Cursive and Dinosaurs

I recently read that cursive writing is no longer a DOE requirement for grade schools.  Instead, they are going to focus on keyboard skills.  Cursive can still be taught, but it is an option to be exercised at the local level. Something seems wrong with this.

I’ve struggled with why I felt that way.  That led me to the five why’s.  I use that method a lot in my writing and in my work.  I ask “why?” multiple times.  By the time I get to about five iterations I have a pretty clear idea of the true cause for my unrest is.

So, here goes…

Why #1 – Why did the change seem bad to me? 

Was I in one of those “it was good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for them” kind of modes?  In reality, that isn’t my style.  It might be a function of the fact that I grew up in the sixties and don’t accept any credos as gospel. I’ve long been an advocate of progressive education and finding better ways of learning, even for my own brain.  My reaction wasn’t from being anti-progress.

Why #2 – Why would not learning cursive make a difference?

My penmanship is not all that great.  I do have my moments when I take my time and it looks decent, but it is nothing to write home about (couldn’t resist that one!).  That doesn’t matter.  What I do have is a way to put words on a piece of paper in a graceful manner that is unique to me.  About fifteen years ago I rediscovered the luxury of writing with a fountain pen and have been addicted ever since.  There is something about putting ink on paper that makes cursive as much art as it is communication.  It is expression.  How does a keyboard become expressive?  Even bad penmanship is a statement.  A reflection.  What do our children lose when they no longer have that form of expression?  A clever avatar isn’t the same.

Why #3 – Did learning cursive do something for me?

Okay, it’s not a “why” question, but you get the point.  Don’t be so freakin’ anal.

Anyway, I started answering that the discipline of practice was important, but that is wrong.  I do not remember the time I spent practicing my cursive writing.  There are memories of violin lessons and cotillion dance lessons.  I even remember the first time I counted over 100!  It felt like I had crossed a barrier and that there were no limits.  But I couldn’t quite remember the process of learning cursive.

I do remember feeling the achievement when I finally did pull it all together.  Writing cursive was the first adult skill I ever accomplished.  It was the one thing that I watched my parents and older siblings do that I envied.  When I learned to write cursive, I felt accomplished, equal, and armed with an actual skill.  I had pride in the achievement.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was all mine.

Why #4 –  Why would the schools want to stop?

Cursive writing is a discipline.  You have to sit still and practice.  A whole class has to have paper and pencils and time to just sit and repeat the same mechanical rhythm a few hundred times to become proficient.

Lord knows I have sympathy for teachers.  They get duped in our culture. Honest, well intention men and women go into the profession to educate and motivate children and what they get most of the time is administrative goop that makes it hard to just teach.  Yes, it is simplistic, but this is my blog, I get to be that way.  Teachers already have so many daily criteria to meet that is overhead something had to drop.  An intellect in some agency looked around and saw a whole generation of kids using smart phones and the idea that no one writes anymore struck a chord.  Drop cursive and teachers get back hours of time every week that they can use to complete their lesson plans and other overhead.  Plus, schools don’t have to supply practice paper.  Even better, parents have one less thing to worry about.

Yeah, I’m a bit cynical and maybe I’m exaggerating.  But I always look for the ulterior motives in any agency action.

Why #5 – Why is learning keyboard skills as a priority bad?

And there it is.  We have not only taken a right of passage and self expression away from our children, we have now burdened them with potential trauma.

Let me explain.

I learned to type my freshman year of high school in 1967.  My sister was a professional secretary and she recommended it to me.  It is a skill I have used forever.  Plus, the class was full of girls, so, what can I say?

In that class I learned keyboard skills (yes typing is the fundamental keyboard skill) from an instructor who taught it for a living.  He showed us the touch type method, correct posture, how to hold our hands, how to strike the keys.  It was far more intricate and time consuming than learning to write cursive.  I remember spending hours at home on my sisters old manual Smith-Corona typing the same exercises over and over.

Okay.  So, what about the trauma?  I have been typing on typewriters and keyboards since 1967 and have never had wrist trauma.  My sister has typed for a longer period of time and far more than I will do in my lifetime and she has no wrist issues.  Why?  Because there is a correct way to hold your hands and sit when you type.  Carpal tunnel syndrome seems to be rampant these days.  I would suggest it is because most people typing on keyboards don’t know how to hold their hands when they type. Right now my wrists are elevated, not resting on the laptop, and I am striking down at the keys.  It takes a little to get used to, but it is easy on the wrists.  Like any sport, it takes practice and you have to develop the muscles.   Wait, doesn’t that sound like penmanship?

Are teachers being trained in proper keyboard mechanics?  The right angle and technique to hold the hands?  The proper height for the keyboard? The proper posture for the back and position of the feet?  How often to take a break and refresh the muscles?  Probably, not.  I doubt there will be a regimen of touch typing practices to refine techique.  To be honest, I know quite a few people who have hacked two-finger typing into a skill, so touch typing as I learned may not be a necessity to become proficient.  If not, then what is the alternative?  Does each kid figure out their own way? Is it up to the teacher or the local educational institute?  Sounds like a recipe for failure.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am an IT guy and I am totally comfortable with new technology and my computer.  I live most of my work day in front of a screen crafting brilliant and insightful emails and presentations through the portal of my computer’s keyboard.

So many options, so little to say!

Even with all of the techno options available, I’m glad that I know cursive.  It is a default for my writing.  I never am at a loss in a power outage or if my Internet provide goes down.  My notebooks are not subject to viruses or crashes, although they can be decimated by coffee spills.  My penmanship provides a crude form of encryption, so it insures some degree of privacy.  No one thinks to steal a notebook these days.  I do make copies of the important stuff and file those.

