Penmanship: a necessary art

Studies show that cursive instruction has been declining in U.S. classrooms since the 1970s, according to a recent report from the Washington Post. Common Core Standards, which 45 states have adopted since 2010, don’t require cursive instruction but let states and districts decide whether it should be included.

According to the article, while some districts require teachers to teach cursive, few actually devote the time to do so. They choose to spend more classroom time for technology and standardized test preparation.

While I rarely write in cursive anymore (and the cursive I do use leaves much to be desired), learning it did teach me the importance of having options and slowing down.

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...

The English alphabet, both upper and lower case letters, written in D’Nealian cursive. The grey arrows indicate the starting position for each letter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not entirely sure how old I was when I learned cursive. (Obviously cursive instruction had quite the impact on my life.) But I do remember that my classmates and I felt like we were under pressure trying to learn it. We had to learn one very specific way to write each letter, and for little, impatient hands, perfection is simply too much to ask. (And it’s not just me. Billy Madison thought so, too.)

We were told that we would be expected to use cursive for the rest of our lives because no one would take the time to read our printing. But once I entered the next grade the teachers asked us to never use it because they themselves had trouble reading it. So most of us dropped it and forgot most of our instruction, except for a small number of my peers who perfected the art and used it by their own choice.

Keyboarding, of course, is a different story. My parents forced me to take some kind of keyboarding or technology elective every year in middle school. At the time, keyboarding bored me to death and I hated the pressure of constantly pushing my speed. But as more of my teachers required only typewritten compositions, I thanked my parents for placing me in those computer classes.

Since I’ve learned print, cursive and keyboarding, I have options for note-taking, a huge advantage as a journalism student. When taking notes at a speech or interview, I can choose to type out quotes and notes or take notes by hand with the help of audio recordings. The methods I use depend on the person (or people) I’m interviewing and the type of story I’m writing.

But speed isn’t everything. Though cursive as a script may be dying away, the need for good penmanship (even in block print) never will.

When learning to write, teachers ought to encourage students to slow down and carefully consider each character. This will teach them from a young age to consider each word they write and, later, each idea they construct. That’s why I’m thankful for all the meticulous and varied writing instruction I’ve received. Going slow builds better writers, no matter the script they use.

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