Will the end of cursive spell the end of literacy?

It’s official: Cursive is no longer required in Georgia schools.  You may already know that, but I only found out last week.  No cursive, no penmanship?  Really?

When I discovered that cursive–that genteel skill many children look forward to learning by the third grade–had met its maker, I went into shock, grief, and despair.  I took it personally: “My eye grows dim through sorrow…Do you work wonders for the dead?” (Psalm 88:9-10).

How will future generations craft handwritten letters for a loved one “just because” without cursive?  How will they write words of encouragement to a grieving family who faced a terrible loss?

In my own ministry, it didn’t take me long to understand just how important handwritten–cursive!–letters are to people who need a personalized message.  Handwriting is one of the most important vehicles of communication that a minister has in his or her spiritual toolbox.

Will we really replace this formidable art in favor of pithy notes sent via print, email, or worse–text?

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am sure that there are many folks nowadays who cultivate a lively email or social network ministry with those who are grieving or celebrating a special occasion.  I’m sure there are many who use simple print letters to send a note.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that there is something special, something mysteriously intimate about writing in cursive.  The flow of the ink and the majestic movement of the pen add to the quality of the letter and the care in which it is written.

The death of cursive also reminds me of how much we lose whenever a particular language or form of writing meets its doom in the cold mechanics of history.  Most of us read our Bibles in English without any knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek through which God chose to speak to all humanity.

Instead, we rely on a scholar, learned pastor, or decent commentary to do our translating for us, and even then we are still uncertain as to the rich tapestry that the original languages provided for readers in the ancient world.

I don’t mean to complain, it’s just that I’m an old-fashioned type of guy.  I write about a half-dozen cards a week, more than the amount of emails I send to individual parishioners.  I still write all my sermons and keep a journal in longhand–all cursive–that I fear may become indecipherable to future generations.

And–gasp!–there might come a time when we need professionals to interpret many things we take for granted:  the Constitution of the United States, love letters from Grandpa to Grandma, George Washington’s memoirs, Mommy’s famous meatball recipe.

I guess I am a bit disturbed because this particular movement to do away with cursive implies that we are becoming a people consumed by the pragmatic utility that accompanies technology.  We will teach children to print and to type because its what people do these days, even though many studies show that it may not be for the best.

Fact is that learning the art of cursive promotes reading comprehension, grammar, and critical thinking.  One such study at Vanderbilt University showed that SAT essays written in cursive scored better than hand-printed essays.  Study habits improve, reading and writing become second-hand (no pun intended), legibility is an aesthetic goal.

Jesus once said that the way to eternal life was like a journey on a narrow, difficult road (Matthew 7:13-14).  The way of destruction is usually the path that is easiest and most accessible.  Perhaps the death of cursive is the canary in the coalmine that spells out our own future, one that continues to favor what is most convenient rather than what is most meaningful.  Then again, who am I to say? Like all things, only time will tell.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

2 thoughts on “Will the end of cursive spell the end of literacy?

  1. You might be overlooking the fact, though, that things are still handwritten, but in print letters. This is because most people simply prefer writing in print than they do in cursive. Those handwritten thank you notes aren’t gone yet, just the cursive method of writing them.

  2. I agree with you! I love to see cursive writing, and my own printed scratch is so pitiful that it hardly passes for communication!

    Oh me!

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