Gen Z Never Learned to Read Cursive

When I used to teach a “Media and Culture” class, I had students do an oral project, a handwriting project, a typewriter/cut-and-paste project, and a digital project, and we spent quite a bit of time reading and talking about how the ways we read and write affect not only what we read and write about, but also how we conceptualize the world and our place in it.

I do remember  a time about 16 years ago when I overheard a student in the hallway, during some good-natured teasing banter, saying to a colleague, “Email is for old people.” That was a bit of a surprise!

Had I heard him correctly? Who else can’t read cursive? I asked the class. The answer: about two-thirds. And who can’t write it? Even more. What did they do about signatures? They had invented them by combining vestiges of whatever cursive instruction they may have had with creative squiggles and flourishes. Amused by my astonishment, the students offered reflections about the place—or absence—of handwriting in their lives. Instead of the Civil War past, we found ourselves exploring a different set of historical changes. In my ignorance, I became their pupil as well as a kind of historical artifact, a Rip van Winkle confronting a transformed world.


“There is something charming about receiving a handwritten note,” one student acknowledged. Did he mean charming like an antique curiosity? Charming in the sense of magical in its capacity to create physical connections between human minds? Charming as in establishing an aura of the original, the unique, and the authentic? Perhaps all of these. One’s handwriting is an expression, an offering of self. Crowds still throng athletes, politicians, and rock stars for autographs. We have not yet abandoned our attraction to handwriting as a representation of presence: George Washington, or Beyoncé, or David Ortiz wrote here!

There is a great deal of the past we are better off without, just as there is much to celebrate in the devices that have served as the vehicles of cursive’s demise. But there are dangers in cursive’s loss. Students will miss the excitement and inspiration that I have seen them experience as they interact with the physical embodiment of thoughts and ideas voiced by a person long since silenced by death. Handwriting can make the past seem almost alive in the present.

Source: Gen Z Never Learned to Read Cursive

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