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A Reason for Cursive Writing

I've seen lots of concern voiced about unschooled children writing in cursive. Can they? Will they ever? Do they need to? Does print look childish? Don't they have to learn cursive to write notes?

Well, I never had a problem taking notes in college, and I have stated before that I cannot write anything in cursive except my own name. I played with writing cursive some when I was little, but I abandoned it as boring and useless. Here is an example of my own handwriting. I just dashed this off and scanned it. Wow, isn't it conceited of me to think that people are interested in what my handwriting looks like?

However, I have been forced to revisit my opinion that cursive is useless. There is actually an activity in life that requires one to write in cursive and I want to let everyone know who is headed for graduate school so they can be prepared for it.

In December of 2003, I took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Meant to last for several hours, the GRE tests on verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills and is a common requirement for admission to graduate school. The test is taken entirely on a computer in the testing center, including the analytical writing portion, for which a basic word processing program is used.

I had studied for nearly a month beforehand, reading books on test taking strategies and taking sample tests until I thought I was sufficiently prepared. I arrive at the testing center promptly at 8:00am and the proctor hands me a form. She tells me that I must rewrite the statement on the top part of the paper and that I must NOT PRINT.

I was already a bit nervous and I didn't need a complication like this to mess me up. I told her that I didn't write in cursive, and she said that she was just supposed to tell me that the testing center would not accept printing and that I should just do my best. The statement was a good-sized paragraph that basically said that I would not discuss the test questions with anyone else. I guess it was a more robust legal contract if the test-taker rewrote the entire statement in writing that could be proved to be his or her own.

I weighed my options. I could put up a fight, but that wouldn't get me anywhere because it would only upset me further and the proctor obviously had no power to change the rule. Or I could really try to write the paragraph in cursive, which would satisfy the testing center's requirements, but it would take me a long time and defeat the very purpose behind the requirement to write in cursive.

I decided to fake it. I labored over that stupid paragraph. At first I tried to honestly write in cursive, then realized that I didn't even remember how to form some of the letters, so I started inserting random loops. The finished product was somewhat legible and definitely recognizable as a replication of the statement.

I was unsettled and a bit humiliated by the incident. I had taken care to relax, eat well, and get a good night's sleep so as to be in a good mood and fresh for the test, but the statement shook me. I had to carefully calm myself before proceeding with the test and ended up doing well, but it was still incredibly frustrating.

To others who may find themselves in this situation: I don't know that it's worth it to learn cursive just to sign a confidentiality agreement that no one will see, you could just fake it like I did. No one ever said that I didn't do an adequate job of reproducing the statement. Many people don't have very legible handwriting anyway, so I don't think the powers that be will notice if your cursive is bad. So if you don't write in cursive, you should be prepared for the possibility that you will be required to do so and learn enough to at least fake it convincingly without getting upset.

So what are my feelings now, you ask? I still believe that cursive is useless. I think that everyone should be able to sign his or her full legal name, and strive to make everything else legible. Throughout college I saw many professors struggle to decipher other students' handwriting and sometimes even refusing to grade illegible essays. Those students were not printing. No one ever has trouble reading my handwriting, unless I'm in a hurry, then my "a"s tend to look exactly like my "2"s. College assignments aside, I've heard countless people say that they can't even read their OWN handwriting sometimes. That's not exactly functional. Besides, everything important is typed nowadays.

Handwriting is a very personal thing. It's absolutely ridiculous to grade penmanship or insist that it look a certain way. The individual shapes his or her own writing. I remember making conscious decisions about the way I formed certain letters. I wanted my lower case "a" to look the way it looked in books, so I started forming it that way (see above example). I knew that my upper-case "I" looked exactly like my lower-case "l" but I decided to keep it that way because it was too time-consuming to make three slashes with the pen instead of one. I also decided to form my "4"s with an open top instead of a closed top. There's no logic in this one, because it takes more time and doesn't end up looking like a book typeface, but I just liked the way it looked better.

Bottom line, if the only reason for teaching children cursive is that they might one day take the GRE, it's not justified. And that, thus far, is the only reason I have encountered. Teachers, leave them kids alone.

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