Last week, a few different people sent me messages with the link to Anne Trubek’s article, “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter,” from the New York Times. Although I wasn’t sure I agreed with the article’s main point about handwriting, it made me happy to know that my readers know what I like to write about — literacy, education, technology, raising children. It didn’t matter to me that their messages were emailed to me and not sent by snail mail. That would have taken too long to be helpful to me.
Trubek’s article, which makes a case against teaching cursive in elementary school, is sure to ignite conversation among teachers, parents, and politicians. Cursive, Trubek says, is not needed or justified any longer. It takes too long to learn and to use. And although “people talk about the decline of handwriting as if it’s proof of the decline of civilization,” she says that’s a fallacy. “If the goal of … education is to prepare students to become successful, employable adults, typing is inarguably more useful than handwriting.”
I don’t think anyone can really argue with Trubek there. I remember well the typing class I took in 7th grade. I loved that class. Once I had the home keys down, it was a quick journey to the goal of “touch typing,” a skill that I draw on in infinite and completely unconscious ways, and have for the majority of my life. My handwriting is ok. My cursive, completely dysfunctional from disuse.
As a teacher who sometimes struggles to read student handwriting, I am actually passionate about the issue of legibility. Trubek cites Steve Graham of Arizona State, who found that “when teachers are asked to rate multiple versions of the same paper differing only in legibility, neatly written versions of the paper are assigned higher marks for overall quality of writing than are versions with poorer penmanship.” People who type are given higher marks than those who handwrite. That isn’t because their ideas are any better, necessarily.
And, like Trubek, I bristle at ideas that conflate ethics with skills. In her article, she takes readers through a brief history of handwriting and includes an anecdote from the American South where it was once thought that one’s ability to write cursive, and the individual characteristics of one’s cursive, revealed something important about one’s personhood.
But is it a slippery slope? Should I care more about doing away with cursive if on the horizon is handwriting altogether? I don’t know.
Yes, I love my mother’s beautiful cursive. When I get a letter from her in the mail with her looping, black letters connecting to make thoughtful lines of heartfelt sentiments, I feel connected and happy. But I would, too if she sent me a printed note, or, I have to admit, an email.
It’s the fact that she wants to reach out to me that matters, and that she does. It doesn’t so much matter how.