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Data Snacks: The Curse of Cursive

Can you read the first line? Easily? It’s from a class of typography fonts called Fraktur, Blacktype or old German. Basically, Gothic. When handwritten, many people find it hard to read yet it was taught in parts of Europe well into the 1940s. Genealogists sometimes need an expert to decipher Colonial or European handwriting.

In the US and Canada, schools stopped teaching cursive writing as early as the late ‘70s. By 1985, that was the norm and in 2010 cursive was not included in the Common Core standards. In its place is a form of printing that slants a bit. Like italic block letters.

Why is this important? Because many who can’t write in cursive can’t read it either. When volunteers spend countless hours writing envelopes and postcard messages, there is no guarantee the recipient will even be able to read it any better than we can read something in an old German or old English font.

A 2022 article in The Atlantic covers a professor’s discovery that 2/3rds of her Harvard University students could not READ cursive. They use keyboards and not fountain pens.

Without starting a debate over whether kids should be taught cursive writing, it’s the pond we swim in and impacts what we do.

Today, 28% of the voters in Maricopa County fall into the age group where they probably won’t be able to read what you sent them. LD3 has an older demographic so the number is 10%. Not insignificant. Add to that voters who learned to read and write English later in life as their second language and were never taught cursive.

The USPS resorts to humans if the machines can’t read what you wrote. Increasingly, those human employees are not cursive literate either.

Reportedly, 2% of mail in the US gets routed to a special Remote Encoding Center in Salt Lake City where 1,700 employees try to read illegible addresses. The result for us…delay in delivery.

The moral of the story is:

Print, don’t write. Be accurate and print neatly to reach more voters.

[Inspiration for this topic provided by Sean Richardson]

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