Friday, March 23, 2012

This Post is Brought to You by the Letter "Q"

My grandmother Mary Ann Brown nee Quirk not Zuirk!
I had been telling myself that I was going to write a blog post about the change regarding teaching cursive to children.  I kept wanting to do it and wanting to do it, but I just never sat down and wrote the blog post.  Well, one morning I saw a post on the National Genealogical Society's blog (which you can read by clicking here).  It caught my eye and spurred me to at least get started on the post (and obviously finish it).

I learned cursive when I was in 3rd grade, or at least sometime around 3rd grade.  Before that, we naturally concentrated on printing, and we were graded on our penmanship.  Then we were taught cursive.  Oh how intimidating it looked at first when you're supposed to learn something that you can't even read...but it all worked out. We learned cursive....and survived [gasp].

My oldest son is in 5th grade.  He too learned cursive in 3rd grade, but he can't write in cursive.  Why?  Well, because they learned it and never used it again!  Yep, they were taught and then they ignored it like a dirty little secret...let us not speak of this "cursive" thing again!  Well, it's really funny, but I thought educators would realize that if you don't use don't reinforce will forget it.  You see when I learned cursive we were told, "Great!  Now you know it so write in it!" and we were from that point on forbidden to print.  That was how they reinforced it.  It's not like they had to continue spending time in class to teach it.  The teaching was done and we were supposed to use what we had learned.

You know when you use something you've learned, you tend to get better at it.  Sure it was slow going at first, but so is printing everything!  At the beginning of 4th grade I realized that while my son had learned cursive, he wasn't using it.  I asked him why and he told me that the teachers don't want them to.  Well, then why did they teach it?

I'm not saying that they shouldn't have taught it, I was just amazed that they taught something and then told the kids not to use it.  What was the point and why does no one else around me think this is ridiculous?!?!  I talked to my son's 4th grade teacher about it.  I even talked to his 3rd grade teacher about it (an awesome teacher, by the way) and I talked to other parents, friends and family about it.  I just didn't understand what was going on!

My youngest sister is 17 years younger than I am.  She's in law school right now [gosh I'm so proud of her...sniff] and she told me that when she started college that she retaught herself cursive so that she could take notes faster.  I was stunned that my sister hadn't even been taught, and it's been a little while since she was in 3rd grade!  So this trend is actually not new at all, but it's getting to the point where they want to take it away completely and no one seems to care!  Some of the parents and friends that I spoke to use the nonsensical explanation that students need to learn keyboarding because computers are what's important today.

Will future generations know this was a "Q"?
Really?  OK, allow me to find the crack in your stained glass window of logic regarding what society needs.  I took this little thing in junior high school called Keyboarding Typing.  We used these dinosaurs called typewriters, but we learned to type.  I'm actually a pretty darned fast typist.  I would freak out some of my fellow cadre members when I was a Drill Sergeant because they would come in to talk to me and I was able to hold a conversation with them, looking at them, and typing at the same time.  But my point is that I learned both and I still use both.

Sure we're entering a more technologically oriented generation and change is to be expected, but sometimes I wonder about the change that gets made.  There aren't computers at every desk in elementary school, middle school or high school.  Every student that goes to college doesn't have a laptop to take to class so they can take notes!  Sure many do, but some people are struggling just to send their kids let alone sending them with a computer that needs replacing every few years!  So how do these people take notes?  Printing?  That's not the most efficient method.  A voice recorder?  Again, if you're having financial difficulties this is a luxury that all will not have.  It's just plain silly!

Cursive is also a means of expressing oneself.  I know my handwriting doesn't look anything like the prim and proper cursive I was taught.  Most of us changed our writing style to something that suited us, to something that expressed a sense of art and creativity.  Who can forget the loopy y's, the hearts dotting the i's and j's and the long lines crossing the t's?  Slanting to the left, to the right or straight up and down.  Our handwriting told a little bit about ourselves and now even that small bit of creativity is taken out of the classrooms (just like Art you know that there is no Art class in my son's school?!?!)

Yes the lower case "D" looks like a "g"!

A little Russian tidbit that I'd like to share as well.  When I learned Russian not only did I have to learn their "crazy" alphabet with all those backward R's and squared-looking D's in the printed language, but I had to learn to write in their version of cursive!  Do you know what else?  My teachers were natives and they would tell us on a regular basis that YOU DO NOT PRINT!  Why?  Because in Russia if you printed instead of writing in cursive your were stereotyped as being stupid.  I'm serious.  We were told this on numerous occasions.  Were they pulling our legs...well, I never did quite get Russian humor, but I doubt it.  Have times changed and do they still view it this way?  No idea, but is this lack of cursive just another way of dumbing down?  How does it make us look in a global economy...because we are global.

Old cursive Q
We as genealogists sit here gnashing our teeth together because in our profession and hobby we actually need to know cursive.  We know that cursive has evolved over time and some of those documents are pretty hard to read for those of us that have been using cursive for decades!  Case in point, my hometown newspaper put together a hardcover book awhile back and they had a chapter for each decade in the 20th century.  My grandmother's senior class picture was in there.  I was tickled when I saw it because I've seen this picture many times (in fact it's the one at the top of this post).  I knew it was her...despite what was written below it. What was written below it?  Well, my grandmother's name was Mary Quirk.  What was written, however, was Mary Zuirk.  Remember those old Q's that looked like 2's?  Well, the person that read the names off the back of the original class picture thought the Q was a Z.  She is now immortalized in print, by the wrong name...and this was by people that DID learn cursive!

What will it be like for our children, grandchildren, etc who pick up our work and try to take over where we leave off?  How will they even begin to try to read those documents?  What will future generations of historians do?  Learn cursive as a subject in college?  Has our cursive become some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on the wall?  Will our descendants not even be able to read the Declaration of Independence when they view it in a museum?  Not only do we lose the ability to research when we don't teach and reinforce cursive...not only do we lose an outlet of personal expression when we become so complacent and neglectful of something so vital, but we lose a part of our culture.  I've already purchased a book of cursive worksheets on and I intend on plaguing my children's summers making sure they don't miss out on this skill.

Keyboarding be damned.  My super-power is writing in cursive!


  1. Cheryl, Cheryl, Cheryl! I, too, lament the "end" of cursive as we know it. Another wonderful post! Thanks!

  2. My eldest child learned cursive and can still use it, but my second and third children, who also learned it, cannot use it.

    On the flip side, just picked up a copy of a probate record from 1870s. It is so poorly written in cursive as to be practically indecipherable. It is going to take me ages and some educated 'guesses' to transcribe it. It would have been better if it had been printed, maybe...

    Even though cursive was learned by many generations, it doesn't always mean that it was done well. I suspect that current and future generations will have to use a book similar to 'Reading Early American Handwriting' perhaps titled 'Reading 20th Century Cursive".

    Great post Cheryl! I had the same experience learning to write Russian and have always been told the same thing about Hebrew, ie no one prints.

  3. Hear, hear, Cheryl! I used to be quite proud of my handwriting, but with most communication done via a keyboard now, my skills have gone downhill. It takes a bit more concentration to hand write a neat letter than it used to. I can type a letter a lot more quickly. If you don't use it, you lose it. Mary is beautiful :-)