Cursive: fast becoming a lost art

September 26, 2011
Sir, more than kisses,
letters mingle souls;
for, thus friends absent speak.
-John Donne, poet

Cursive as we know it, or almost, anyway, goes back to the 17th century, but wasn’t standardized as a fast way of writing correspondence until the 18th century. Starting in the middle of the 19th century, schools began teaching cursive.

This year, however, Indiana, Illinois and Hawaii announced outright that cursive is no longer required. It’s optional. Also this year, 44 states adopted the Common Core State Standards, which do not include cursive. At all.

Of course, this is a sign that computers are now fully integrated into curricula, and of the expectation that students be taught to keyboard so all work will be submitted as a printed document. It seems obvious that no one will hand-write in the future.

This is another one of those developments that makes me wonder how much we’ve really gained, even as technology makes our lives so much easier.

A person’s handwriting is their hallmark, their personal mark, unique to them just like an individual snowflake is one of a kind. It’s a reminder that they existed, thought, felt, acted.

I’ve kept some things in my mother’s handwriting (at left): a few cards she signed, some letters and notes, a newspaper clipping she annotated. It’s always a thrill to see her handwriting, to know that she wrote this when she was alive.

Seeing a computer-generated note or caption just doesn’t have the same frisson.

Even though snail mail is rare today, it’s still fun to see an envelope addressed in a familiar hand, to open it and find a note or even –really! — a fully-handwritten letter.

I have an entire box of letters my father sent home from the Korean War in 1953. I always hold them in my hands carefully and with reverence, imagining him sitting at a desk with a fountain pen, writing home every day. And then, the excitement when my mother saw the envelope in our mailbox, her opening it and reading it.

If not handwritten cards and letters, what artifacts of yours will your children treasure? What will give them the same feeling of connection?

4 comments on “Cursive: fast becoming a lost art
  1. This news sickens my heart. I love writing a letter and sending a card to someone. Like you, I treasure letters and cards I have kept from my close family members and friends who have died.

    Technology has its’ place, but I sure hate what it’s taking away from the human experience.

  2. Mary says:

    I agree. Most things in the digital age I can deal with, but the loss of handwriting is a major problem. As stated, there’s just not the same impact in computer generated words.

    My grandmother had the most beautiful handwriting, it was distinctive and written into my heart for so many years. It’s a good thing I don’t have to lose that but I wonder if my children with feel the same about my writing.

  3. Beautiful handwriting is truly an art. How lucky you are to have those artifacts, both of you.

  4. My mother has beautiful writing. That gene didn’t make it into my DNA. My handwriting totally stinks and is getting harder and harder to read by others —and myself!!! But I still keep plugging along with it in one area of my life, my personal journal. What better way to add to my life history than by writing it by hand. Pretty soon though, it may not be that easy to decipher. I’ve contemplated taking some kind of cursive tune up. Can an old dog learn new tricks?

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