Why write by hand when we can type?

March 30, 2014 

I always got decent grades in elementary school – except in penmanship.

I just couldn’t get the hang of those curlicues and tails and staying inside the lines. I wanted to be able to write the graceful, flowing script that Marybeth, the girl who sat in the next row, did, but it was hopeless.

I grew up in an era where good handwriting was a valued skill. Our desks still featured empty inkwells, a reminder of the days when students wrote with quills.

We never dipped anything, including girls’ pigtails, into the inkwells, but fountain pens still were popular.

While I would have liked to learn to write flowing cursive as expressive as that of the founding fathers – or at least Marybeth – I knew it would never happen. And, I confess, I knew even then that grownups in the real world didn’t write that way either.

My mother’s handwriting always has looked like worms caught on a hot griddle. My dad’s handwriting was a little better but not much.

I look at my own notes now, and they look not just like chicken scratch but like something composed by a chicken with a bad limp, the palsy and maybe a missing toe or two.

Fortunately, mankind has evolved to the point that nearly all written communication is produced on a keyboard. Why does anyone need to know cursive anymore?

That’s a question we could ask the S.C. Legislature, which is considering a bill that would require the state’s school districts to teach all students how to write cursive by the fifth grade. While even the bill’s supporters concede that digital writing rules, they say that cursive is a skill all people should have.

State Rep. Dwight Loftis, chief sponsor of the bill, said his teenage grandson can’t sign his name. Loftis also held up thank-you notes from high school students to show how the art of cursive has declined.

Thank-you notes? From high school students?

I thought those had gone the way of the dodo. You’re lucky to get a short email with a few XOXOs at the bottom.

Would schools use the ancient cursive letters that were displayed on a chart tacked to the wall of my grade school? Those are the letters that people never actually used after the 6th grade, the ones with the capital “T” and “F” that looked like sailboats.

People eventually adopt their own, unique ways of writing, a mixture of some cursive, some printing, lots of shortcuts and abbreviations, and, in my mom’s case, hieroglyphics. Sometimes people’s handwriting can be read only by those who wrote it and often not even them.

If schools are to be required to teach handwriting, you’d think students would be required to use the skill at school. Apparently, though, standardized tests no longer feature open-ended questions that require writing an answer. And themes can be typed on a keyboard.

I’m trying to think of instances in which actual handwriting is necessary these days. A grocery list? You can type those into your smartphone.

A bank-robbery note? You could type, “Put all the money in the bag and you won’t get hurt,” ahead of time and print it out. A plea for help written in the sand? You’d probably print, “HELP!” not write it in cursive. A ransom note? Everybody knows you cut the letters out of a newspaper. Love letters? Just text a naked picture of yourself.

Still, I’m sure there are times when writing in cursive would come in handy. Reporters still take notes. Waiters still write down your order. Doctors still write illegible prescriptions.

And there is something to be said for mastering an obsolete art, such as driving a stick shift or making popcorn on the stove. Maybe someday you could be a hero, saving the day by being able to write cursive.

Don’t ask me how, but if I think of a way, I’ll text you.

James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at

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