• August 2, 2021
 Op-Ed: Sorry, Kids Don’t Need Cursive Writing to Understand Historical Documents

Op-Ed: Sorry, Kids Don’t Need Cursive Writing to Understand Historical Documents

Take a look at this meme that rears its ugly head once in a while across the Internet especially on Facebook:

For those of you that cannot read cursive, it says;

“Kids who can’t read cursive handwriting can’t read historic documents. Support cursive in the curriculum.”

I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with the probably obvious: Some people, and I am gonna guess it is people that have not been in a school in decades, are upset that cursive handwriting is no longer being taught in many school districts across the country.

There are many very good reasons for this, but the most obvious one is that a child does not need to understand or write in cursive in order to communicate in today’s world.

Printed word, audio, video, and other forms of communication are all taking over from the cursive writing of old. And computers don’t put out content in cursive, unless you tell them to.

Of course, this meme was probably made by some older, more conservative person that think our kids need to be able to READ primary source historical cursive documents that are from the early years of the United States. However, MOST historical documents are not written in English, are not written in English cursive, and are not from the United States.

And chances ARE that the ones written in English are probably written in Olde English, which most people, students or not, would have a difficult time understanding anyway.

So let’s take a look at some of those “primary source documents” that kids are supposed to be able to read. Start with the most obvious: The Declaration of Independence:

This is the CURRENT condition of the Declaration of Independence that is in the National Archives: Faded almost to the point of transparency. I have actually seen the document up close and personal. It is very close to being illegible. Even if a student could read cursive, it would be of little or no use. The writing is that bad.

How is that “Need to be able to read cursive working for you?

Let’s look at another primary source: The US Constitution:

Again, faded, almost illegible.

So historical documents were all written in cursive? The meme makes it sound like it. But like most memes, it is almost totally false and creates a story that cannot stand up under the facts.

Back to the Declaration of Independence. Most Americans do not know the original was printed in PRINT form, distributed across the colonies and THEN written in cursive later:

Imagine yourself as a typical middle school student. What is easier to read and understand: The written-in-cursive faded version we have in the National Archives or this version also in the National Archives, although in the virtual National Archives?

The point is, the printed version or for that matter the web version, unless there is some compelling reason otherwise, is almost ALWAYS easier to read and understand than the “historic” cursive version. Unless you are Nicolas Cage and need to steal the original document to find the hidden treasure map on the back using lemon juice and a candle, chances are the printed version will work just fine.

Consider the TEXAS Constitution: It was and always has been, printed. Never cursive:

The Japanese Surrender Documents at the end of World War 2: Printed.

Your mortgage papers? Printed.
Your divorce decree? Printed.
The local newspaper (if you even know what that is): Printed.
Textbooks? Printed.
Most online content? Printed.
Want to buy a car? I hope you can read printed script.

In fact, I bet you cannot think of an important document other than your High School diploma that didn’t use print script.

For those that insist that you still need to WRITE cursive to understand historical documents, consider the Magna Carta, written in 1215 in LATIN in print script,  and the basis for much of our Constitution, here is what it looks like:

Here is a transcript in English.  Now, tell me, what is easier to understand? Unless your Latin is good, I suspect you liked the English PRINTED translation.

These types of internet memes are usually put out by nostalgic people thinking that the world they remember was better than the world they live in now. Sadly, they don’t seem to understand that in many aspects, the world they once knew is gone, and had been replaced by something even better. Why, I can’t even recall a time when the Fox News headline scroll was written using as cursive font.

Let old ways die. Just because YOU did it, does not mean it was better. It is totally okay to remember your past, but don’t force it on the rest of us.

The world has gotten much better over the years. Much better.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Tim Holt


Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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  • What a load of bunk!

    What is wrong with learning cursive?

    From the NY Times:

    “The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing. … In fact, learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.” Apr 30, 2013

    Read this, from Phsyc Today


    My son wants to learn cursive.

    And saying, “Let old ways die,” is ridiculous.

    Let the old ways die, SMH.

