The End of All Writing

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If you want to know who to blame for the demise of cursive writing in schools in the end of the 19th and later the 20th century, blame the rise of the typewriter for its clarity and speed, and the competing ideas that sprung from its separated letters. Blame Miss M.M. Bridges, from England, who created a manuscript copy-book in 1899. Blame the English, who underwent handwriting reform after a conference in 1913. Blame Marjorie Wise, an Englishwoman (again!) who arrived at Teachers College Columbia University in 1922 and published her book, On the Technique of Manuscript Writing, which influenced elementary education and instruction.

For the latter part of the 20th century, one finds teachers untrained in penmanship and a de-emphasis of writing of all kinds as well as spelling. In the 21st century, we find teachers themselves who cannot write legibly, and who are even less able to teach penmanship. Students today must only be able to write a letter and to read it, not to do it well. Many students cannot even read their own writing.

The computer, mobile devices, speech recognition, standardized testing, and national standards are among the most damaging blows. Also, the guidelines of the Common Core did not focus on writing. New state tests in English do not even punish a student for errors in spelling, grammar, or errors of all other kinds. It matters only that some ideas in an essay are correct, standing like a few flowers in a field of weeds, for the whole to be judged as worthy of a passing grade.

While some parents, teachers, and state legislatures may have rejected the national standards or the Common Core and have already or will soon reinstitute writing in general and cursive in specific, these efforts and any successes are likely to fade over time.

The forces of education, technology, and business have brought MOOCs, online K-12, and the ability of computers alone to grade the keystroked essays of college and all other students. This shift will diminish further the role of handwriting.

With the pressure of money and technology, the deeply personal and very flawed handwriting of people must be eliminated out of logical necessity, and any handwritten forms will be converted to a text or a machine readable form so that businesses, governments, and computer systems around the world can share in any language, or a universal language.

Handwriting of all kinds and cursive will still exist, and they will still be taught and practiced, but handwriting that is careful and clear will continue to become less common.

What skills or knowledge we can unlearn, we will.