When I look back, every book I have written starts with a pen on a page.  I’ve written more than I published and there are files of backstory meanderings that sprang from my mind to the page at the most inconvenient times and places all because I had pen in hand and something to write on.  In cursive.  Like a grown-up.  My cursive writing is a celebration of my thoughts, an artform of communication.

What do you think?  I’d love to here from you.

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11 thoughts on “Cursive and Dinosaurs

  1. I have to say that while I make my living using a computer, I’m appalled at this ludicrous decision on behalf of the DOE. This is a very poor choice – add to the education of our youth, don’t take away from it.

  2. I love writing cursive and actually wouldn’t mind trying to learn calligraphy.. however……some people shouldn’t write cursive… lol. On another note I don’t see why it would hurt TO learn it lol.. maybe even like a crash course or something.. like 5 minutes set aside lol.. I also think I learned this at such a young age. Are we going to stop learning how to write altogether?

    • You always get me thinking. Thanks! Cursive is different than printing, at least for me. The continuous motion letter to letter feels different. When I am trying to work out a difficult plot line or a document for work I often go to pen and paper. It makes me slow down a little and think about what I am writing. Plus, it gave me an excuse to by a kickass fountain pen! (see photo at top of blog)

      j

  3. I didn’t even know what cursive was when I read the title of this blog post. Finally I figured it out – at school we called it ‘running writing’. I sucked at it. I even had my pen rights takenaway when I was 10 and had to go back to pencil until my writing was neat enough to be legible. It took some time (iobviiously I started training to be a lawyer from an early age LOL).

    Being taught to print might have been more beneficial. I still run my letters together, but so badly they are now illegible. Printing is harder for me, and slower, but legible. When I use cursive, I sometimes have to ask others to read it back to me. That’s never going to change – I’m a time-poor lawyer trying to raise children and write books!

    I never learned to touch-type. I am one of those who hacked one fingered typing into a skill – 65 wpm! I will never have carpal tunnel syndromebecause of it and I can saythis with 100% absolutely certainly. carpal tunnel is sometimes erroneously called repetitive strain injury, but it’s not repetitive strain that is the problem – it’s CONSTANT strain. Which is why touch-typing can be bad because th writs are held in a locked position. The way I type, my hands are all over the keyboard and my wrists are constantly moving ergo no constant strain. But more definitely, I actually HAD carpal tunnel when I was pregnant. I couldn’t carry a glass. I couldn’t cut my meat. I couldn’t turn a doorknob. I couldn’t hold a book. I COULD type because my unorthodox style meant my wrists were moving, freeing up the fluid compressing the nerve and restoring feeling to my hands. Holding the mouse was a bitch though. I couldn’t write with a pen either incidentally.

    In short, there are probably a lot of people who wish I would give up cursive.

    • Thank you Ciara! I am now so curious about your handwriting that I might send you some paper just so you could mail a note to me. It would be interesting to see if “non-touch” typists have the same incident of CTS. I always enjoy your comments.

      j

  4. I loved you process, perhaps because it was so familiar to me. I call it being my own prosecuting attorney. But the real problem, I feel, is the one where you mentioned cursive as an art form. It is. Samurai had to learn calligraphy as one of the genteel arts, and cursive is a form of calligraphy. I write often on the inestimable value of participating in the arts, as it is the only place were we know we’ll experience the intuitive, and all that it puts us in touch with. We must keep children in touch with activities which offer scope, beauty and manual skills, something that affords them a sense of accomplishment and wonder. Typing never did that for me. Plus, what happens when the power’s out says the more practical side of my soul – what about that?

  5. I’m just about the only person I know who thinks cursive is valuable and worth teaching. I struggled with penmanship so badly as a kid, and unlike you I vividly remember days and days spent with penmanship workbooks, practicing u’s or l’s or other letters. This was actually a summer chore for me when school was out. I hated it so much!

    But somewhere around fourth grade or so I took an enrichment class where there were board-fuls and board-fuls of notes to copy (which in hindsight is ludicrous for the class in question, but whatever). Though I’d been taught cursive I was still in the habit of printing whenever cursive wasn’t required, because of how unpleasant all that practice was. But that first day of class was horrible . . . everybody else would finish with the notes and then wait on me to finish before the teacher could erase the notes and write a gazillion more on the board, and I was SO SLOW! I was so mortified, and the other kids kept harassing me to use cursive so it wouldn’t take me so long. Finally, in desperation, I did switch to cursive, and I was able to keep up! Because of that, I learned that cursive is a useful note-taking skill. Technology hasn’t yet totally obviated the need to take notes quickly, and we’re doing our kids a disservice if we don’t teach them how.

    As for all the time I suffered to improve my penmanship, I think it paid off. My penmanship isn’t good, but it’s basically legible. Without all the practice, I probably would have been another person with illegible handwriting.

    • That is true. Especially when I’m taking notes during a conference call cursive plus the abbreviations I use make all the difference. It is fast. Trouble is, like you, my legibility can be a bit off, so if I wait to long to read my notes through there are times when I can’t remember what I wrote! Thanks for the comment. It is a great perspective.

  6. What a stupid decision. There are still a lot of old manuscripts in cursive only. I consider it to be an art form–not something to be taken out of the schools. There is waaaay too much dumbing down of our kids these days. I will be teaching my daughter cursive whether her school decides to or not.

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