We have seen the future, and it sucks.

The Case Against Cursive

26th February 2013

Lefty mag Prospect does its bit to jettison another piece of tradition.

The odd thing is that, when most parents watch their child’s hard-earned gains in forming letters like those printed in their storybooks crumble under the demand that they now relearn the art of writing “joined up” (“and don’t forget the joining tail!”), leaving their calligraphy a confused scrawl of extraneous cusps and wiggles desperately seeking a home, they don’t ask what on earth the school thinks it is doing. They smile, comforted that their child is starting to write like them.

As he or she probably will. The child may develop the same abominable scribble that gets letters misdirected and medical prescriptions perilously misread.

Or maybe not. Prior to These Degenerate Modern Times, most people didn’t seem to have a serious problem with it. I know I didn’t, although I would have appreciated the nuns teaching me a nice italic rather than whatever system they used — I believe it was the Palmer system, although I could be wrong about that. ‘Abominable scribbles’, I suspect, are the result of inadequate discipline in teaching rather than the teaching method itself.

The real point is, of course, that “sophistication.” When I questioned my friend, a primary school teacher, about the value of teaching cursive, she was horrified. “But otherwise they’d have baby writing!” she exclaimed. I pointed out that my handwriting is printed (the so-called “manuscript” form). “Oh no, yours is fine,” she—not the placatory sort—allowed. I didn’t ask whether all the books on my shelves were printed in “baby writing” too.

No, the real point is speed — cursive handwriting was developed so that people could write quickly yet legibly, as even a cursory (pun intended) look at the history of calligraphy makes clear. (If this guy thinks that his ‘baby writing’ is equivalent in readability to the books on his book, his is a more than usual leftist arrogance.) The fact that a teacher of handwriting doesn’t know why the method she teaches was originally adopted doesn’t affect the fact that it was adopted for a legitimate reason, nor whether that reason might possibly still apply.

Now, I admire the elegant copperplate of the Victorians as much as anyone. But no one writes like that any more.

Uh, that’s because it’s slow, and was fashionable in an age when we didn’t have typewriters, much less computers, so people’s expectations were correspondingly limited. The whole reason the Palmer method replaced Specerian was because it was faster and plainer, the very things this guy seems to think recommend his ‘baby writing’. If you’re going to pound on a straw man, at least make it into some semblance of your actual target.

How can we insist that to drop cursive will be to drop beauty and elegance, given that most people’s cursive handwriting is so abysmal?

That’s like saying that we ought to drop teaching algebra because most people suck at it. The flaw in this position ought to be obvious.


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