Why Did We All Have to Learn Cursive?

If you’re reading this, you probably were forced to learn cursive in your childhood for… Well, reasons that were never particularly compelling at all. Maybe you’re reading this because you didn’t actually have to learn cursive, but you’re aware that a sizable amount of people did have to learn it–especially considering that 21 states require students to learn cursive. Which is an increase, since there were just 14 states in 2017–and that’s because Alabama and Louisiana were added to the list of 14 that year. So uh… What’s up with that and why did we all have to learn cursive? 

The Case for Cursive

Honestly, understanding the arguments used to defend cursive really tells us a lot about why we were taught cursive in the first place. Throughout the 19th century, cursive was largely used as an indicator of both good character and virtue under Christian ideals. When the handwriting movement kicked off in the 1800s, students would spend years practicing their scripture. Arguments for virtue aside, this was also pragmatic. Since typewriters weren’t a thing yet, writing both quickly and legibly was an important skill. Ink was slower to dry, so the loopiness and conjoined nature of words was somewhat helpful at preventing smudging. Cursive, then, quickly began to fade as technology brought us faster-drying ink and later the ability to type. 

We could honestly stop there, but let’s engage further. Cursive-defenders nowadays argue that cursive has benefits to one’s learning. Multiple studies have shown that learning to handwrite has benefits for one’s memory, reading, and creativity. If you have to take notes for things–either as part of school or your job–there’s a good chance you remember your notes better when you handwrite rather than type. There’s also the fine motor function handwriting engenders early on. But you’ll notice something about those research articles: they argue for the benefit of handwriting in general, not necessarily cursive. 

Some argue that cursive signatures are easier to forge than printed ones–but that doesn’t seem like a compelling argument to learn cursive either. For starters, one could just learn to write their signature in cursive without learning the rest of it. Signatures are also… not all that secure even in cursive. If they were, we wouldn’t be moving to biometric ID. Also, let’s be real, when was the last time you were asked to sign something and you genuinely tried to make it match the signature on your driver’s license and didn’t just kind of… Squiggle?

The Constitution?

Perhaps most perplexing, but most commonly leveraged by lawmakers, is the United States Constitution. Here’s an excerpt from a bill in New Jersey introduced in February 2022 that wants to make cursive mandatory:

“In addition, documents that are fundamental to our nation’s history and laws, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were drafted in cursive. So that students are able to read our most valued historical documents in their original form, can write or sign their names in cursive when required, and are enriched by any cognitive, motor skill, or other benefits that result from learning to write in cursive, this bill requires that cursive be included in the public school curriculum.”

Because uh… Yeah. It’s not like there’s a print-script version of the Constitution anywhere or anything

See if you know different kinds of cursive here.