My cursive handwriting test.
A confession: my cursive handwriting sucks. I write by hand so rarely these days, and when I do, it tends to come out as a sort of stylized printing I forced on myself thirty or forty years ago. So I just tried writing a few short cursive sentences on an index card to see what it looks like.
Yeah, it sucks. In fact, I couldn’t even remember how to write a capital “T.”
Alas, I’m not alone. What got me testing out my cursive today was a recent news item about how Cambridge University educators are considering dropping their handwritten exam requirement—after more than 800 years. The problem being that the faculty is having trouble reading students’ handwriting.
18th-century penmanship from Kentucky County, Virginia.
“There has definitely been a downward trend,” says history lecturer Sarah Pearsall. “It is difficult for both the students and the examiners, as it is harder and harder to read these scripts.”
A Need for Speed
But I’ve long predicted this. Our smart digital devices are feeding our need for speed when it comes to all forms of communication. I mean, let’s face it: it takes a lot longer to write a thank-you note by hand than to tap out a text with your thumbs. Sure, taking the time to learn cursive might be good for your brain, your manual dexterity, and your memory, but first-world humans just prefer living in the fast lane these days, apparently.
The handwriting of Meriwether Lewis.
This got me wondering (not for the first time) how things might change if the grid goes down. Say a computer virus, an asteroid, a natural (or nuclear) disaster, solar flares, or Siri Personified takes us all offline in an instant. How will we communicate over long distances in such a post-apocalyptic scenario? Well, I reckon we’ll have to go back to scribbling out notes using charcoal on birch bark and handing them to a courier, who will deliver them to our remote recipient in person. And I can imagine the dismay on the face of our correspondent who can’t read a word we’ve written.
“Return to Sender. Illegible.”
Learn by Doing
Perhaps at the very least it’s worth practicing—if not your cursive—your hand-printing every now and then. Maybe by jotting down a grocery list, composing a thank-you note by hand, or authoring an actual letter, inserting it into an envelope, and dropping it in the U.S. Mail. I daresay pen makers and the U.S. Postal Service will appreciate it, as will your recipients. So long as they can read your writing.
The irony is that, during the decades of the decline of my penmanship, I’ve taught myself to decipher various styles of cursive handwriting from centuries gone by. And you can bet there’ll be someone with similar skills to help us out centuries from now:
“Siri, read me that old cursive letter.”
» Cursive makes you smarter: a wonderful essay about all this stuff.
» Another articulate argument for not scrapping handwriting instruction.
» To heck with handwriting recognition: recognizing handwriting is a moving experience.
» Geneva, Ohio, honors the master penman who created Spencerian Script.
» Yes, truly exercising the brain sometimes takes a little time.
» On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, a graphologist reveals a few secrets.
» Finally, Darick “DDS” Spears has released a new hip hop album called “Penmanship.”