Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Future of Cursive

Maine, Aroostook County Deed Books, 1865-1900
Northern Registry
Deed books, 1865-1879, vol. 6 (p. 1-300)
One of those background issues that come up from time to time is the disappearance of cursive writing instruction in our public schools. According to a New York Daily News article for 15 November 2013, Penmanship classes are not included in the new Common Core educational standards, so many students aren't learning cursive in school. Read more: My own state of Arizona has adopted the Common Core educational standards and the teaching of cursive is pretty much left up to the individual school or teacher, assuming they have the time to spend on a subject not in the standard program. One of the standard reasons to drop cursive writing from the curriculum is the following, from the above article:

State leaders who developed the Common Core — a set of preferred K-12 course offerings for public schools — omitted cursive for a host of reasons, including an increasing need for children in a digital-heavy age to master computer keyboarding and evidence that even most adults use some hybrid of classic cursive and print in everyday life.

Seven states has moved to keep the cursive requirement; California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah.

From our perspective as genealogists, learning cursive isn't an optional activity. You learn to, at least, read cursive writing or your ability to do research, using documents such as the one above, is severely limited. This issue is not lost in the discussion, further quoting from the article:
They further argue that scholars of the future will lose the ability to interpret valuable cultural resources — historical documents, ancestors’ letters and journals, handwritten scholarship — if they can’t read cursive. If they can’t write it, how will they communicate from unwired settings like summer camp or the battlefield?
I am not really in the camp of those who predict national disaster from the failure to preserve our cursive heritage, but a lack of cursive ability adds one more huge skill area to genealogy's already rather formidable list of needed skills. For every hand-wringing fear of apocalypse there are are always those who can cite examples of their 6 year old grandchild who can write in cursive while standing on her head and looking in a mirror. But the truth is that this is a growing issue. Attracting young people to the field of genealogy or family history or whatever is going to be an ongoing battle and we need to adjust to the reality that fewer and fewer of them are going to be able to read the documents relied on for ancestral information. 

As a matter of fact, it isn't too much of a stretch to have genealogists in conferences and classes begin to teach handwriting and script recognition more regularly. Those of us who can read 15th and 16th Century documents ought to be out there teaching those skills to everyone, not just the youth. Do you think you have is all together in this area? Try this if you do:


  1. As a retired teacher I understand the issue with teaching a subject in a society that is worried about falling behind the rest of the world. I also understand the number of students who could not read cursive except their own, even by middle school. Printing letters will continue to be taught to primary students.

  2. Interesting write-up! Writing is an art form that reaches a multitude of people from all walks of life, different cultures, and age group. As a writer, it is not about what you want.examples of slang words