The Great Gender Equalizer May Be Upon Us!

Cursive is officially dead, at least according to a survey of incoming freshmen. It's bad news for avid letter writers, but could be good news for boys?

Most students responding to the Mindset List, a survey at Beloit College, said they didn't know how to write in cursive (also apparently passe: wristwatches, e-mail, and Beavis & Butthead). This isn't that much of a surprise, since the media has been bemoaning the death of pretty handwriting for a while now and I can remember Olds complaining about the issue as far back as the late 90s. In a way they're right: it will be sad to see those curly letters go the way of the phone cord. I spent a lot of time in third grade learning how to make a beautiful cursive 'B,' and now those hard-won skills go pretty much unappreciated. But this may not be such a bad thing.

For one, penmanship when I was growing up always seemed intensely gendered. One of my early teachers was obsessed with perfectly formed letters, and she hated many of the boys in our class, largely for their clumsy scrawls. As it turns out, the fact that the boys bore the brunt of her rage wasn't entirely coincidence: there may be a biological basis for boys' inferior penmanship. Writes Kristin Kane of Parenting,

During the early school years, when kids are learning to shape letters, the nerve fibers that control fine motor skills in boys' brains typically haven't matured as much as girls' have. So the girls in your son's class may be better equipped to conquer penmanship.

Boys' brains eventually catch up and their handwriting gets better than their early attempts, but it's still usually not as neat as that of the girl at the next desk. That's because women tend to have more nerve connections between the two sides of the brain, which also helps with precision.

Kane notes that social influences may also be at play: "Nice penmanship is often considered a feminine trait, so boys aren't encouraged to improve theirs or care as much about how it looks." So maybe de-emphasizing penmanship will level the playing field a bit. And there's more than gender at work here. My own stellar performance aside, I've always thought handwriting was a bullshit skill. I saw other kids get marked down for "messiness" even when the actual content of their assignments was impressive, and while teachers always said they were training us to present ourselves well, they ended up punishing poor fine motor skills. As a kid who tried hard (I swear!) but still couldn't throw a ball more than 2 feet, I understand that some things are just physically difficult for kids — and especially now that nearly everyone can use a computer, no kid should be made to feel stupid because his B's look worse than everybody else's. Although I have to confess, I'm still pretty proud of mine.

Wear Wristwatch? Use E-Mail? Not For Class Of '14 [AP, via Brattleboro Reformer]

Related: Bad Handwriting: A Gender Thing? [Parenting]

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