Is Writing by Hand Near Extinction?

Back in January,  I came across this article in The Wall Street Journal about the death of cursive writing instruction in schools. First kids stopped being able to read a traditional watch (many don’t wear watches at all these days and rely on the digital readout on their ever-present cell phones), and now the next generation may not be able to sign their own signature to documents — are people going to start marking “X” in the “sign here” box?  Will kids be able to read historical texts, which for the most part, are in cursive?

Emphasis in schools has moved from penmanship to writing efficiently, focusing more on process rather than form.  40 out of 50 states have adopted the “Common Curriculum”, which phases out cursive writing instruction.  The time that used to be devoted to teaching children to write in cursive is now being redirected to teach typing and other digital skills.  School curriculum is more concerned with turning kids into high-scoring standardized tests automatons than fostering creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

This is a terrible idea.  Tests have shown that writing in cursive is great for developing fine motor skills in young children.  The Wall Street Journal referenced a study from Indiana University and the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that said writing by hand increases brain activity and memory of concepts.  Paul Sullivan, a head teacher in CA said:

“The fluidity of cursive allows for gains in spelling and a better tie to what they are reading and comprehending through stories and literature.  I think there is a firmer connection of wiring between the brain’s processes of learning these skills and the actual process of writing.”

In my own experience, physically writing things down helps me remember concepts, formulas, names, etc much better than typing them or merely looking at a screen or a page in a book.  I recently had a whole pile of information that I needed to memorize and downloaded a spiffy flashcard app on my phone to help me.  I was dazzled by my ability to type in all the info on the company’s website and have different sets of cards synced to my phone on demand.  It was also pretty cool that the program even looked like actual flashcards and had the little “flippy” action when you tapped the screen.  

Here’s what : it didn’t work for me AT ALL.  I ended up running to my little slice of office supply store heaven (Office Depot or Staples, whichever was closer at the time) and buying a packet of index cards and did it the old-fashioned way.  The physical index cards were much more helpful in helping me remember the volume of info I had to retain; I’m not 100% there yet, but I get closer with every shuffle of the cards.

I usually write in architectural block print, a habit left over from interior architecture school.  But after reading up on the death of cursive, I decided to write exclusively in cursive for a week.  I found that cursive flows more freely on paper which makes note taking much easier and faster.  I also discovered that my cursive “r”s need some serious practice.

:: image from parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com ::

Aesthetics matter a great deal to me (otherwise I am in the totally WRONG business, don’t you think?) and I love the look of cursive.  One of my favorite things about Paris (ONE of my MANY favorite things, mind you) is walking along the streets and looking at all the blackboards outside of cafés that list the specials in the very recognizable French-style of cursive.

What are all the handwriting analysts going to do now!?  Analyze font choice?  Don’t even get me started on my feelings about Comic Sans!  Google “I hate Comic Sans” and check out the vitriol incited by that particular font. It’s pretty funny.