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What Has Replaced the Written Word? July 9, 2011

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.

I don’t have children in school, so I get many emerging trends somewhat secondhand, after those trends are already known and accepted as mainstream.  I had known somewhere in the back of my mind that cursive was going the way of the dodo bird, and it was brought to my attention by an opinion piece in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  The piece noted that the state of Indiana will no longer require its schools to teach cursive, so that students can instead focus on typing.

Like the author of this piece, I don’t have much in the way of an emotional attachment to cursive.  I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about it to begin with (oh, the hours of repetition!), and as an adult writing became a chore as much as anything else.

The part that I don’t get is that cursive is being dropped so that students can focus on typing.  Um, okay.  It’s a different world than when I was in public school, when typing was a part of the business/commercial curriculum, focused on training (almost entirely women) secretaries who could immediately do some level of the office work that would make them more or less employable after graduation.

But I learned to type in high school.  It took well, a semester.  A single fifty-minute-a-day personal typing class for eighteen weeks, taken in my senior year simply to fill a hole in my schedule.  I certainly didn’t have to focus on it, especially to the exclusion of cursive, or anything else.

Now, I’m nowhere near the best typist in the world.  But thirty-plus years later, I can still touch type, and if you timed me, I could top out at somewhere near fifty words a minute.  But of course, we don’t type like that.  We’re not transcribing someone else’s handwriting to a printed form, but creating original thoughts, and our typing is correspondingly slower and more thoughtful.

The uses of cursive have been shrinking for years.  I pay most of my bills online, and what few letters I might happen to send through the US Postal Service are invariably with the use of a word processor and printer.  On the other hand, while there are emerging digital alternatives of authenticating an individual’s legal intent, I imagine it will be at least decades before a single form is accepted for all possible transactions.

But I have to ask, what is it about typing that you can possibly focus on to the exclusion of cursive?  I suppose you could spend time on the intricacies of Microsoft Word, but that’s silly, because no one has to use anywhere near all of those features in their lifetimes.  And not to mention that it’s an unwarranted endorsement of a specific commercial product (I’ve also been known to use OpenOffice, for example).

My point is that a focus on typing cannot possibly take the time that was needed in the past to learn and practice cursive, not to mention the time it takes to write out a lengthy report or paper longhand.  So the statement by the state of Indiana seems ludicrous on its face.  Learning typing and employing it in daily practice is far more efficient than cursive.

Are we really wasting that additional time?  At the very least we should be practicing our texting with it.  The handwritten word may be dead, but we don’t seem to have replaced it with anything worthwhile.



1. Is Cursive Making a Comback? | Cutting Edge Computing - January 4, 2017

[…] is what we are gaining. A Wall Street Journal article from several years ago reported that the state of Indiana was going to stop teaching cursive, in favor of teaching typing.  Really?  I don’t mean to sound incredulous, well, yes I do.  I […]

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