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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Who Needs Cursive Anyway?

  My son, who is a sophomore in high school, entered grade school in the early 2000s, about the same time the educational gurus who were designing curriculum decided that it  was not important for kids to learn cursive handwriting anymore. The reasoning was, I suppose, that most communication these kids made was going to be via computer and typed on a keyboard, so why waste time learning to write long hand?  They did teach printing to some extend just in case they needed to jot something down and did't have a computer handy, but the kids in that age group never learned to write.
     Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, penmanship was greatly stressed in schools and was taught as an importantt subject.  If you've ever seen the handwriting of someone who was educated in that era, you may have noticed how they all conform to the same style.  The script is neat & concise, with the letters all slanting the same direction, and produced with the same orderly strokes.   There was apparently no allowance made for "personalizing" your handwriting aback then - it all looks the same.
     By the time I entered school in the early 60's, we learned to write cursive in about the 2nd or 3rd grade, but after that nobody really told us we were "doing it wrong" if we chose to modify it to our own liking.  As long as it was legible, it was okay.  In fact, many of the girls I went to school with adapted the same fat curly writing style, with big loops in the letters, and circles dotting the i's.   Maybe they were copying each other.  Others did have their own personal style, and I could identify most of my friends handwriting at a glance.
    But at some point someone decided it wasn't important to teach kids to write any more.  So consequently, this past week my son was given an assignment in history class. He was to find two letters written home by two WWI soldiers, read them, and then do some sort of project about it.  He had to print out copies of the letters, so the teacher knew they weren't fabricated.
     This was a problem because most of the letters he found on line were written in cursive, and having never learned to write it, he couldn't read it either!  I helped him search until he found one letter that was typed, and one that was printed, and he was able to complete the assignment.
    But this points out a huge problem - if you don't learn to write cursive, you probably can't read it very well either.  That means you must depend on "translations" to read anything that was handwritten before the year 1985.  Among the original documents you can't read are the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Magna Carta.  Also, you may have trouble signing your own name, if printing is not acceptable.
    This might not seem like that big of an issue unless someone needs to do research on handwritten documents of the past, but it just seems like a basic skill that needs to be taught.  What if one of these kids find a treasure trove of old letters in their attic someday from years past?  It sure would be nice if they could read them.   Will they need "translators" in the future, specially schooled in the art of reading cursive? It sounds ridiculous but it could happen. I notice lately some of the school districts in our area are reintroducing the teaching of long hand in their curriculum.  I hope it catches on and others do so too.  In the mean time, I may be teaching a class or two at my kitchen table.  Who needs cursive? I think everyone does!