Although the government does not specify it, nearly all private and public schools in Mexico teach cursive handwriting either alongside or sequentially with print letters, but they use different methods.
Created in 1921 under the presidency of Álvaro Obregón, the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP), or the Secretariat of Public Education, organises, oversees and develops schools in México. Basic education in Mexico features three levels, all of them compulsory. Preescolar, or pre-school (ages 3 to 5), Primaria, or primary school (ages 6 to 12), and Secundaria, or secondary school (ages 12 to 16). Private schools cater to little more than 10% of students, and must cover all of the subjects that are specified by the national curriculum.
The Comisión Nacional de Libros de Texto Gratuitos (CONALITEG), or the National Commission of Free Textbooks, was created as a decentralized structure under the SEP umbrella in 1959. Its main task is to distribute free books that support children’s education with the vision that these books are a social right, and a vehicle to promote education equality. The first generation of books published by the CONALITEG in 1960 included cursive handwriting workbooks that were used by students from the earliest grades.
Since the 1992 educational reform, the curricula for primary education no longer provides details about handwriting instruction or specifies writing models. Moreover, it grants teachers the freedom to choose teaching methods for the instruction of reading and writing during the earliest stages.
According to local typographers, there is a great deal of inconsistency in the approach to teaching handwriting in primary schools. Nearly all private schools and most public ones teach cursive writing — either alongside or sequentially — with print letters. But the resources they use for teaching cursive writing are privately acquired from publishing houses or created by teachers themselves.
The lasting impact of CONALITEG’s textbooks
The free schoolbooks published and distributed by the CONALITEG during the period between 1959 and 1972 contained samples and practice sheets for cursive handwriting. These used a distinctive style of cursive writing that shows similarities with the penmanship of the The Palmer Method of Business Writing shows many similarities, such as the ornamental shapes of the F and G, the open Q; the chancery-style r, and the raised bar in the t. This handwriting model was taught nationwide in Mexico for many years.
Images from Carmen Dominguez Aguirre y Enriqueta León Gonzalez, Mi cuaderno de trabajo de primer año, pp 70. CONALITEG, Mexico, 1960.
While the Mexican government ceased to publish and distribute these workbooks after 1972, the teaching of cursive handwriting never fully disappeared. In fact, it gained support within the educational community from the second half of the 1990s, and publishing houses and private schools began producing books to support cursive handwriting instruction.
Since then, local type designers have been commissioned to create typefaces that match the styles familiar to teachers. These typefaces are usually similar to the Palmer Method penmanship or, more likely, its derivative from the CONALITEG’s workbooks from the 1960s. Type designers are given samples of teachers’ handwriting and are required to mimic the shapes as closely as possible, even if some letter shapes in the sample conflict with typographic principles. Due to teachers’ handwriting departing from the original references to varying degrees, many peculiarities have been introduced in the fonts produced through this process. These new designs are not explicit attempts to improve the original calligraphic or pedagogic models but rather the result of an organic process of evolution.
Sample pages of La fiesta de las letras: libro de lecturas. Santillana, 2020.