For The Atlantic, a history professor from an American university wonders about the potential consequences of stopping learning cursive writing (writing “by hand”). His questioning about the subject started after one of his students of a level similar to that of our bachelor’s degree confided to him that he could not get much information from the book on the Civil War that the teacher had given him. lent, as he had been unable to decipher the reproductions of manuscripts therein.
Drew Gilpin Faust, the teacher, then conducted a survey, and realized that two-thirds of the students in this promotion could not read cursive, and that an even greater number could not write it. Hence the beginning of a reflection, conducted jointly with his students, on the place – and especially the absence – of manual writing in their lives.
In the early 2010s, recalls Drew Gilpin Faust, cursive writing was removed from the lessons imposed within the American K-12 system, an acronym designating the school curriculum ranging from kindergarten to secondary school. Today’s students were then in primary school, where they were taught to use tablets, computers and digital whiteboards. Most of them claim to have received only the basics of cursive writing, for a maximum of one year.
Astonished by his own era but determined not to sink into a bitter observation of it, Drew Gilpin Faust demonstrates a certain fatalism. “The decline of cursive writing seems inevitable”he wrote. “After all, writing is a technology, and most technologies are sooner or later outdated and superseded.” A common-sense statement, although for most of us, who grew up in an education system where cursive writing was at the center of everything, it seems unlikely that it will ever disappear.
It remains particularly difficult to imagine that students of history cannot read or write in cursive letters, given that they will then not be able to decipher any manuscripts, and that they will have to content themselves with reading the research works produced by d ‘others. This does not mean, however, that it is impossible to carry out brilliant studies in history: this is how one of Faust’s students went to the end of his thesis, the subject of which he simply remodeled so as not to not encounter any obstacles related to their lack of knowledge of handwriting.
However, isn’t it regrettable to have to limit one’s field of research because of this missing skill? The teacher also cites the case of a student passionate about Virginia Woolf, but who decided to abandon her research on the author because she was not able to read her numerous correspondences, written in pen.
Another concern of the teacher: how do students manage to decipher the annotations left on their papers? The answer is simple: some do not hesitate to ask their teachers, and others have simply decided to ignore them… which is obviously problematic. If some continue to use cursive writing and others decide not to even try to read it, then the dialogue of the deaf is complete.
What about shopping lists? Greeting cards? We, the followers of handwriting, do not see how we could do without it. The answer is similar to what Faust writes above: it’s just a technology, so it’s replaceable. All this can be done digitally, via smartphone or computer – and, if necessary, using a printer.
Abandoning cursive writing is undoubtedly saying goodbye to a certain way of looking at society. This does not mean that we lose on the exchange. Except in situations like those students of history, who find themselves lost in front of simple handwriting as we would be in front of Egyptian hieroglyphics.