The Importance of Cursive Writing

Pablo Valerio, International Business & IT Consultant | 12/6/2011 | 57 comments

Pablo Valerio
I start writing this blog with a fountain pen on a pad of recycled paper. Some people would say that I’m old-fashioned, and that nobody uses an analog writing device so archaic. But I really love the feeling of putting my thoughts on paper before typing on a blank computer screen.

Many people today feel that learning cursive writing is no longer needed -- something not necessary for children to master in today’s digital world -- and some states have dropped cursive as a required class in elementary school. In a memo to schools in April, Indiana officials said schools can still teach cursive as a local standard, but students will be expected to be proficient in using the keyboard, the Tribune-Star of Terre Haute reports.

Ironically, the arrival of the iPad and other tablet-like devices, plus touch screen smartphones, is providing a means to use handwriting and technology together. New educational games for those devices could be used to teach cursive to children as a game. Applications such as Better Letters and ABC Tracing Cursive Lessons can help children, and adults, master the art of beautiful handwriting using a smartphone or tablet.

But many teachers and education experts warn that losing the ability to write with real ink on real paper could jeopardize children’s futures. We need to provide our children with the tools to work in this digital world, but we should not focus our efforts on using technology for tasks that are better done with pen and paper.

Recent studies suggest there is a big reason to maintain and learn this skill, which some people call a gift. Studies illustrate how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. Recently at Indiana University, researchers using an MRI machine discovered that children’s neural activity was far more enhanced when they practiced writing by hand after receiving instruction than when they simply looked at letters.

“It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time,” says Karin Harman James, the assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience who led the study.

In Germany, children learn to write using fountain pens, and they always have a stack of paper (recycled) on their desks to take notes. A private school in Scotland, in an attempt to save the dying art of handwriting, is insisting that pupils use fountain pens. The Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville Junior School in Edinburgh believes cursive is on the brink of extinction, thanks to text messaging and computers. "Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not insignificant bonus of developing children's self-esteem." says Bryan Lewis, the school principal.

Cheryl Jeffers, a professor at Marshall University’s College of Education, said text messaging, email, and word processing have replaced handwriting outside the classroom, and she worries they’ll replace it entirely before long. "I’m not sure students have a sense of any reason why they should vest their time and effort in writing a message out manually when it can be sent electronically in seconds."

Another reason to use handwritten notes is to get attention. In his TED presentation, "Political Change With Pen and Paper," Omar Ahmad, former mayor of San Carlos, Calif., and co-founder and CEO of SynCH Energy Corporation, says politicians pay much more attention to handwritten letters than email, fax, and telephone conversations.

An email or a text message is useful to send quick information, but a handwritten note or letter is a form of communication that can express more than words. And most people still love to receive them.

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Pablo Valerio   The Importance of Cursive Writing   10/15/2012 6:19:04 AM
A touching story
Extracted from The Missing Ink: The lost art of handwriting (and why it still matters) by Philip Hensher (Macmillan)

"Here is a story about how handwriting can still be important, and why we shouldn't let it go. In the university where I teach, one undergraduate creative module contains a specific task, a "writer's notebook". The students have to make notes on all sorts of things – observations, passing fancies, plot ideas, scribbled asides, as well as sketches and drafts of poems, short stories, perhaps bits of drama. When I explain this task to the students, invariably someone says, "Can I type it all on the computer and hand it in because I can't write any other way?" I give in, having been instructed that I have to, but I do encourage students to write as much as they can by hand. It makes you think, I say. It looks less permanent. It has more of you in it. Most students, even now, take this advice and do produce volumes which are full of work written by hand, notes and thoughts and inventions both casual and highly developed. When they have been a student's constant companion over four months or so, they are, I have to say, a total joy.

Last month a student of mine died, quite suddenly. It was a terrible shock to everyone who knew her: she was a grand girl all round. She had done this module, and had produced a fat notebook in which every word was written by hand – you would recognise her handwriting as soon as you knew her. It bulged with invention, and cutouts, and marginalia, and massive crossings-out, and all manner of things. After I heard that she had died, I went down to the cellar where these things are stored and extracted her writer's notebook from the archive.

It was just full of her. You could see where her pen had moved across the page, only months before; you could see her good creative days and the days where nothing much had come; you could see what she had written quickly, in inspiration, and the bits she had gone over and over. I only taught her, but I was moved by it, and felt a connection with the poor girl, whom I had liked a great deal.

