The lost art of cursive

Adam Zucker ’13 was taking a physics test when he was confronted with a problem involving the variable A.

After a quick twirl of his pen, he reproduced the question on a scrap piece of paper and Zucker’s “A” began to look much more like a four. Continuing the problem, Zucker misinterpreted his own writing and his answer was scattered with numbers when the problem had none at all.

“Unsurprisingly I lost a lot of points on that question,” Zucker said. “My handwriting confuses my teachers and even fools me on occasion.”

This was not the only time Zucker has gotten points off on an assignment because of the quality of his handwriting. However, a study from ABC News reports that 41 states have diminished their emphasis on handwriting and eliminated cursive from the curriculum altogether, so legibility of penmanship is far less emphasized in school systems today.

In fact, many states will begin to adopt a national curriculum guide in 2014 that requires proficiency in typing by the end of elementary school, but not in handwriting.

“The only time I actually use cursive is when I sign my signature,” Nick Healy ’13 said. “It’s only good for certain things.”

While California maintains it as a standard in schools, students often take advantage of technlology over longform.

With most take-home assignments completed on the computer, many students value speed-typing over penmanship.

“Working on my computer is faster, much neater, and I will always have it saved,” Theo Davis ’13 said.

Cursive seems like an even more irrelevant skill to some students who find writing block letters much more efficient.

“They taught cursive to us like it was going to be faster, but it’s really not,” Bo Lee ’13 said.

Still, cursive is required during the SAT as test takers are required to write in cursive a pledge saying that they did not cheat on the exam.

“I was in the SAT one time and a student raised their hand and said they didn’t know how to write the words we were given in cursive,” Davis said. “The proctor had to write some of the more difficult letters on the board and we ended up getting out later.”

Still, in-class essays often are done by hand and many students find that time constraints further hinder the legibility of their writing, whether it be cursive or print.

“This is how I’ve been writing for 15 years,” Hannah Lichtenstein ’13 said.  “It’s not going to change now. If I know the material just as well as someone else, I shouldn’t be marked down for my handwriting.”

English teacher Jeremy Michaelson said that while he will not mark down for legibility, he occasionally has called on students to read him what they wrote if he is unable to decipher it. Michaelson said that it is most important that students can print legibly as cursive is a more outdated skill.

“Language is always evolving,” Michaelson said. “Why shouldn’t penmanship as well?”

Math teacher William Thill, on the other hand, said that he is constantly having issues with students over illegible answers.

“I deal with it every day of every week,” Thill said. “I won’t mark down purely for messiness but if the information can’t be conveyed to the reader then I can’t give credit.”

Thill said that after he marks students down they often take more care to make their next test legible.

He said that he finds differences in penmanship reflective of personal style and that some simply value neatness more than others.

“I care most that thoughts, sentences and words are relevant and clear,” Thill said. “But neat handwriting with no substance has no use for me either.”

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