I vividly remember being in the 2nd grade learning how to write in cursive English. We were given a book, with each page having different letters of the English alphabet written in cursive. Our teacher was strict about penmanship, but she was kind enough to motivate us with a reward for having the best penmanship in cursive English.
Sadly, my penmanship was nowhere near nice compared to the girl who sat beside me. Nevertheless, I was still very grateful to have been taught to write in cursive, as it would help me understand my grandmother’s letters in the years after that. Though I never really write primarily in cursive English, it helps when I like to add a little flair to my writings.
Now, having gone through all that as young as I was, imagine my surprise when I found out that only a few of my younger cousins could understand cursive English despite being in the 4th grade! They saw me writing in cursive once and they asked me what it was, since they couldn’t understand a single word.
It turns out that in their school, the children are never taught to write or read cursive English at all. In their generation, learning it was no longer mandatory, but some teachers would apparently introduce it to them at certain times. It got me thinking about what would happen to historical texts that were written in cursive.
Sure, there is technology to help, but then that would also mean cursive English could be completely obsolete in just a few years’ time. The beautiful words written in cursive in my grandmother’s letters would no longer be appreciated by the time I have kids of my own. It forced me to ask myself, “Is cursive English endangered?”
With that, I decided to explore the intricacies and roots of cursive English, something that the 2nd grader in me would never approve of. However, with the looming danger of cursive English being forgotten by the generations to come, I felt impelled to share what I had found to others.
Cursive English vs. Print English
Before we get to know the history and problems that cursive English faces, I feel like it is important to know the difference between it and print English. What exactly is the difference between the two ways of writing? Does writing in print endanger writing in cursive?
To begin with, the most basic definition of print English is that it is the writing we learn prior to cursive English. It is typically the text we see on screens, like the font you’re reading on this blog right now. Unlike cursive, print English lacks accessory traits that one normally sees in the former. Each letter is only made of its basic structure, like the straight line and a solitary dot on the lowercase letter “i”.
On the other hand, cursive writing, which still makes use of the English alphabet but just with noticeable changes from print writing. Unlike the spaced and disconnected letters in print English, cursive English appears to have ascents and descents in writing, with the letters being connected to each other through angles and garlands.
The connectedness and curvatures of cursive English has commonly been associated with someone’s mood, state of mind, and even maturity. True enough, I can easily identify the times where I was rushing to write something in cursive from when I had more than enough time to write in cursive. In those fine details, you can tell whether the writer was angry, rushing, or calm when they made the text.
Additionally, one also wouldn’t expect a child to write in cursive as well as an adolescent, nor can anyone expect an adolescent to write in cursive in the same manner as the elderly. Going by these pieces of evidence and examples alone, we can already say that cursive English does portray the writer’s mood, state of mind, and potentially their maturity as well.
While cursive writing does have its features, they don’t actually help the style stand out from the simple print writing. In terms of appearance, cursive writing does stand out from print writing. However, herein arises the problems and questions of the purpose of learning and teaching cursive writing.
Aside from appearance, is there any other significant difference or benefit that cursive writing has over print writing? Are these differences or benefits enough reason to reincorporate the writing style into the curriculum of the younger generations? In the next section, we will be looking at the benefits of cursive writing to both the human mind and body.
Benefits of Cursive Writing
It has been repeated in the medical field that writing using both pen and paper provides stimulus to the brain unlike simply just typing and texting on gadgets. Whether in print or in cursive, writing by hand has been seen to increase brain activity in recall tasks and a 25% increase in speed when it comes to note-making over students who prefer to do the same tasks using digital technology.
However, it has also been found that people who wrote in cursive writing had their advantages over people who wrote in print writing. As early as 2013, occupational therapist Suzan Baruch Anderson has stated that learning to write in cursive has shown improvements in the brain development of children, specifically in the areas of thinking, language, and working memory.
Learning to write in cursive can also result in the stimulation between the brain synapses and synchronicity between the left hemisphere and right hemispheres of the brain as compared to writing in print.
For as long as I could remember, there had been a myth (whether it is debunked or not, I am not sure) that one hemisphere of the brain is in charge of mathematics and related subjects, while the other is in charge of creativity, like music and the arts.
Now where am I going with these pieces of information? The next things I am about to say, I advise you to take with a grain of salt.
Don’t absorb it as fact, but take it as a simple assumption. Children who have both of the hemispheres of their brains stimulated at the same time, whether they truly are in charge of one subject over the other, is good preparation for the learning of more advanced subjects in the future.
Quite a lot of fields require more than just precise and infallible knowledge about one subject. In fact, a lot of careers require that the workers are as creative as they are smart at mathematics, technology, or even sciences. In fact, if you truly think about it, machines are not made just to function as they were intended to, but also specifically designed to provide both comfort and aesthetic to the user.
In fact, one of the better pieces of evidence for this assumption is one of the findings of the College Board, which states that for the essay portion of the SATs, students who wrote in cursive had higher scores than those who wrote in print. In addition to this, essays have also been known to require students to incorporate creativity into their critical thinking and analysis skills.
