It was a challenge that would have most millennials and Gen Z rolling their eyes. But Bengaluru-based Sriram Aravamudan posted the Cursive Writing Challenge on his Instagram feed recently, taking delight in the simple pleasure of writing beautifully.
His challenge? ‘Write the longest word in the dictionary, floccinaucinihilipilification, no relation to Shashi Tharoor, within 15 seconds, without taking your hand off the paper except to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.’
There were a few takers, some from as far away as Canada, and the challenge shone the spotlight on a skill that is increasingly becoming redundant. With keypads replacing writing instruments, is cursive writing going the way of fountain pens and quills? “Cursive writing is not as much for beauty as much as for speed,” says Aravamudan, the Business Strategy Head for Spudnik Farms, a community of local farmers. “It’s an efficient way of writing and that is why it will survive.”
Such optimism isn’t entirely misplaced. Indian schools still teach the skill using cursive handwriting workbooks. “Usually, by the time the children finish UKG, children will have learnt three types of writing – capital letters writing, print writing and then, cursive,” says pedagogist Dr Manjula Raman, Group CEO, Royal Concord International Group of Schools.
Year after year, young children are given assignments of writing the alphabet in loops without lifting the pencil off the paper. The pencil has to be gripped carefully between the thumb and forefinger. Aravamudan thinks convent schools are sticklers for cursive writing. “We have a joke about my alma mater, Loyola School in Trivandrum, that all its students have practically the same handwriting!”
But such handwriting comes at a considerable cost. Writer Christobelle Joseph, who participated in the challenge, talks of the pressure schools put on kids for good handwriting. “It’s a bad memory for most children when it should have been a beautiful form of self-expression.” In her case, she had to rewrite notes as her teacher-mother would tear her pages of writing if they were untidy.
For the proponents of graphology (study of handwriting), there is a belief that cursive handwriting is related to the writer’s personality. “I personally think cursive writing is a great way to understand someone’s personality,” says Zac Schraeder, who works with students between the ages 17 and 24 in Canada. “Are they regimented and stubborn? Spontaneous and carefree? Efficient and minimalist? I don’t know if it’s scientifically supported, but it makes for great conversation.”
Will cursive writing prepare brains for reading and writing fluency? That’s true for handwriting in general. In fact, many studies claiming the benefits of cursive writing have actually been about the benefits of writing by hand. “What is the use of learning a skill to save time writing when you don’t write at all?” asks US-based coder Akshat Kumar.
Now in his twenties, he can’t remember writing anything much after his graduation, except for signatures and filling forms “which, by the way, insists on block letters”.
Students type far quicker than writing. “It makes me a little sad to acknowledge that,” Schraeder says, adding, “Cursive writing is quickly becoming a lost art.”
Raman seeks the middle ground by advising instruction from around age 10. Not only do they have …….