Chicken scratch

I agree with everything Bob says about the uselessness of cursive writing, but I have a few points of my own to add.
Although the real-world advantage of cursive is that it tends to save time by sacrificing legibility, that’s not what the teachers have in mind when they force students to learn it. If you look at the textbooks, handouts, and chalkboard examples in cursive class, what you’ll see is penmanship, the sort of elaborately ornate cursive that no one actually does because it takes far too much time. (It’s art disguised as writing, really — but if that’s what you want to do, why are you fooling around with a ballpoint pen? Buy a calligraphy set and learn how to do really ornamental writing.)
I believe these teachers are motivated by nostalgia for a bygone era when people wrote on parchment with quill pens, and the writing was elegant and beautiful because nobody could write except aristocrats, scholars, and clerics. The scholars and clerics had plenty of time for fancy writing because that was their job, basically. The aristocrats had plenty of time because their slaves did all the actual work, and they didn’t do their own writing anyway — they dictated their words to a scribe or secretary. In other words, the cursive fetish is motivated by a nauseating mixture of cluelessness, elitism, historical ignorance, and feckless longing for the Middle Ages.
I can testify from personal experience that these teachers are warping their students for life. When I taught freshman writing classes at the University of South Carolina, I told my students that they were welcome to turn in handwritten essays, but only if those essays were printed (for legibility) and written in pencil (so they could correct mistakes and make changes by erasing, not scratching out). They ignored me and wrote their essays in ink, using sloppy, unreadable cursive and scratching out their mistakes. I repeated my requirements with increasing vehemence, but my students paid no attention. It eventually dawned on me that it was impossible for them to do what I was asking. They had been indoctrinated for years with the notion that civilized, educated people (i.e., the landed gentry) always used cursive and wrote in ink. When I told them to do the exact opposite, I might as well have been asking them to come to class naked and sit on the ceiling. It was so alien a concept that they simply couldn’t grasp it.
Isaac Asimov once made the same point about Roman numerals that Bob does about cursive writing. The Arabic numbering system is vastly superior to the Roman one in every conceivable way, so why are we still wasting class time teaching kids how to use Roman numerals? What good are they? Roman numerals are still in use, but only when someone wants to be pompous, pretentious, and obscure. I think the motivation is the same as for cursive: elitist nostalgia.
And don’t even get me started about long division.
UPDATE: A few days after I posted this article, blogger Donald Sensing linked to it, referring to me as a college professor. I e-mailed him to explain that I was just a lowly graduate instructor when I taught English 101, but he never acknowledged the correction.

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