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Do you still write in cursive? Your younger students may not be able to read it

sue_frantz
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Drew Gilpin Faust (president of Harvard from 2007 to 2018) is back in the classroom teaching undergraduate history. In The Atlantic, she wrote about the experience of discovering that most of her students could not read cursive (Faust, 2022). Some of you may remember the 2010 battle over whether cursive handwriting should be in the standards for the K-12 Common Core. The arguments over the dinner table tore families apart. Okay, maybe not. Much more divisive political views would do that in their own time, but people certainly had opinions about whether children needed to learn cursive.  

One concern was that people who did not learn cursive would not be able to read historical documents that were written in cursive, such as the U.S. Constitution. I admit that was not a particularly high concern of mine as many people had ‘translated’ the cursive into print. Faust, however, discovered that when she showed her students photographs of Civil War-era documents, most of her students could not read them. To them, it was like looking at hieroglyphics. One student said that she decided against doing a research paper on Virginia Woolf because she was unable to read the cursive handwriting in Woolf’s letters.

Students who are interested in earlier time periods where ‘earlier’ is defined as before, say, 2015, will need to learn how to read cursive if they want to read original documents. How long will be until we see the first Cursive Handwriting course taught in a history department? Or is it already being offered? (I would totally teach that course!)

Forget about identifying all of the squares that contain traffic lights, crosswalks, and chimneys. Just give me some cursive text. The youngsters will have to ask their grandparents to read it to them.

The opportunity is ripe for a tech company who can create a tool that converts cursive handwriting to text.

As for our own teaching, this shift away from cursive means that we need to make some changes. If you do any handwriting—on student assignments or on the board—be sure to print. You can write cursive if you want, but some of your younger students won’t be able to read it. As Faust writes, “Didn’t professors make handwritten comments on their papers and exams? Many of the students found these illegible. Sometimes they would ask a teacher to decipher the comments; more often they just ignored them” (Faust, 2022).  

As for me, my handwriting was never that great. Through school, my cursive devolved into an idiosyncratic set of scribbles that is a jumble of cursive and print. It only got worse when I became a professor. When I was still hand writing student comments, some students would ask me to decipher them. I am certain most of my students just ignored them. Typing is my preferred mode of written communication. I can type faster than I can write. Besides, I’m much more confident you—and my students—can read my typing much better than my handwriting. Most of my students are probably still ignoring my comments, but at least I know they can read them if they so choose.

 

Reference

Faust, D. G. (2022, September 16). Gen Z never learned to read cursive. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/10/gen-z-handwriting-teaching-cursive-history/6712...

 

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.