I was surprised to learn that 45 states have signed on, or maybe I should say "signed off," on dumping cursive from their elementary education curricula. (See The New Script for Teaching Handwriting is No Script at All, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.)

To Read or Not to Read?

After reading the article, and several of the comments, it seemed to me that everyone involved in the debate is missing a key point. We might not ever be able to convince a majority of young people that they should learn to write in cursive, but surely we should be able to convince them that they should learn to read it.

Some have mentioned what would be missed if one is unable to even read cursive writing, but really it just comes down to what education is all about, i.e., learning. The bulk of the history of the English-speaking world is written history, not oral history, and much of that written history was first put down in cursive. Are we now to decide that students should not even learn to read that history?

To Write or Not to Write?

I can see the point of those who claim that instructional time is wasted teaching legible cursive writing, but surely enough time should be devoted to the subject to educate every child so that they can read cursive. Once one acknowledges that need, and it is a need if we are to be seriously talking about education, it's likely true that the best way to learn to read cursive is to be instructed in writing it.

This is a typical case of "tossing out the baby with the bath water." While a child, even a child of 8 or 9, might reasonably be given the choice whether or not to perfect his or her handwriting skills, that same child should be given no choice at all in the decision whether or not to learn how to read cursive. To do otherwise is to cut that child off from his own culture, something we already have done far too much of over the past few decades.


I'd be curious what others think of this distinction between teaching the reading of longhand writing versus teaching the writing of it. It seems to me that a similar logic would state that if one can't be taught to write like Shakespeare, then one shouldn't have to be bothered to learn to read Shakespeare either. Again, there goes the baby with the bathwater.

And I haven't even gotten into the possibility that learning cursive can be beneficial to learning to read, as some claim.