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handwriting is important first of

all because it mattered to people

Thornton, Tamara Platkins, Handwriting in America: A Clutural History, New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 1996, pg. x.

Cursive and Personality

So much of what is lost in typing a message to a friend or sending a

small happy face emoji is that sense of personality. When a note was
slid on to your desk from across the classroom, there was no question of who was the sender. You knew your best friends scribbles
as well as you knew your own. These days its lucky if youve even
seen something that was written by a close friend. Many dont even
realize this is missing from their life. Philip Hensher, author of The
Missing Ink:The Lost Art of Handwriting discusses his own personal
experience with this in the introduction to his book.
About six months ago, I realized that I had no idea what the handwriting of a good friend of mine looked like. I had known him
for over a decade, but somehow we had never communicated
using handwritten notes. He had left messages for me, emailed
me, sent text messages galore. But I dont think I had ever had a
letter from him written by hand, a postcard from his holidays, a reminder of something pushed through my letterbox. I had no idea
whether hid handwriting was bold or crabbed, sloping or upright,
italic or rounded, elegant or slapdash.
The odd thing is. It had never struck me as strange before, and
there was no particular reason why is had suddenly come to mind.
We could have gone on like this forever, hardly noticing that we
had no need of handwriting anymore.

Philip Hensher, The Missing Ink:

The Lost Art of Handwriting, New
York: Faber and Faber, Inc., 2012,
pg. 2930.

Cursive and Personality


Can you write in cursive?

Here write this line for me.
This line was greeted with giggles and exclamations of, God, do I
even remember how to do this? There may have been initial doubts
but as soon as a sentence was either hastily scribbled or carefully
put down, the personality of each individual shown through. People
laughed and pointed at certain characters, saying Oh, yeah, that
looks just like him, or Figures that you would be the perfect one.
Coming from the hand, cursive is innately connected to us as people
and who we are. This connection cant be found in a simple typed
email or text.

Cursive and Personality


our handwriting is an expression

of our personality and humanity

Philip Ball, Curse of Cursive,

Prospect: The leading magazine
of ideas, accessed March 26, 2015,

Cursive and Personality


Only letters learned through printing experience,

not typing, promote functional connections between
a letter perception area in the left fusiform gyrus
(L-FuG) with sensorimotor regions.

In 2013, Alyssa J. Kersey and Karin H. James did a study focused

on the connection between reading and writing and the differences
between cursive and manuscript. Their full research, named Brain
activation patterns resulting from learning letter forms through active self-production and passive observation in young children, has
some interesting insites into what is happening in the brain when a
child reads or writes in cursive.

Karin James, The Cognition and

Action Neuroimaging Laboratory,
Department of Psychological and
Brain Sciences Indiana University,
accessed March 12, 2015, http://

The Science of Cusrsive


Although previous literature suggests that writing practice facilitates

neural specialization for letters, it is unclear if this facilitation is driven by the perceptual feedback from the act of writing or the actual
execution of the motor act. The present study addresses this issue
by measuring the change in bold signal in response to hand-printed

Figure A
This analysis revealed that when
comparing all cursive letters to rest,
an extensive region in the Lateral
Occipital complex, including the fusiform gyrus, was active bilaterally .

letters, unlearned cursive letters, and cursive letters that 7-year-old

children learned actively, by writing, and passively, by observing an
experimenter write. Brain activation was assessed using fmri while
perceiving lettersin both cursive and manuscript forms. Results
showed that active training led to increased recruitment of the sen-

Figure B
When comparing the individual
learning conditions to rest, only the

sori-motor network associated with letter perception as well as the

actively learned cursive letters re-

insula and claustrum, but passive observation did not. This suggests

cruited this region, and only in the

that perceptual networks for newly learned cursive letters are driven

fusiform gyrus, more than rest.

by motor execution rather than by perceptual feedback.

Really, all this just boils down to the fact that a young child watching someone do cursive doesnt activate the same areas as a young
child actually actively writing it.

