I had no idea of the “rabbit hole” I would enter when I decided to research learning cursive handwriting. For something that many people think is “dying” or “non-essential”, there are a bunch of resources out there for someone interested in learning cursive and/or improving their handwriting. I had no idea what I was getting into, but it’s been a rewarding education.
There’s Cursive, and Then There’s Cursive
Until I recently thought of relearning cursive, I hadn’t given it a thought since grade school. I didn’t realize I would have to choose which type of cursive to learn. I naively thought “cursive” was “cursive”. I was unaware of the rich and interesting history of cursive handwriting and it’s various forms. I discovered several different types of cursive handwriting in my research:
2) Round Hand
7) Getty-Dubay (website)
Yep… and there are even more cursive types out there. While there are numerous handwriting “systems”, it seems they fall into a few categories:
- Ornate: Spencerian, Round Hand, Copperplate
- More “standard” cursive (the type I learned in grade school): Palmer, Zaner-Bloser, D’Nealian
- Cursive italic: Getty-Dubay, Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting
- More modern variations: New American Cursive, Handwriting Without Tears
Honestly, it was a little overwhelming when I discovered all the different cursive options. I had to ask myself why I wanted to relearn cursive, and what my goals were.
Inspired by Amazing Penmanship & The Masters
I have several reasons I want to teach myself cursive (that I’ll get to in a bit), but a big reason is being inspired by the incredible handwriting of some talented individuals I encounter in the stationary blogosphere. Whether it’s via their blogs, Twitter and/or Instagram, I can thank the following for their inspiration and motivation:
They have some serious handwriting skills. I highly encourage you to seek out their work… It is awesome.
There is also an extremely elite group of folks1 that have attained the designation of Master Penman by The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting (IAMPETH).
The title of Master Penman is only granted after a rigorous process demonstrating a level of artistry and precision that seems inconceivable (at least to me) by the human hand. The work they produce is awe inspiring… you really have to see it. If you want to be blown away by the most beautiful handwriting you’ll ever see, check out the stunning work of some of these masters:
Below is a talk given by Jake Weidmann called Why Write? Penmanship for the 21st Century. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched it. I think it should be required viewing. . . for everyone.
My Reasons for Wanting to Relearn Cursive
My cursive aspirations are realistic. Considering where I’m starting from (essentially zero), my basic goal is to be able to produce some really nice-looking handwriting, however long it takes. While that really is enough of a motivator for me to learn cursive, there are several other reasons it’s a goal I want to accomplish.
I discovered I can’t do it anymore.
My recent attempts at the cursive I learned in grade school were complete failures. All the embarrassing evidence was destroyed. My results were the product of forcing my hand to do something it just can’t do anymore. It became obvious to me cursive handwriting is a skill I lost ages ago. It’s like I forgot a language I learned as a kid. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I want to take on the challenge of relearning something I think is important and still relevant in our increasingly digital world.
For my kids.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which aims to create uniform educational standards across the country, has been adopted by 43 states. My home state of Montana is one of them. Some genius involved in the development of the standards thought eliminating cursive handwriting education was a good idea. States that implement the CCSS have the ability to amend the requirements, and several wise states have moved to retain the cursive requirement. The topic of teaching kids cursive in school is somewhat controversial, and certainly worthy of it’s own blog post, but it’s probably no surprise I think learning cursive is important. Unfortunately, Montana has yet to be proactive in this area, so there’s a very good chance I may be the one that provides cursive handwriting instruction for my kids. Our oldest is five, and our twins are three, so I have some time to relearn cursive and hopefully get adept enough to pass it along to them.
I also love the thought of my children picking up one of my Field Notes memo books, or other journals, in the future and reading it while they drink some coffee made from beans harvested on the moon. It would be super if they could actually read (and be impressed by) my handwriting, instead of them wondering if their dad had created some indecipherable script to hide his lunatic rantings from the government. I know I’m taking a huge leap assuming they won’t just throw them out with all my Blu-Ray discs that will no longer be relevant. I can hope.
It’s good for the brain.
In his fascinating article, Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter, William Klemm, Ph.D. provides convincing (at least to me) reasons why learning to write by hand is an effective brain enhancer. He goes even further to claim cursive provides more benefit than printing. According to Dr. Klemm:
“… scientists are discovering that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development, particularly in training the brain to learn “functional specialization”— that is, the capacity for optimal efficiency. In the case of learning cursive writing, the brain develops functional specialization that integrates both sensation, movement control, and thinking.”
He also informs us that:
“Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that do not participate in keyboarding.”
Of course, learning to type on a keyboard (or touch screen) is vital in the present and will continue to be in the future, but to forsake teaching cursive handwriting is a terrible idea. I think what we lose can’t be made up with something else… the benefits of learning cursive are irreplaceable.
