Anoka County history: Cursive writing now an archaic art

When I taught sixth-grade at Sandburg in Anoka, I always took a class period early in the school year to re-address students’ penmanship.

I vividly remember doing exactly that on Sept. 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers were attacked in New York.

There’s nothing like an attack on your country to get lower loops size into perspective!

Cursive handwriting has become an archaic art.

At one time, every lady of breeding was proficient, not only in standard letter quality handwriting, but also in elaborate calligraphy reserved for formal invitations.

Today 85 percent of college students print when they write at all, and a vast majority of academic writing is done on a keyboard.

The medium is driven by the technology available.

In ancient times, chisels were used on clay tablets; as a result written language was linear.

Cursive writing became the standard when quills and liquid ink were available because it was necessary to string letters together to avoid lifting the quill point and risking a droplet.

Then came the printing press with its carved block letters that could be rearranged in countless combinations to form words.

Although the fountain pen replaced the quill, liquid ink continued to be standard until the ball point replaced it in the classrooms of the 1950s.

The ballpoint pen was first patented in 1888, but was not commercially viable until the invention of solid ink in 1945.

It must have been especially welcome to left-handed children, who had been forced to write with their right hand, lest they drag their skin across the still wet ink.

At the start of the 2012 school year, there are 45 states that have adopted common core state standards for education.

All include typing and use of digital tools, but leave out cursive handwriting altogether.

In a survey, 88 percent of elementary teachers feel under-qualified to teach cursive writing because it is no longer addressed in their teacher preparatory classes.

Yet roughly half the school day in the primary grades is spent in writing activities including quizzes, math calculations, and worksheets.

Part of the SAT tests and part of the standardized tests in 45 states are hand-written and those students who use cursive writing tend to score higher according to the College Board.

Does that mean cursive writing causes smart kids?

Writing by hand has its advantages, but nothing indicates cursive to be better than block printing.

An article written by Star Lawrence, a medical journalist in the Phoenix area, states, “When one performs a physical response to information, that information is locked in and comprehended better than if it is simply read.  Handwriting enables better comprehension.”

Additionally, Dr. Karin Harman James, from Indiana University, has found more adult-like brain development in children who write by hand.

Writing historian Steve Graham writes, “Pen and quill are fairly equivalent in modern classrooms- 19th century tools in a 21st century world.”

Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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