Figure C
Passively learned letters did not
recruit this region greater than rest .

Figure D
Compared unlearned cursive letters to rest, which recruited the left
LOC, but not the fusiform gyrus. No
regions were significantly active in
the remainder of the brain above
rest, including motor cortex.
Alyssa J. Kersey and Karin H.
James, Brain activation patterns
resulting from learning letter forms
through active self-production
and passive observation in young
children, Frontiers in Psychology,
September 2013.

The Science of Cusrsive



then when that had been thoroughly

mastered , you were introduced to the
joys of joining your letters together .

Philip Hensher, The Missing Ink:

The Lost Art of Handwriting, New
York: Faber and Faber, Inc., 2012,
pg. 88.

Cursive in Education


Cursive has been struggling in the classroom. Theres been some In 1924 Pittsburghs supervisor of commercial education reported
question of whether its important to teach this skill to children. Why

that since the introduction of the typewriter in our junior high

bother when they could spend that time learning technology skills, schools, there is a tendency to minimize the importance of the teachlike typing and working with digital interaction. The way things

ing of handwriting. Within a few years, the typewriter threatened

stand currently are described by Philip Hensher in his book.

to eliminate even elementary school penmanship as school systems

experimented with teaching kindergartners and first-graders how

In third grade in American schoolsseven to eighths now as it

to type instead of how to write. By 1956 and article in Look maga-

has been for decades, a cursive hand is introduced. In 1984, the

zine maintained that handwriting nowadays is as out-of-date as the

New York Times reported a recommendation by an emeritus profes- hand lettered book. Business letters, government forms, even sosor of education from Buffalo, New York, that schools should de- cial correspondence, it was argued, are all typed. Why, then, do
vote about five to ten minutes to teaching handwriting two to three

we force children to master this archaic system of putting ideas on

times a week in elementary school. They also managed to find that


Houston did spend twenty minutes a day in teacher-directed handwriting instruction from first to sixth gradethis was join the early
1980s. In recent years, a program called Handwriting Without Tears
has encouraged teachers to devote ten to fifteen minutes a day on
handwriting. Other twenty-first-century initiatives included teaching American schoolchildren cursive from the start. There seems no
doubt that, here and there, there are many individual schoolteachers in America sufficiently convinced of the importance of handwritPhilip Hensher, The Missing
Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting,
New York: Faber and Faber, Inc.,

ing lessons in their own education not only to reintroduce such lessons but actually extend them downwards and upwards.

2012, pg. 2930.

Philip discusses how in Americahes a English novelist, giving us

4 Thornton, Tamara Platkins,

Handwriting in America: A Clutural History, New Haven and

a different point of view on the whole situation internationallya

school teacher boldly said in 2001 that about 50 per cent of kids
have illegible handwriting. Many states are taking actions to remedy this situation while others are allowing cursive, or handwriting
in general) to fall to the wayside. Englands National Curriculum,

London: Yale University Press,

however, now stresses handwriting specifically. The four criteria

1996, pg. 178.

of the Sats level two handwriting test are legibility, consistent size
and spacing of letter, flow and movement, and a confident personal
This fight for the preservation of handwriting as a skill isnt anything
new. Tamara Thornton speaks to the slow degrade in her book,
Handwriting in America: A Clutural History.


Common Core has been taking the educational front by storm, usu- The Common Core is informed by the highest, most effective stanally followed by a flurry of question and controversy. Already, 43

dards from states across the United States and countries around

states (see fig. 1) have fully adopted Common Core, while other

the world. The standards define the knowledge and skills students

states have partially adopted these standards. Theres a huge split

should gain throughout their K-12 education in order to graduate

with opinions about this new curriculum; some think its the best

high school prepared to succeed in entry-level careers, introductory

thing to happen to schools while others are more sceptical.

academic college courses, and workforce training programs.

What even is Common Core?

What does this have to do with Cursive?

