My third grade teacher was a sweet woman named Mrs. Baade. She loved apples, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and cursive. My elementary school taught all of the students how to read and write in cursive in the third grade, and Mrs. Baade was wonderful at it. She had some of the most beautiful penmanship I have ever seen.
While I like to think of myself as an enthusiastic student, I was not excited about cursive. I hated it. I had pretty terrible handwriting to begin with, and my cursive wasn’t much better. Plus, it was hard to learn, some of the letters (Like capital “G”) made no sense to eight-year-old me, and it took over a two minutes to write a sentence that I could whip out in scrawled printing in mere seconds.
Thankfully, we were only required to write in cursive through the fifth grade. Through middle and high school, we were not required to write in cursive. It seemed like a useless skill. Nobody, except for two friends of mine, wrote regularly in cursive. I sometimes would use my third-grade skills to make old-looking props for drama, or embellish a drawing, or, obviously, to sign my name; but otherwise, I always printed.
This summer, I’ve been working at the county archives near my home. The project I’ve been working on involves transcribing and researching a young man’s diary from 1866. It’s involved me having to go through estate files, census records, and lots of other personal or legal documents. We’re talking about a time before the popularization of typewriters, and the age before people wrote letters, filled out forms, or wrote journals by printing the letters. Everything is in cursive. And not Mrs. Baade’s gorgeous, font-like cursive: this is fast-paced probate judge, busy and half-starved farmer, or barely literate Civil War veteran cursive.
And obviously, this is not the only document of historical merit that is written in cursive. Any number of digitized, cursive documents can be found online. If you’ve never been taught to read cursive, you haven’t got a chance at understanding any of those ten linked documents.
But this isn’t just for historians: with the big push in education right to now send students to analyze primary source documents, isn’t it a little strange that cursive is simultaneously being downplayed in some schools? How can a student transcribe or analyze a historical document if she can’t even read it?
Learning to write in cursive was hard, it wasn’t fun, and I still have ghastly handwriting. But if it wasn’t for my sweet third grade teacher, I wouldn’t have gotten this internship. I wouldn’t be able to write my friend’s names all fancy on their birthday cards. I wouldn’t be able to read notes or letters from any of my older relatives, my mother, or my friends who prefer cursive.
In closing, I would like to submit the following: