Is the Handwriting on the Wall for Cursive?

Some schools no longer teach handwriting beyond kindergarten or first grade and some teach it not at all. It seems strange to think that few children growing up now will ever write anything by hand, but they won’t need to. Computers, tablets, phones are all just an itch away. Kids today are in constant contact with their peers, using a form of language — textspeak — that would have been anathema just a generation or two ago, but it is their world, not ours. They will have to be living in their “modern” world when we who are adults now are long gone. (I put quotation marks around modern because people in every age going back thousands of years have considered themselves as living in the modern world. And of course, they were right. To people in each era, their contemporary world is like the head of a comet with past trailing along behind. Someday a future era will be at the head — the new “modern” world — and our current modernity will be lost in its tail.)

I read once that the only place besides the brain where we have grey matter is in our fingertips, and perhaps that is true. I seem to have a better hand/brain connection when I am writing longhand than when I am typing on the computer — or at least I did. I wrote my novels long hand because that is the easiest way for me to delve into into myself for the story. I’m not one of those writers who can sit down and let the words flow. I have to sit and think about everything I want to say, and to figure out the best words to show what I decide to say. I’m getting used to writing on a computer since that’s how I write blogs, but I have a hunch that longhand is still the way to get deeper into my mind, where buried insights might have a chance of showing up on paper. And research bears this out. Apparently, writing by hand helps generate ideas.

In school, I always did well on tests without much studying because I took copious notes during class while other students daydreamed, talked, or doodled. New research explains why that was so — supposedly we have a better chance of retaining what we learn if we write it longhand rather than printing it or using a keyboard.

Other research shows that writing longhand, printing, and keyboarding all produce different brain patterns. For optimum brain usage, then, it would seem necessary to use all forms of writing. And yet, learning is not necessarily about optimum brain usage; it’s about standardizing not just information, but the students themselves. (That’s why they’re called standardized tests. If school was about teaching children to be independent or to develop their unique skills, they would be called something else like “Unique skills tests.”

When I started writing this bloggery, I intended to show that cursive was still important, but considering that kids today will have a different world to deal with than we do, maybe it’s better that they learn computer skills early on. But what do I know? Perhaps if I had written this essay by hand instead of typing it, deeper insights would have shown on the page, and I’d have a better grasp of what I think.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire

Handwritten copy of A Spark of Heavenly Fire


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

5 Responses to “Is the Handwriting on the Wall for Cursive?”

  1. Roy Sexton (Reel Roy Reviews) Says:

    Sadly, I fear it is. Phooey.


  2. Sue Says:

    I teach in a system where we still ask students to learn and use cursive, but I do know we are in a shrinking minority. I wonder, among other things, how young people without cursive will ever read the original documents of our written history? Even the U.S. Declaration of Independence will soon be beyond the ken of most of our citizenry.

  3. Kathy Says:

    I wonder if some of this will come back around – once the new generation figures out the humanity of the senses and the value of it. Julia Cameron of “The Artist’s Way” insists that writing the Morning Pages in longhand is more beneficial than the keyboard. I’ve been using a keyboard since junior high and have worked on computers since the 70s so I was an early adapter and really prefer the keyboard because it can keep up with my mind. But there are some paper things I like to hold onto – note pads, books, daytimers, etc.

  4. beccaswope Says:

    So what happens when the batteries die, or there’s a really bad storm and wireless goes out, and no computers are working due to a sun flare? Answer: Total chaos because NOBODY WILL BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE.

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