In which I let Facebook bait me again

It’s almost not worth it to take the time to write a piece about teaching cursive. Like, I’m about to do it, and I am literally and genuinely 25% more tired than I was fifteen minutes ago. But can we take a second to talk about the arguments for this, please? You would think– and I did think– that this “historical documents” thing was laughable, that no one would seriously advocate that we should teach second and third graders a certain obsolete skill in case, in some point during their lives, they have to read historical documents.

Americans don’t read fucking books, y’all. We don’t need to teach our third graders cursive so that years down the road they’ll survive if someone points a gun at their head and tells them to read an original copy of the Magna Carta or they’re getting shot. But I’ve not only seen this argument, I’ve seen it today. I asked Twitter if it was worth it to bother writing this exact post and within ten minutes I had someone telling me they regularly had to review old documents in cursive, and wondering what we would do if we no longer taught it.

Two things about this:

  • It should not be surprising, but it is: things can be learned by adults! Schools are not necessarily responsible for literally every aspect of things that human beings might be able to learn. Maybe you wait to see if you ever get a job where sometimes you have to read cursive and then you learn how to read it! It’ll take you an hour, tops. It’s not that damn hard.
  • I shouldn’t have to say this either, but reading and writing are not the same skill. I can read Hebrew; I am absolutely godawful at producing it legibly. My handwriting is not great either, and I haven’t written in cursive of my own free will in decades. I’m not entirely opposed to making sure kids can read cursive, but the simple fact is that it’s just not that damn important. It’s not a life skill, guys. It’s a font.

The second argument I see is BUT HOW WILL PEOPLE SIGN THINGS?????, to which I present you this document:

I came across this on The Twitters a while ago, and it’s sort of stuck in my head since then, and luckily searching my tweets for the word “signature” pulled it up again. All ten of these folks are Senators, y’all. These are their official signatures– they’re scanned files that their staffers can use when they need to sign things, so one could imagine that they practiced them a little bit. Two of them, Cassidy’s and Moran’s, are entirely printed. Romney’s first name is printed. Todd Young’s signature is entirely illegible, and I challenge anyone to see the word “Michael” or especially the word “Rounds” in Senator Rounds’ signature without the prompting of the printed words underneath them.

So let’s please not pretend that being able to write legibly in cursive is required in order to sign things. It’s simply not true, and it never has been. The phrase used to be make your mark, for fuck’s sake, and everyone got along just fine. If two and a half of these ten Senators don’t need cursive for their signature, we’re not going to go pretend it’s required for ten-year-olds.

The funny thing? These two arguments are the only ones I ever see for continuing to teach cursive, leaving the best one aside, which is basic fine motor development. But the thing is, making sure you can print legibly also requires fine motor control. Frankly I don’t like how my handwriting looks either, but if I wanted to work on it, I could. We can try and enforce good handwriting habits with our kids without forcing an entire new kind of writing on them two or three years after they’ve mastered the first one. There’s just no point to it. And given that people’s solution to literally any fucking problem society has is why don’t schools talk about this more? sooner or later some of this shit has got to go. I’m not about to go on a jeremiad and try and get the shit banned or anything, but I absolutely understand when schools decide not to waste time with it in their curriculum any longer. You don’t like it? Cool. Go to a teacher store, buy a cursive book, and teach your kids yourself. I promise parents are allowed to do that.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

5 thoughts on “In which I let Facebook bait me again

  1. As a left-hander, I absolutely DESPISE cursive. It is not designed with some who pushes the pen in mind. Good riddance.

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    1. No, I’m 33 and I feel like I just missed that. But I remember most of my teachers not knowing what to do with me either.

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  2. Interesting, I changed my mind from pro-cursive to anti as I read this. Today’s kids need keyboard skills more than the ‘joined-up’ writing of my childhood. Presumably there are still handwritten exams, but printing will be cleaner and easier to read even if a tad slower than the old unreadable scrawl we used.

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  3. Yeah, if a young person wakes up and says “I want to learn cursive” then by all means support/encourage them (like you say). Provide them with the materials to do so. Heck, turn them onto calligraphy. Like this third grader I witnessed in school one day. He’d wanted to do calligraphy, and, with encouragement by the kid’s family, had begun to master (exquisitely penned) calligraphy.

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