Longhand: thoughts on cursive writing

Lately on this blog, I have been talking a lot about time, and how we spend it, and which things are worth spending time on and which are not. In keeping with that flow,  I came across this topic on a social media platform regarding whether or not it is a good idea to teach ‘cursive’ writing to kids, or whether it is a waste of valuable classroom time.

I soon discovered that few topics raise the hackles of my fellow baby boomers faster than the suggestion cursive writing be removed from school curriculum. (If you don’t know what ‘hackles’ are, they are the short, erectile hairs on the back of a dog’s neck that rise when the dog is angered. So yeah, people really get worked up over it.)

The hoopla seems to surround the fact that what most of us learned in elementary school penmanship class, a style known as the “Palmer Method”,  is now deemed out of date. The Palmer Method being the ornamental handwriting technique developed by Austin Palmer back in the late 19th century. Today, 41 states have declared that schools are under no obligation to teach ‘cursive writing’, saying it is a waste of time. A handful of states, California, and Tennessee among them (go figure that), have said no way. Kids have to learn penmanship. So, do they, or don’t they? Mr. Palmer’s method involves exercises that teach kids to write a highly stylized form of scripting that probably has little (maybe no) value in today’s keyboard driven world. Or so they say.

So maybe that makes it a waste of time. I don’t know. I do know that few of us follow the rigid composition structure that we learned in school, and develop instead, a bastardized form of longhand writing that pulls from both printed lettering and a cursive script, into a style that we make our own.

To illustrate, see the photo below of my own handwriting as I began work on this blog post a few days ago:

So maybe writing from my beach chair did not afford me the opportunity to construct my script in accordance with Mr. Palmer’s instructions regarding method and execution:

… the movement of the muscles of the arm from the shoulder to the wrist, while keeping the fleshy portion of the arm just forward of the elbow [held] stationery on the desk. This movement should be used in all capitals and in all small letters, except the extended stem and loop, where a slight extension and contraction of the fingers holding the pen is permissible.”


Proponents of teaching cursive cite brain stimulation and teaching focus as two primary reasons for keeping such training in place.

My personal feeling is that longhand writing of some sort (not necessarily Mr. Palmer’s brand), is vital in connecting words, word patterns and sentence structure in the writer’s brain.

It is an often-told story that the late Hunter S. Thompson, who was a huge fan of Hemingway, once transcribed Hemingway’s classic, “A Farewell to Arms“, in its entirety, in longhand, on yellow legal pads. He wanted to capture Hemingway’s pace, structure, and style so that he could bring the technique to his own writing.

I am not sure if Thompson succeeded in emulating Hemingway. But I do know, that as a reader, the first chapter of “A Farewell to Arms” and the last chapter of HST’s “Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs” are still, to date, my favorite first and last chapters of any books I have ever read.

Now back to work on a book I am writing.

Thankfully, I will be typing.

Thanks for reading.

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