    • Hi Steven,
      Thank you for your response. There are a lot of things that can help students with brain development. For instance, learning to play music, or learning and speaking a new language. When I say “let old ways die” it is in reference to teaching old ways simply because “we have always done it that way.” We don”t teach many subjects that were taught years ago simply because either society or technology has replaced them with something better.

      I am not saying do not teach handwriting at all. Teaching students to wrtie quickly is a skill that is of course, useful. I think the studies you cited above conflate handwriting in general with handwriting in cursive. Teaching cursive simply because we have “always done so” or because “that’s the way I was taught” is silly. Look at this webiste and count the fonts that are cursive. There are none. Your response to this message was in a prnt script font, not a cursive font. We can teach students to write quickly in print style just as we can in cursive and save a lot of time and pain both for teachers and for students.

      I will leave you with this thought: If you connect cursive script handwriting with brain development, then you could say, logically, that the most educated people should be able to, and are in fact communicating well using cursive writing. With me? Now, how many prescriptions over the years, have been misread because the highly intelligent doctor , who wrote in cursive script, wrote so poorly that the pharmacist could not interpret what they had written? Could you read a your doctors script? Probably not. Can you understand Donald Trump’s cursive signature? (Here is a sample: https://qz.com/891546/donald-trump-official-signature-trump-takes-a-tediously-long-time-to-sign-his-name/)

      I stand by my opinion that you, me, or any student, does not need to learn cursive writing to read histrocial documents, or for that fact, even to communicate well in the 21st century.

      • Ah, but the one comment you made, within the body of your article caused me to react. “Let old ways die. Just because YOU did it, does not mean it was better. It is totally okay to remember your past, but don’t force it on the rest of us.”

        Mr. Holt, do you not know that if we begin to think, as you have stated, and let the old die out then we are beginning to dumb down future generations? My son knows the difference between cursive and other forms of writing. He wants to learn cursive. Why? Because it is elegant and denotes one who pays attention to detail.

        But we should let old ways die.

        Then equating prescriptions that have been misread and Donald Trump’s signature as reasons to stop teaching cursive is really a disconnect from reality. I could cite you hundreds of things we should end simply because mistakes happen, or a Buffon in office cannot sign his signature legibly.

        I’m sorry, I simply cannot side with you on this one and I feel most of the country may feel the same. Before you know it we will all be writing as others text!


  • Steven,
    Thanks again for the follow up. Let me ask you this:
    In which academic area from Kindergarten to 12th grade, which is what we are talknig about here, is your son required to have an understanding of cursive writing in order to succeed? Now, as a follow up, which academic area does your son have to have an understanding of printed text in order to succeed?

    I think for the first question, the answer is none and for the second almost all.

    I hardly think, IMHO, that not learning cursive writing will lead to the dumbing down of future geneerations. Old ways do die, and they are replaced by something new and often better. Does our collective lack of knowledge of how to shoe horses or usie a library card catalog make us “dumber?” Of course not, because those skills have ben replaced by something better.

    Good conversation. 🙂

  • You seem like you’re kind of a pompous idiot.
    You probably think you’re a good “educator” and obviously believe you have some sort of “really valuable” information to pump out into the world, but the truth is – you don’t.
    Otherwise, you wouldn’t be throwing out op-eds and hosting a blog. You’d just keep a diary.
    The only difference between you’re article and the meme you hate, is that the person who created that meme shows far more intelligence than the person who wrote this article.
    Your “point” is lost to or forgotten by most readers when your actual character begins to cast a dark shadow over it.
    In other words –
    Say what you have to say without acting like an arrogant asshole, and you might find more people from the opposite side of an issue actually listening to you.
    With me?

    • Thanks for your feedback Jerry.
      I appreciate you reading my blog and my opinion pieces.
      Opinion pieces are designed to generate meaningful, useful discussion between groups and individuals that have differing points of view. Civil discourse is the backbone of our democracy, as I am sure you would agree.

      So, do you agree with the meme that handwriting is needed to read histroical documents, or do you agree with me that cursive is not needed to read histrocial documents?

      I deepy appreciate you adding to the healthy debate.


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