Common Core as described on their own website:

Common Core makes up the majority of a states curriculum, with

15% available for states to add what they feel is important for their

The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in

students to learn. One subject with the adoption of Common Core

mathematics and English language arts/literacy. These learning

has been that fact that these new standards cut out cursive in favor

goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the

of more technology standards. While many states have accepted

end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all

the exclusion of cursive some states still believe its an important

students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge

part of education. Of the 50 states, 25 have added cursive, specifi-

necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where

cally, into their standards. (see fig. 2)

they live. Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, four territories,

and the Department of Defense Education Activity have voluntarily

From the Kansas Handwriting Curricular Standards

adopted and are moving forward with the Common Core.

Figure 1
States with Common Core
States without Common Core

The Kansas State Board of Education believes that cursive as a student

For years, the academic progress of our nations students has been

skill still holds an important place in the instructional practice of

stagnant, and we have lost ground to our international peers. Par- every schools curriculum and can be integrated in multiple content
ticularly in subjects such as math, college remediation rates have

areas. Research supports the role that handwriting instruction plays

been high. One root cause has been an uneven patchwork of aca- in the cognitive development of children and this activity is even
demic standards that vary from state to state and do not agree on

more important in an increasingly digital environment. The Board

what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

expects educators to ensure that all students can write legibly in

cursive and comprehend text written in this manner.

Recognizing the value and need for consistent learning goals across
About the Standards, Common
Core State Standards Innitiative,
2015, accessed March 6, 2015,

states, in 2009 the state school chiefs and governors that comprise

and the


Center coordinated a state-led effort to develop

the Common Core State Standards. Designed through collaboration among teachers, school chiefs, administrators, and other experts,
the standards provide a clear and consistent framework for educators.

Kansas Handwriting Curricular

Standards, Kansas State Department of Education, December
2013, accessed February 20, 2015,

Figure 2
States requiring Cursive
States not requiring Curisve
Cursive in Education


Emotional Level
A sense of emotion comes through when something is handwritten. Something about cursive, especially, shows the train of thought,
the stops and goes in the writing. History is filled with cursive, everything from the incredibly official to the extremely emotional.
President Reagans letter to America is an example of history that
needed to be written in cursive.

Tamara Plakins Thorton,

Handwriting in America: A
Clutural History, New Haven
and London: Yale University
Press, 1996, pg. 191.

When, in 1994 Ronald Reagan revealed himself to be a victim of

Alzheimers disease in a handwritten farewell letter to the american
public, it was as much the medium as the message that lent his
words their emotional intensity. After nine years of studying him
with objective coldness, wrote Edmund Morris in the New Yorker, I confess that I, too, cried at the letter, with its crabbed script
and enormous margin (so evocative of the blizzard whitening of his
mind). Had it been keyboarded to the world, the letter would
have lost half its poignancy, continued Morris, for matrix dots and
laser sprays and pixels of the L.C.D. can never convey the cursive
flow of human thought embodied in script, every waver, every
loop, every character trembling with expression.

When in 1994 Ronald Reagan

revealed himself to be a victim of
Alzheimers disease in a handwritten farewell letter to the American
public, it was as much the medium
as the message that lent his words
their emotional intensity.


Spencerian System of Practical Penmanship

Spencerian writing was the popular mode of writing in America from
1850 to 1925. The book on the Theory of Spencerian Penmanship
wasnt published until after the founders, Platt Rogers Spencer,
death. His five sons carried on teaching Spencerian Script and gathered the teachings of their father to publish them under the Spencerian authors. The introduction states:
Writing is almost as imporant as speaking, as a medium for communicating thought. For this reason it is said that Writing is a secondary power of speech, and they who cannot write are in part
dumb. Scrawls that cannot be read may be compared to talking
that cannot be understood; and writing difficult to decifer, to stammering speech.
Theory directs, and Art performs; therefore inform the mind and
train the hand. If you would attain high excellence in Penmanship,
you must master the principles, and faithfully practice them.
Spencerian Authors, Theory
of Spencerian Penmanship,
Fenton, Michigan: Ivison,
Blakeman, Taylor & Co., Inc.,
1874, pg. 1.

