Is cursive writing obsolete?

Writing as Communication

The "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech card written by President Kennedy for his speech at Berlin City Hall.
The "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech card written by President Kennedy for his speech at Berlin City Hall.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives

With the introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act and high-stakes standardized testing in the 21st century, cursive instruction has become almost an afterthought. There simply isn't enough time in the school day to focus intently on something that doesn't show up on the test.

The growing trend in public schools toward "teaching to the test" is only one of the reasons why cursive seems to be falling by the wayside. The curriculum is simply more complicated than it once was. Lessons in subjects like cultural diversity, international politics and computer science, once topics saved for higher education, are now introduced as early as elementary school. With such a diverse and ever-expanding set of requirements, handwriting instruction beyond the basic necessity of legible print has become somewhat beside the point.

The omnipresence of electronic forms of communication has, in many people's minds, rendered cursive skills practically obsolete. Who writes letters anymore in order to share a story with a friend? Who handwrites a cover letter when applying for a job? When's the last time you sat in a meeting and found yourself holding an agenda written in pen? Seemingly, cursive is an outdated skill in all the ways that count. With the exception of the legally binding signature, few people use it in daily (or even yearly) life.

Longhand is quickly becoming a lost skill, and the effects of that evolution aren't yet fully known. Increasingly, "writing instruction" is about content, not aesthetics; and with 2012 testing showing three-quarters of American high school seniors lack basic writing skills, that's not necessarily a bad thing [source: Kuczynski-Brown]. The ability to form a sentence, paragraph or essay that is articulate and grammatically correct is arguably more useful than the ability to form it neatly.

Not all educators and developmental experts would agree with that argument, though -- at least not without some type of caveat. As it turns out, cursive writing isn't just about the finished product.