THE BLOG

Killing Cursive is Killing History

11/12/2013 01:29 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

We're going back in time, and not in a good way.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the average person had minimal education and could not read or write. As late as the early 20th century, vast numbers of people still could not even sign their name. After huge strides during the last century, well-intentioned legislators are set to return us to those times.

For the past 20 years, schools have been continually de-emphasizing the teaching of cursive writing to students. The development of No Child Left Behind, and the newer Common Core Curriculum has only reinforced that. Fewer and fewer legislatures are requiring the teaching of cursive writing.

The argument for most of this is that cursive writing is no longer necessary. In today's high-tech world of smartphones, tablets and computers, many people feel that cursive writing is no longer needed.

Unfortunately, there are many side effects of this kind of thinking. One of the more public instances of these problems occurred during the George Zimmerman trial, when a 19-year-old witness could not read a document she was handed -- because it was written in cursive.
Growing up on the East Coast, one of the rites of passage in youth is usually a school trip to Washington, D.C. One of the most impressive stops was to the National Archives, waiting in line to walk through the rotunda holding the Charters of Freedom. The awe one feels when approaching the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is indescribable. These are the documents that we live by. Nowadays, you can even look at the originals on the National Archives website.

Unfortunately, this experience is one that future generations will never have. Reading those documents is as foreign to them as reading documents in 15th-century Secretary Hand to older folks. They will only be able to read transcriptions of the original.

This issue is not just about social history, but about personal history as well. For example, many young girls (and more than a few young boys) keep diaries and journals. They write about the details of their everyday lives: what they ate, who they played with, who they had a crush on, horrible teachers, etc.. Many keep these diaries and journals throughout their lives. Reading through them gives one a sense of what they were feeling at the time. But the children and grandchildren of these authors will not be able to read them, because they are written in cursive. And diaries and journals are not the only problems. What about the letters they wrote to each other? Or the cards they gave to each other on special occasions?

In order to read these personal documents, future generations will need to have someone transcribe them into a word-processing document.

Unfortunately, they'll miss the subtleties in the handwriting to indicate feelings and emotions while writing. They won't see the hard pen strokes of anger, and they won't be able to see the beautiful flowing handwriting of happiness. Much is lost in the translation.

Not only can this generation not read or write cursive, they can no longer even sign their names. They write everything, including their own names, in block letters. Signing your name has been a proof of identity for hundreds of years. Those who could not sign their names would have to make their mark in front of witnesses. Contracts, mortgages, wills and all manner of other legal documents require our signature. What will the future bring for people who cannot put their signatures to documents?

What can you do to keep this tragedy from happening? You can contact your local school committee and encourage them to continue providing instruction in cursive writing to their students. The Common Core Curriculum does not ban the teaching of cursive writing; it simply does not include it. Several states have already taken the initiative to include cursive writing. Until then, there is nothing to prevent you from teaching your own children and grandchildren how to read and write using cursive. It isn't that difficult, and a wide variety of resources are available online. Your local literacy center can also help you.