COLUMN: Cursive writing is not dead yet!

If you are over the age of 35, you probably learned to write cursive in the second grade.  Cursive is a form of penmanship in which individual characters (letters) are joined together in a flowing manner.  Its main purpose is to make handwriting faster so that the pen or pencil does not have to be lifted from the paper after each letter. This method of writing has been preferred over block printing which requires more time to form each character separately.

Some form of cursive was used as far back as the Roman Empire; it became popular when people began writing with a quill, a writing instrument formed from the feather of a large bird.  The large end of the feather was carved to form a nib and dipped into a container of ink.  The quill became in common use in 16th century England. The term cursive comes from the Latin word “currere” which means to run or hasten.

Thomas Jefferson in 1776 drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence writing with a quill in cursive, Benjamin Franklin helped revise the draft, and Timothy Matlack of Pennsylvania wrote on parchment the final version we see reproduced today. Abraham Lincoln wrote his famous Gettysburg Address in cursive in 1863. That speech contained only 271 words.

Although the ballpoint pen was patented in 1888, it did not come into popular use until the 1960s when it was mass produced. Its ink was formulated to dry quicker than the quill ink and also to keep the ink in the pen until the “ball point” made contact with the paper.

With the move to typewriters and computers, educators were pressured to spend more time on “keyboarding” than cursive writing.  As a result, most schools, including those in Virginia, rarely teach cursive. There may be a brief discussion of it in the lower grades, but it is typically not taught. The accreditation pressure created by Standards of Learning (SOL) testing allows very little time for topics not covered on these tests.

The National Institute of Health in 2012 studied the brain function of a sample of elementary students comparing handwriting, keyboarding, and tracing. The data from that study clearly indicated that students retain more information when they write by hand. Further, the study reported that “handwriting increases letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading. Therefore, handwriting may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.”

Several studies since 2012 have also come to similar conclusions. Will cursive again be recognized as a necessary skill? Let’s hope so.

Robert N. “Bob” Holt is a Franklin native and a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is