Types of Cursive


The appeal of Spencers approach was that it was unprecedentedly systematic, analyzing letterforms as that combination of various Principles
and Elements, demanding an exact understanding of proportion of the
lengths of letters above and below The Line.

Types of Cursive


Emily Dickinsons early manuscripts of her poetry, then just written

in letters to her sister-in-law, were scribbed in a form of Spencerian
that had moved away from the strict traditional script. Dickinsons
writing caused a lot of problems for her publishers later on, with
her erratic capitalizations and punctuation. Her distinctive oblique,
looped script also makes for occasionally difficult reading, like in
these manuscripts from 1861.

The Coca-Cola logo was first published in the late

19th century and contains only characters from the
Spencerian Script; therefore it is not under copyright.
However, it is still protected by trademarks.

Types of Cursive


Palmer Method of Business Writing

Austin Palmer created the Palmer Method in response to the complicated nature of Spencerian. His form of writing was a simplified
and more efficient. It became quite popular in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries.
Palmer was clear on the shortcomings of Spencerian scripts. What
he described as copybook writing is very pretty, but, he added,
thats all. With its ornate forms, which often required extensive lifting of the pen and meticulous shading, which entailed the reworking of letters, copybook script was more akin to painting than to
writing. It was far too slow, insisted Palmer. Speed it up, and the
arm not only tires quickly, but the script becomes illegible.

Spencerian Authors, Theory

of Spencerian Penmanship,
Fenton, Michigan: Ivison,
Blakeman, Taylor & Co., Inc.,
1874, pg. 1.

Types of Cursive


By the time of Palmers death in 1927, over 25 million

Americans had learned Palmer Method.
Types of Cursive


Zaner-Bloser Handwriting
Palmer Method eventually fell away and was replaced by the ZanerBloser method for handwriting in the 1950s. The difference that Zaner-Bloser had was that it encouraged the teaching to manuscript, or
print, before teaching children cursive. Zaner-Bloser is the result of
a joint effort between Charles Paxton Zaner and Elmer Ward Bloser.
Zaner was able to streamline Spencerian by adapting handwriting
that was more practical for business documents and personal communication.Zaner-Bloser is what is commonly found in schools in
current day as the type of cursive taught to 3rd and 4th graders in
the schools still teaching it.

Types of Cursive


Written Memories
Some of the best memories we have are the ones that are shared
with others. Meals are most commonly shared with those we love.
Nothing smells better than Grandmas kitchen filled with the scents
of dinner to come. Its hard to capture those memories, though.
Take a picture? That wont hold the same feelings, especially the
tastes, and it wont translate as well for others. Recipe cards are a
way to capture some of those moments. They enable people to recreate and relive some of their favorite family moments. These recipes can be passed from parent to child. Sometimes they even have
fingerprints of dinners passed. So often, Grandmas best recipes are
written in cursive with an overlay of grease spatters and other ingredients. Children can page through a box of recipes and remember
each meal or look at the surface evidence of recipes made many
times over, sometime messily.

Memories in Cursive


One of the best parts of

hand written recipes is
being able to tell who
they came from. Like the
delicious pumpkind bread
recipe from Mom.
Memories in Cursive


Reminds Me When...
Specific artifacts can remind us of the strangest things. Small simple
nothings can hold the strongest memories. For me, cursive reminds
me of my mother as it is. Shes always had the most perfect script
that Ive ever seen. Then I find items like the one to the right and I
can clearly see her scribbling down a messy recipe over the phone.
I can tell it was over the phone because, for as long as I can remember, shes always mindlessly doodled on sheets of paper when shes
talked on the phone. It happens less now that cell phones have
become more prevalent but back when old corded phones were
mounted in every homes kitchen, without fail, little scraps of paper
with cursive notes and doodles could be found scattered on the
counter. Cursive holds memories like that for me.

Memories in Cursive