The Demise of Cursive

By Bil Lepp Copyright 2014 as seen in June 2014

The most ridiculous rational I ever heard for cursive came from my second grade teacher.  She said, “Cursive makes it so that you can write without ever lifting your pen.”  She made it sound as if lifting your pen was an exhausting exercise, as though we were writing with jackhammers.  Technology has a tendency to make things smaller and lighter, but was there really a time when pens were so heavy that no one wanted to lift one?  And what about all that extra ink wasted by not picking up your pen?

“Young people today are losing the ability to write cursive,” the old people of today say with the same sad inflection used to lament the loss of native languages or the ability to cure ham.

Let us not mourn cursive.

If our culture hinges on a handwriting style then we have made some serious mistakes as a culture.  Furthermore, each new generation has the innate ability to deduce what tools and customs practiced by the previous generation need to be put to sleep.  My generation knew the slide rule was done for, this generation recognizes the futility of keeping cursive on the breathing machine.  Time’s up.  Send some flowers and move on.

Nobody reads handwritten stuff anymore anyway, except maybe the postman when he is trying to decipher a handwritten address, but nobody writes letters anymore, so the point is moot.  Indecently, this whole not writing letters has led to the crumbling of the other apparent pillar of our cultural identity…The demise of the Thank You note.  It must be hard to be old and care about stuff.

My wife and I could not employ the ‘spell what you want to say so the kids don’t know what you are talking about’ trick after both kids gained a certain intellect.  However, we can still write in cursive if we want to keep secrets.  The kids just look at the loops and swirls with mouths agape and eyes aglaze as if my wife and I were reading ‘possum entrails.

By the by, my grandfather used to gripe all the time about my generation not being able to read ‘possum entrails.  His grandfather used to grouse about the next generations inability to determine the weather by the bark on trees.  That guy’s grandfather used to get all snarky about the younger generation’s insistence that the nomadic life was stupid and that people should switch to agriculture.   And, of course, that guy’s grandfather would get all grumbly when people drew on the walls of his cave, and his grandfather laughed when the next generation thought walking on two feet was better than walking on four.

Somewhere in that long progression, one generation figured out that if a fella was to make a couple of marks on a scrap of papyrus he would be more likely to remember everything his wife asked him to pick up at the grocery.  And, you know as well as I do, as soon at that generation began writing things down the generation before them said, “Writing? Bah, in my day we just remembered stuff.”

And so it goes, people first communicated simple messages with grunts and gesticulations, then they created a spoken language and passed on information in an oral fashion, then they figured out how to write, then some prankster invented the impressively heavy pen so another bozo went and thought up cursive and calligraphy, and now the young folks send complicated, detailed, revolution inspiring messages around the globe in a matter of seconds using only their impressively muscular thumbs….even though they can’t write without lifting the pen.  Actually, they can’t even lift a pen because the rest of their fingers have atrophied due to neglect and disuse.  It does not seem that we have lost much in that transition.


One thought on “The Demise of Cursive

  1. Godfrey Coppinger

    In the middle of the third grade I moved. The old school hadn’t taught us cursive yet – but the teacher at the new school was writing in cursive on the blackboard! Everyone else knew what she was writing but I didn’t. It was scary. It was a scary year. But I learned cursive that year and I also finally figured out how to read (with the help of “My Father’s Dragon”), and I got to be in a play, and there was a puppet show, and the teachers let us play with the gopher snakes. I also rode a school bus for the first time. I’m 63 now and I remember it like it was yesterday. And I still write in cursive sometimes, although mostly it’s half and half.


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