Cursive Handwriting Debate

A lot of people, lately, have been making a lot of noise about the death of cursive handwriting. They don’t want cursive to die. Handwriting matters … But does cursive matter? Research shows that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citation: Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HANDWRITING STYLE AND SPEED AND LEGIBILITY. 2001: on-line at this link)

Reading cursive still matters – this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it. A few people still even enjoy asserting that cursive “helps brain development.” Those assertions that the cursive style somehow makes you smarter are never accompanied by details, because the research on handwriting and brain development has shown that the benefits of handwriting vs. typing apply to handwriting in _any_ style, not just to one particular style.

What about signatures?

Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, then verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy. The individuality of print-style (or other non-cursive style) writings is further shown by this: six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the writing on an unsigned assignment) which of her 25 or 30 students wrote it.

There’s also this to consider: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (On this, I could quote legal sources and lawyers but that would take more room than a letter permits. So don’t take my word for this: talk to any attorney.) In short, there is neither common sense, nor fact, nor legal necessity, behind the idolatry of cursive. Remember that research about the fastest, most legible handwriters? Most people who write that way were never taught to do it.

Like the rest of us, they’d probably been taught otherwise. They had to stumble on those useful habits themselves, by consciously or unconsciously discarding what didn’t work in the printing or cursive styles they’d been taught, and keeping the best components of what was left which meant breaking some of the rules they had been taught. But why leave it to chance and breaking the rules? There are books and (in the texting age) software designed to teach those better habits from the get-go and save handwriting for the twenty-first century.