The Whiteboard Jungle: The loss of a signature standard

"Signature" — a word that appears on legal forms and credit card transactions.

Yet very soon that word may have to be redefined.

I'm noticing more and more of my high school students do not understand what a signature is, not knowing the difference between printing and signing one's name.

This trend will continue as schools across the country plow headfirst into the Common Core standards, which no longer require the instruction of cursive writing. The new standardized tests will have students input their answers on computers.

Cursive writing, in particular, is on the way out. Certain cultural references such as "the writing is on the wall" will have to evolve into "the tweet is on the screen."

California is one of the states that has added wording to the standards — "write legibly in cursive or joined italics" — that guarantee some form of cursive instruction remain. I know, I thought the same thing: What is "joined italics"?

A gentleman in the communications department at the California Department of Education had no clue what it meant. In fact, he asked me to send him what I discovered about the phrase. I thought about snail mailing him my cursive handwritten response, but thought it was too 20th century.

A spokesperson for Glendale Unified explained that "joined italics" is "the connection of two letters by a line so that the writing flows" but without the loops.

While the majority of primary-grade teachers still teach cursive, it's at the discretion of the individual instructor.

Some kind of physical writing needs to be taught, even if it's printing. After all, students are still required to handwrite on Advanced Placement tests and the SATs. If a student can't write legibly in some form, then chances are he will earn a lower score.

There are plenty of studies on why cursive writing is an important skill to teach. Research shows that the act of continuously moving the pen to connect letters helps develop areas of the brain.

How about the skill of examining someone's handwriting to ensure the signature is real and not fraudulent?

Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, says that while a person's printing can still be analyzed, it tends to cover things up that are present and easier to detect in a person's cursive handwriting.

Lowe also says that cursive writing helps children with disabilities and is often used as a therapy technique.

She feels that public school students will be at a disadvantage because their private school counterparts will continue learning cursive.

I'll admit that my handwriting (which earned me A's in the third grade) has deteriorated so badly that it appears to be a foreign language. As a teacher, I only print on the board, knowing my students would not be able to read my handwriting.

And yet whenever I give someone a greeting card, I take care in slowly signing my name in cursive. The "love" may be printed, but never the name. It just feels more personal that way.

"Thank you" and "get well" cards and notes work best when written in cursive. An e-card offering sympathy for one's loss doesn't seem human.

Maybe cursive will become a relic from the past, but so is the Mona Lisa. Imagine if Leonardo da Vinci lived today and took a cell phone photo of the woman instead of painting her. Just because he could do it doesn't mean that it is the finest way to capture her essence.


BRIAN CROSBY is a English and Journalism teacher at Hoover High. He is the author of Smart Kids, Dumb Schools and The $100,000 Teacher. He can be reached at


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