The College Board assumed that the students who wrote in cursive were able to score higher in the essay portion simply because they were also able to write faster. As compared to print, writing complete words in cursive is much faster since all the letters flow and connect into one another.
Other researchers have also found that among children who learned to write in cursive were better at spelling words compared to those who wrote in print. This finding has also been related to the fact that the letters in cursive writing are connected to one another, giving the children a better sense of connectivity of the letters thus being able to form words much faster.
For this same reason, it has also been found that children were able to write better sentences, as they had a better understanding of the composition of a sentence and good syntax (otherwise known as the arrangement of the words). This showed that children become better writers overall, allowing them to create better and stronger phrases, as well as even more complex sentences.
Before we get to answering the question of whether these benefits are reason enough to reincorporate the teaching of cursive in the grade school curriculum, let us first see the roots of cursive writing. How exactly did it come to be? And how long have people and civilizations been writing in cursive?
Cursive writing could be traced to as far back as Ancient Rome, but the bulk of the letters came from the Etruscan alphabet. It mostly consisted of uppercase letters, while lowercase letters were only incorporated at a much later time. The writing was used for all kinds of reasons, but mainly for recording transactions they made through trading.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, monasteries focused on penmanship. It had been so because it was at this age that they had to produce both Christian and classical texts all over Europe. This was an important task that preserved both the culture and religion, paving the way for it to last ages after the first texts were written and distributed.
However, the styles varied greatly depending on the region the monasteries were located, until Charlemagne assigned an English monk to standardize the writing. The monk had designed it to make sure texts were legible, featuring lowercase letters, word separation, and punctuation. Not long after, the Gutenberg press had been invented and Italian humanists invented a cursive version of the Carolngian script modernly known as “Italic”. By the 1700s, people had been taught to write and perfect penmanship.
By the time the United States had just been discovered, professional penmen were assigned to create copies of official documents, much like the Declaration of Independence. Around the same time, various handwriting styles were associated with different professions and social ranks.
Years later in the development of technology, quite a lot of schools felt it unnecessary to continue to include penmanship classes in the curriculum. However, European schools continue to provide a strict handwriting instruction to this day.
In many schools in the United States, that is not the same case. Instead of mastery in penmanship, children are taught proper posture and hand positioning on keyboards, focusing instead on their ability to type speedily.
Now this begs the question, is cursive writing in danger?
Is it Endangered?
To get directly to the point, cursive writing at the moment is not yet in danger of being a forgotten art.
A larger portion of the population is still able to read texts in cursive, with fewer being able to write in cursive legibly and neatly. While penmanship classes in the United States can no longer be found in the curriculum, some teachers still feel impelled to at least introduce it to children.
However, the problem there lies in the fact that it is nothing but an introduction. Children are no longer required to learn that style of writing, but focus mainly on reading and writing in print, as it is what is usual on many computers.
Since they are not forced to learn the style, it is only up to them to pursue the craft, and it is a known fact that most children would rather play than learn something.
So how exactly do these pieces of information answer the question?
Well, we can say that cursive writing is endangered, but mostly in the United States. Children are taught to focus on print writing since it is what is common in the digital age, so penmanship is no longer of value. However, we can also say that cursive writing is not endangered in other countries like Europe, which still places emphasis on penmanship in the curriculum.
If we reconsider the curriculum and reinstate the teaching and learning of good penmanship in schools, we can stop the decline of people who cannot read or understand texts written in cursive. Historically important texts, while they may easily be recovered and rewritten thanks to technology, will no longer be valued as much as they used to be. Aside from this, there are other reasons as to why children should be taught to write in cursive again.
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Reasons to Learn Cursive
Not considering the benefits aforementioned in this article, one of the main reasons why teaching cursive writing to children should be brought back in the curriculum is because it promotes the development of motor skills among children. It allows them to use the muscles on their hands differently, allowing them to be more dexterous than a child who knows only how to type on a keyboard.
Considering the benefits now, another reason why children should be taught to write in cursive is because it helps reinforce learning. Remember that writing with a pen and paper increases brain stimulus, so learning to write in cursive allows children to engage their minds a little bit more. In cursive, all the letters are connected to form a word, and one mistake often calls for a complete erasure.
This means that children have to increase their focus on the task to achieve it excellently.
Lastly – and I think it is one of the most important reasons – is that children already have a sense of dealing with legal and professional documents. A lot of signatures are made in cursive, most especially when dealing with legal documents. Should their time come, children wouldn’t take too much time coming up with a signature to affix their agreement on documents or contracts.
Cursive writing, aside from being an art form, is a way for children and many people to express themselves. A lot of emotions can be deciphered from a text written in cursive; its flourishes show which words the author values and its curves depict which sentences the author can make with no problem.
While the art may not be in danger for now, I think that learning cursive English is important for a child’s growth and development. For this very reason, learning it and the value of a neat and legible penmanship should be instilled in the various school curriculums around the world, not just the United States.