Why We Need To Know Cursive Handwriting

Over the years school subjects change as new technologies appear and more disciplines are open to students. Many years ago typing was taught in schools mainly for those who wanted to pursue a career in a business office. Today typing classes are replaced by keyboarding classes since everyone now types on a keyboard of a computer. Even that may be replaced or eliminated since many students have been using a keyboard since before they entered school.

Touch screens are now used on some devices, which is different than keyboarding.

One topic of conversation that comes up with some of my colleagues in the genealogy field is the comment that some schools have stopped teaching cursive writing. Many readers will remember in grade school the change from printing everything to writing in cursive. We may not have called it cursive but instead called it handwriting or script. Over the years there have been various methods of learning and teaching cursive writing. Some may remember the Palmer method.

In genealogy, researchers encounter very bad and very good handwriting and everything in between. Most of us learned handwriting early in school but we sometimes have a very hard time reading someone’s writing.

Because we know how the letters are formed we can often decipher the bad handwriting. But if you did not learn cursive writing, it is much harder to read anything written in cursive. Even older writing, for instance from the 1600s or 1700s, had the letters formed in a different way. To be successful in reading these old documents, genealogists often find the alphabet written in the old way and practice writing the letters so they become familiar with how each one is formed. This makes it easier to read the old writing. Even today many people have adopted a slightly different way of making a letter and when one is reading the writing, one can pick up on the difference and the reading becomes easier.

If our students do not learn cursive writing in school, they are going to have a hard time reading the letters from their grandparents or great-grandparents because those letters, diaries and other communications are written in cursive. And yes, some grandparents are keyboarding on the computer and the young people can read that but may not be able to read the letters that were sent home from World War II or Korea or even Vietnam. They will not be able to read the diaries or journals kept for years that outline the family and their everyday activities and the special occasions.

In the collection of the Fenton History Center, there are a number of books used in the Charles Street School here in Jamestown. Included in this collection are some books on teaching cursive writing. There are workbooks for the children to practice their handwriting and various exercises to get that one letter just round enough or at the correct slant. Of course these books featured only right-handed writing. Those who did write with their left hand were left out of the standard instructions on how to hold the pencil, the correct posture while writing and how the paper was to be positioned on the desk.

There are some skills that need to be learned even if they are not going to be used every day. I hope that many students continue to learn cursive handwriting so that they can be successful with a little practice to read the documents of the past, as well as, the computer generated documents of today.