The Lost Art Of Penmanship


Photo: Edesaintjores [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

On one of my first job interviews, all the candidates were asked to write an essay in the waiting room. At the end of the interview process, the department chairman took me aside and told me that out of the fifty candidates they had interviewed, I was the only candidate to write in script. If it were not for my Catholic School experience at St Brendans in the Bronx during the 1960’s, that chairman would not have singled me out.

The art of penmanship has long faded into the distant past. However, for anyone who has ever attended Catholic Schools in the twentieth century, the development of proper penmanship was a major part of the curriculum. Even in most public schools in the twentieth century penmanship was a part of the curriculum. I can still remember those script uppercase and lowercase letters hanging above the chalkboard. We practiced penmanship every day. We were graded on our penmanship. We were told penmanship was a reflection of caring about your work. The discipline of practicing penmanship was a study in the development of both physical and mental skills.

The methodology behind the use of cursive was that once the art of writing in cursive was attained, the brain was free to engage in more analytical thinking as cursive flows much more freely than printing.[1]  Of course, as kids we didn’t understand that, we just knew that if we wrote sloppy, doom and gloom would soon follow. Nonetheless, time and technology has changed the way of thinking for many. There have been arguments against the use of cursive. In the 2012 New York State Common Core curriculum change there was no mention of teaching cursive anywhere in the curriculum. Opponents feel that cursive is not needed in a society that has overly embraced technology. Nonetheless, have you ever seen someone trying to sign a form or a check that does not know how to write in cursive?


Photo: Abbie Rowe [Public domain]

In practical terms, what made the practice of penmanship difficult was the requirements that all St Brendans students write with an ink cartridge fountain pen. As crazy as it may seem in 2019, in the 1960s, ball point pens were not allowed to be used in class. Ball point pens were evil, ink cartridge fountain pens and pencils were the only writing utensils allowed. Ink cartridge pens wrote beautifully when you had achieved just the right amount of pressure against the paper. Press down too hard or dot an I for too long, and you had yourself a nice blue blot of ink on your paper. Installing and removing the cartridges from those pens could be a mess. Nonetheless, they were cool, and everyone noticed the color or style of everyone’s cartridge pens. A fountain pen was like an investment. They were expensive. Your parents would not be happy if you lost your fountain pen. Simple things in Catholic school at that age were often a very big deal.

The ability to write in cursive enables one not to only sign checks or legal documents, but in even more simple terms, the ability to sign greeting cards or other social documents with a beautiful handwritten signature. Receiving a birthday card from a thirty year old who printed their name just does not seem to cut it.

In the end, penmanship may not be regarded as that important anymore because of technology. Yet it still serves a purpose on many different plains. However, revitalizing the lost art of penmanship just may be a battle that has run out of ink a long time ago.


Photo: Joe Haupt from USA [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

[1] Haskell, Myrna Beth. “Is Cursive Making a Comeback after Disappearing from Curriculums?” New York Parenting. Accessed January 22, 2019.

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