The cognitive benefits of learning and using cursive handwriting may be more advantageous to the developing brain, but I’d like to think those learning or relearning cursive later in life will see positive effects as well. I know I hope so. I’ll take any sort of brain boost I can get.
Learning cursive is a gateway to more advanced penmanship.
I really want to learn to write with Spencerian script. Successfully learning the Spencerian script is the next challenge I want to tackle after mastering standard cursive. It just looks so incredible.
I’d also like to eventually get into calligraphy, but I’m not going to get ahead of myself. Before I wrote this post, I didn’t even know what differentiated calligraphy from “fancy” handwriting. In case you don’t know either, calligraphy incorporates special writing tools such as broad tips and brushes, and elevates handwriting to an art form.
One of the best explanations of calligraphy I found was at a wonderful site called Calligraphy Skills run by Katharine Scarfe Beckett. She is an incredible calligrapher, and with input from her peers, came up with this definition:
“Calligraphy is the art of forming beautiful symbols by hand and arranging them well. It’s a set of skills and techniques for positioning and inscribing words so they show integrity, harmony, some sort of ancestry, rhythm and creative fire.”
In the essay on her site, What is Calligraphy?, she expands on that summary much further. It’s fascinating stuff, and completely opened my eyes to this beautiful form of artistic expression.
Practicing cursive is another way to use the analog tools I love.
This is a great motivator for me. Not only do I get to use the analog tools I already enjoy, but there are lots of other neat instruments I may want to try as I go through the process of learning and practicing cursive and more advanced scripts. I would even love to delve into calligraphy at some point. Here are some things I’ve yet to try, but came across while writing this post and seem like they would be a blast to use:
- Various pen holders, particularly oblique pen holders.
- All kinds of different nibs (flex, here I come!).
- Papers I’ve never heard of before.
- All sorts of brushes (honestly, these seem pretty intimidating).
Showing off on special occasions.
It would be so incredible to give my wife a card that I wrote in a beautiful cursive script (or even better, Spencerian!). To be able to do something like that would be amazing. I better be careful though… If I get good enough, I may be assigned to do invitations for three weddings. What am I saying?… That would be an honor. Hopefully there is plenty of time before that happens!
What Type of Cursive Did I Decide to Learn?
I decided to purchase American Cursive Handwriting by Master Penman Michael Sull. In his course, he teaches a style of cursive that is based on the Palmer method. I’m no expert, but it’s what I would consider a classic, standard style of cursive. The cursive script he teaches in American Cursive Handwriting seems like the perfect hybrid of beautiful and practical.
Mr. Sull’s cursive work is astounding, and his instructional materials receive rave reviews. If I’m going to take on the challenge of relearning cursive, I want to learn from a true expert. His impressive resume includes being the most notable Spencerian penman and a presidential calligrapher. Mr. Sull is currently the Master Penmanship Program Director at IAMPETH and Zaner-Bloser’s Master Penman. At his website, Mr. Sull provides a vast selection of instructional materials, tools of the trade (even oblique pen holders he makes himself), as well as other great stuff.As if all that wasn’t enough, this quote of his from last year’s National Handwriting Day2 won me over:
“Handwriting is the intimate expression of emotions, wishes and dreams made visible on paper. Through this personal medium we have the privilege of sharing our humanity with everyone, or with no one at all. It is an intensely private occupation that can never be exactly duplicated, yet always reveals a glimpse of the writer’s soul.”
I considered the cursive italic style Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay teach in their book Write Now: The Getty-Dubay Program for Handwriting Success. The Getty-Dubay cursive italic style of handwriting looks neat, and compared to more “standard” cursive, it’s probably more pragmatic and easier to learn. A primary difference from standard cursive is the absence of “loops”. Cursive italic seems like it would be very useful for normal, everyday writing. I would guess with the cursive italic style, I could increase my legibility while maintaining the (fast) speed I write my current form of only-I-can-read script. The Getty-Dubay style looks great, and something I could see as useful to add to my handwriting skill set. For now, I’m going to focus on the style of cursive Mr. Sull teaches in American Cursive Handwriting. I don’t see any need to choose just one style of handwriting to learn, but if my goal was only practical/functional, I’d probably go exclusively with the Getty-Dubay method.
Only the Beginning…
My simple decision to relearn cursive turned into a journey I didn’t expect. It’s been fascinating to learn about the history of penmanship and some of the current controversy about teaching cursive in schools. It’s such an interesting topic, and one I could never properly do justice in a single blog post. I have strong feelings about writing by hand and keeping cursive handwriting alive, so I hope to revisit the subject later in some fashion.
I’m going to make a concerted effort to set aside a small bit of time each day (or let’s be honest, most days) to practice my cursive handwriting. I realize relearning cursive is going to take a long time. My hope is to be able to make my wife a beautiful handwritten card for her birthday. I have until October, but I better get practicing.