The Fall of Cursive Handwriting

Writing in a cursive style has been around for centuries. However,  there has been a steep decline in the use of cursive writing in America for the past several decades. This post will trace the history of cursive writing as well as what is replacing this traditional form of writing.


Cursive in one form or another dates back until at least the 11th century with examples of it being found in documents related to the Norman Conquest of England. Cursive was originally developed to prevent having to raise the quill from the page when writing. Apparently, quills are extremely fragile and constantly reapplying them to the paper increase the likelihood they would break.

Cursive was also developed in order to fight more words on a page. This became especially important with the development of the printing press, With people hated the condense font of the printing press that they revolted and developed a cursive writing style.

In America, people’s writing style and penmanship could be used to identify social rank. However, this changed with the development of the Spencerian method, developed by PLats Spencer. This writing style standardized cursive thus democratizing it.

After Spencer, there were several writing systems that all had their moment in the sun. Examples include the cursive styles developed by Palmer, Thurber, and Zaner. Each had its own unique approach that all influenced children during the 20th and early 21st century.

The Decline

The initial decline of cursive writing began with the advent of the typewriter. With typing, a person could write much faster than by hand. Writing by hand often has a top speed of 20 wpm while even a child who has no trying in typing can achieve 20wpm and a trained typist can reach 40 wpm with pros reach 75 wpm.

Typing also removes the confusion of sloppy handwriting. We’ve all have been guilty of poor penmanship or have had to suffer through trying to decipher what someone wrote. Typing removes even if it allows the dread typos.

With computers arriving in the 1970’s schools began to abandon the teaching of cursive by the 1980’s and 90’s. Today cursive writing is so unusual that some young people cannot even read it.

Going Forward

Typing has become so ubiquitous that schools do not even teach it as they assume that students came to school with this skill. As such, many students are using the hunt and peck approach which is slow and bogs down the thought process needed for writing. The irony is that cursive has been forgotten and typing has been assumed which means that it was never learned by many.

To further complicate things, the use of touch screens has further negated the learning of typing. Fast typing often relies on touch. With screens, there is nothing to feel or press when tyoing. This problem makes it difficult to type automatically which takes cognitive power from writing as now the student has to focus on remembering where the letter p is on the keyboard rather than shaping their opinion.


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