What do the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation all have in common? Besides the fact that all three are among the most important documents in the United States’ history, they also share another commonality–all three documents were composed in longhand, also known as cursive. From the age of ink quills and wigs, to the era of the modern American business world, cursive was the predominant and preferred form of the alphabet. Recently though, the once common practice has fallen out of favor to the extent that children often have difficulty reading cards from their grandparents. Because of cursive’s elegance, prestige and efficiency, cursive ought to be used more frequently by Loyola students.
Cursive is a form of communication not solely confined to English. In fact, according to Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting, an organization that teaches forms of cursive, a primitive form of cursive was used by soldiers in the Roman army two thousand years ago. The ancient Arabic alphabet had words joined letter to letter, though not in an elegant manner like cursive. Modern cursive came about in the Renaissance, where the fragility of feather pens mandated that an efficient form of writing be used. Cursive had many different variations during the Renaissance–the standardization of cursive into its current form occurred in 1888 when Austin Palmer published his famous Palmer method, which was characterized by its exceptional speed and efficiency.
Today though, cursive is almost obsolete. The proliferation of technology in education makes the practice unnecessary, compelling teachers to refrain from teaching the subject. According to a 2003 Vanderbilt University study, teachers dedicated less than ten minutes per day toward penmanship instruction. With more technology in the classroom twelve years later, teachers may not spend any time on the subject at all. Furthermore, with the advent of social media, email, and text–forms of communication which use standard print–adults find themselves no longer needing the antiquated longhand.
Yet, it is to the student’s advantage to use cursive. Cursive is an elegant form of handwriting, and when properly mastered, is pleasing to the eye. In writing a business letter, a postcard, or an assignment, a student can distinguish himself by writing in cursive. In 2005, the SAT reported that a mere 15% of students wrote their essays in cursive. These students averaged a slightly higher score on their essay. To have beautiful handwriting in the 18th century could even earned someone a job. Jacob Shallus, the man who physically penned the Constitution, was an assistant clerk at the Pennsylvania State Assembly. Cursive leaves an impression on people, the same way dressing up for an interview or being courteous can.
Many students complain that cursive is too difficult of an art to use in testing conditions or on homework assignments where time is of the essence. However, handwriting is actually faster than standard print. Without having to repeatedly lift and put the pen to paper, a student can save a considerable amount of time. Hypothetically, if the process of lifting the hand between letters took 1/20 of a second, a student could save one second for every twenty letters written. In the course of a 6000 character, handwritten essay, a student can theoretically save 3 minutes in writing time. Those three minutes could be enough to write an entire half paragraph, and when the clock is running low, three minutes is precious time.
In addition to saving Loyola students time, cursive also can improve cognitive function. William R. Klemm, Ph.D., of psychologytoday.com notes that the hand eye coordination involved in visually tracking complex letters can boost brain activity. This benefit could prove especially helpful to young students, whose minds are still moldable.
Society has a responsibility to pass on to its future generations traditions of importance. Today’s young child cannot decipher a note from their grandparents because it is written in cursive. Tomorrow’s child will be unable to process the original text of the Constitution because society neglected to teach the most elegant form of written communication that has been used by poets, writers, and historians for centuries.