The disappearance of cursive
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on November 26, 2013. Posted with permission.
One of the most awkward moments in the Trayvon Martin murder trial was the prosecution’s star witness, Rachel Jeantel, who was unable to read a letter she had dictated to someone else.
“I can’t read cursive,” she said on national television.
Pundits quickly pointed to an inadequate educational system that could allow Rachel Jeantel to ascend to the rank of high school senior without being able to read her own words.
These accusations are misguided because schools don’t teach cursive writing anymore. In fact, the Common Core Curriculum sweeping the nation does not include cursive handwriting.
I’ve anecdotally polled elementary teachers for their reactions, and I’ve received the pessimistic, “These kids have more pressing issues than that,” to “Cursive is an anachronism. Keyboarding all the way!”
Others lament cursive’s demise. I’m with them. Education has been nipping and tucking for decades. Art, music and recess have been dumped in favor of the very limited, immediately-testable skills that are cost-effective to measure.
It is an era of intellectual austerity.
Research indicates that keyboarding does not stimulate the brain’s learning centers in the same way handwriting does. A University of Washington study led by Dr. Virginia Berninger determined that the brain and the hand working together, executing the strokes of individual letters, activates the areas of the brain dedicated to thinking, memory and language. Merely viewing and selecting a key on a board does not.
I recall my undergraduate days when I thought effective studying was dragging an orange highlighter across textbook pages and then revisiting the colored blocks the night before the test. I didn’t recall a thing. By the time graduate school rolled around, I knew to read, ponder, and transcribe into my own handwritten notebook. Straight A’s commenced.
Ever since then, I have always kept a notebook with me. I’m just a note-taker at heart.
But does it make a difference if one writes in block lettering or in cursive? This question is a battlefield. Some researchers in favor of cursive argue that it improves brain development, stimulates brain synapses as well as the synchronicity of the right and left sides of the brain. Certainly, writing in cursive is faster, and without cursive training, reading our nation’s original historical documents would be off limits.
On a more esoteric level, cursive handwriting is a reflection self, the swift connectedness of the letters a portal to the subconscious mind. The conscious mind has less opportunity to control the pen because cursive flows. Print stops and starts.
Your handwriting is a tool of yogic svadhyaya, self study. Life coach Katie Romano Griffin suggests filling a blank, unlined sheet with your life’s vision. The left margin represents your personal boundaries, and if your letters line up neatly, you are consistent. Now look at the right margin, your boundaries with others. Is it straight or a jagged edge?
Upward slopes indicate you are optimistic. Consistent spacing is an orderly life. Does your cursive flow break in some of your words? Love, your name, forgiveness?
And don’t forget your signature. It’s your own personal art. It’s an expression of who you are.