The department in which I work had created great difficulties in letting me see it at all. Administrators who had never met the girl had pretended that it was locked up and could not now be unlocked. Looking at it, I could understand why it had created such nervousness in them. It frightened people who were frightened of literature, and humanity, and the texture of life. Written at length, in hand, it just was my student. Some part of the writer's spirit had passed into the handwriting, and had stayed there. Her humanity and her hand overlapped, and something remained, indelibly, in these physical traces."

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angelfuego   The Importance of Cursive Writing   6/26/2012 9:30:03 PM
Re: Cursive Writing is Important
I came across am article that discusses how cursive writing has practically disappeared and would like it to share it with all of you. It is the second article found on the following link:
angelfuego   The Importance of Cursive Writing   2/14/2012 9:45:11 PM
Cursive Writing is Important
Pablo, I really enjoyed your article. I think that students should know how to read and write in cursive writing.  I recognize that humans can survive without learning to read and/or write in cursive writing, especially in 2012. However,  it is sad for me to see middle and high school students that don't know how to write their name in script. I find that most of them want to learn how to write in cursive, but the schools do not allow time for it in the curriculum. I feel like they are missing out on a basic, life skill.
Broadway   The Importance of Cursive Writing   1/14/2012 1:59:47 PM
Re: "Pen"
@catalyst, as someone who has worked in the publishing industry and been paid to write and edit professionally, I cannot tell you how important it is to print things out. You make an excellent point. There is something about holding a piece of paper in one's hand that makes us more carefully read and consider what is before us. I posit that proofreading can only be properly done on paper --- and that you'll get as close to perfection in writing, editing and proofreading ONLY if paper is involved in the process.
catalyst   The Importance of Cursive Writing   12/18/2011 9:31:11 PM
Re: "Pen"
@Broadway: There is a reason why we don't take out our tablets and start jotting down our thoughts on it. There is a reason why when we want to read something we print it out. And then there is a reason why ancient forests are cut clear. I don't exactly know why we do the things we do, but we tend to jot down our thoughts, take notes, etc. with pen/pencil on paper. We tend to print something out to read. There's something more natural (?) about the act of pen on paper. Maybe it's just me. But there's a lot of people like me. So for people like me, who like pen on paper, an electronic version would be something completely different than a low-end tablet. Yes, the look and feel of paper is absolutely important, but there's more to it than that.

I wouldn't use it to check email, tweet, update Facebook, browse the net, online shop, download apps, do Quicken, or any number of things we would do on a tablet form of a computer.

I would take out this electronic paper and jot down my thoughts, take notes, doodle. When I need to read a long article I'd print it out unto this electronic paper. I'd take this electronic paper with me almost everywhere I go, just like I do now with a notepad and pen. At the end of the day I'd transfer everything I've written to a computer. And I'd breath a little better because hopefully they'd be more trees around the world.

Of course for some, and maybe this applies to you, something like this electronic paper is no better than a low-end tablet. And maybe you're right.
Broadway   The Importance of Cursive Writing   12/18/2011 9:12:50 PM
Re: "Pen"
Sounds like a low-end tablet to me now. Remind me: The only reason to create this is for the look and feel of paper?
catalyst   The Importance of Cursive Writing   12/18/2011 4:49:45 PM
Re: "Pen"
@Broadway: We just need to be able to integrate most of the electronics directly unto a flexible substrate like plastic (or glass). And by electronics I mean all of it: chips and batteries. I think we'll probably see something within the next couple of years. We already all the display-related stuff happening with high electron mobility like Sharp's IGZO (need to integrate chips directly unto the glass), Corning has flexible glass, just need some flexible battery tech that will make the display last with recharging technology such as solar or some form of piezo.
The_Phil   The Importance of Cursive Writing   12/18/2011 4:18:35 PM
Re: "Pen"
That sounds like a fancy Etch-a-Sketch to me....
Broadway   The Importance of Cursive Writing   12/18/2011 3:06:41 PM
Re: "Pen"
@catalyst, then how far away are we from this high-grade electronic paper?
catalyst   The Importance of Cursive Writing   12/17/2011 4:21:52 PM
Re: "Pen"
@Broadway: Digital fountain pen is just a fancy word for digital stylus, in my opinion, right? There are some fancy styli out there and maybe there will be some innovation coming from the material, how it feels, balance, etc., but I'm more interested in electronic paper that looks and feels like paper but where you can use it over and over again.
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