I wouldn't think about reading cursive as something more difficult than reading printed text if we hadn't two teachers at high school who really wrote illegibly :) one of them had a habit to scribble comments on our tests. His handwriting looked more like an EKG and we used to exchange the papers in order to comprehend what he has written. Usually there was somebody who half guessed, half read what it was :) I can't remember anybody else who is writing like those two.

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    2. Jarka, I was thinking of an energetic instructor "working" the chalkboard or whiteboard, mixing a strong lecture with handwriting to emphasize important points, equations, etc., or to give students a pause. I don't know if current classroom practice/technology allows those sorts of "beats" in a classroom presentation. (I did sales training. Turning away from the class, writing, then turning back to the class could, with a little luck, have a dramatic impact. At least that's what I hoped.) Jack/Ohio

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  8. One of the ways I knew I had "made it" when I lived in Amsterdam was when I could read Dutch in cursive. The Dutch, especially the older residents, have beautiful cursive.

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