So many people have unhappy stories about learning cursive writing that a popular new instructional method is called "Handwriting Without Tears." I have my own awful memories of dozens of hours spent laboriously tracing out the elaborate upper-case H that was in educational vogue at the time. And that was just one letter. My grade in penmanship — a generous C — made me feel so stupid that I spent yet dozens more hours trying to relearn it all in sixth grade, this time holding my pencil the "right" way.
My mother, who possessed beautiful penmanship as well as a bigger view of the world, encouraged me not to worry about it. Once I reached junior high school, she said, no one would care about my handwriting. That was one of the most useful bits of wisdom I was able to hand down to my own kids.
The question these days is whether children need cursive at all anymore. Many states are dropping it, as NBC's Today.com reported (California will still require it) because such instruction isn't included in the Common Core curriculum standards. This stuns some educators and parents, but it shouldn't. If they were looking closely, they would have noticed how many teenagers and young adults don't write in cursive except for their signatures. They take notes on laptops. They can hand-write the printed word very fast. My own children didn't just drop the worrying about cursive after elementary school; they dropped cursive altogether and never looked back.
The fadeout of cursive became a topic of public conversation not solely because of the new curriculum standards but because of the testimony of a young witness in the Trayvon Martin case who admitted that she couldn't read or write cursive. Considering how many people still use it as a form of communication, that might be further than we want to go right now. But it would be a sea change if students were required to have only "reading knowledge" of cursive rather than the ability to write it themselves.
In our keyboard society, do we still need cursive writing in addition to the ability to print longhand? Or could that instructional and homework time be better spent?
[For the Record, 7:33 p.m. Sept. 3: An earlier version of this post omitted the author's byline. In addition, in the photo caption, the first name of 2006 national handwriting champion Andre Cataluna was given as Andrew.]