(Photo of envelope that arrived in December 2011, from Micheline Courtemanche of Betty & Bing)
Having taught at Colleges and Universities for a decade, I've noticed that my students rarely write in cursive. For the most part my students print when they must write tests by hand and their handwriting sometimes verges on illegible.
Handwriting has evidently taken a back seat to other curriculum priorities in schools. The absence of handwriting ability creates an exponential loss for those who aren't practiced at the skill. Longhand (or cursive) writing requires fine motor skills that are different from those required to print letters. Also, when students aren't taught to write in longhand, they have difficulty reading it. I remember reading an article about handwriting which mentioned that the brain processes the skill of printing letters differently than it does writing in longhand. The inability to write in longhand apparently affects brain capacity in a not altogether insignificant way.
France recognizes the value of handwriting skills and sees it as part and parcel of artistic expression. It is taught in conjunction with drawing, dance and music. Here is a British-made video of French schoolchildren being taught handwriting in a comprehensively artistic manner.
Cursive is simply loaded with the individual personality of the writer in a way that an army of emoticons cannot replace. Certainly, email is expedient and convenient but nothing can replace the visceral thrill of getting a hand-written note or letter in the mailbox. Honestly, who wants a love letter printed in Helvetica from a laser printer? I miss seeing the "personality" part of written communications that arrive via email. It seems a high price to pay in exchange for volumes of email...too much of which is pointless.
Longhand is expressive. It's drawing, it's dancing on paper, it's emotive and personal. It's an art form that only improves with regular practice, just as any other art form does. When drawn well, letters are objects of beauty. For those who wish to hone their skills, it only takes about 10 minutes of practice each day to steadily improve.
A copy of a 'Palmer Method' book can often be found on eBay, or templates of the alphabet found with a Google image search. That is the hand that was commonly taught in the early half of the 20th century and looks quite nice. The 'Zaner Method' is a very similar alternative.
So dust off your pens and stationary. Make someone's YEAR by writing them a beautifully handwritten letter...and make yourself a smarter, more skilled penman in the process!
**Note from nook: Take a look at this related blog post by fellow illustrator Jacqui Oakley!