Of Cursive and Smart Writing

HandwritingSo, I recently read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the first book in the series. I know, I know. I’m w-a-a-a-y behind the times. Most of the kids I know who introduced me to this series will be headed off to college soon. But, you see, the series is still so popular that the books rarely stay on the shelves of our library, especially the first one (and I’m anal enough that I have to read things in order). Finding this book in our library is like finding a four-leaf clover, but it showed up one day, with no holds on it, so I nabbed it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, the author and publishers have done a good job of making the books look like facsimiles of a kid’s journal entries. The pages are lined like notebook paper and filled with drawings and writing that looks like it was written by hand. It’s an engaging book, and I was reading along, enjoying it immensely, when I got to a section where Greg (our middle school “hero”) includes a few notes from his mom.

These notes are written, as any woman over the age of thirty would expect a note written to a sixth-grader would be, in script (or cursive). At least, you’d think any woman over the age of thirty would expect that, but I didn’t, nor would many of the women in my school district think that. My thought was, “How do all the kids checking out this book read that?”

You see, in our school district (which isn’t alone, obviously, if you’re able to read the image I’ve included with this post. I just pulled it from an online search for images of handwriting), they’ve stopped teaching kids how to read and write script. I think the (short-sided) logic behind this must be that it’s a useless skill bound to go the way of the dinosaurs now that everyone keyboards (to use a hideous “newspeak” term). Since I don’t have children, this is something I wouldn’t have known had a colleague of mine not told me that her teenage sons can’t read the notes she writes unless she prints them. Aren’t these kids frustrated by that? I remember how I felt when I finally learned to read, so happy, only to discover that I still couldn’t read all the hand-written cards in my baby scrapbook, because I didn’t yet know how to read cursive. I couldn’t wait to learn!

What an abomination, really, that kids aren’t being taught to read and write script. Now, lest you think I’m some old-fashioned, back-to-the-basics, curmudgeon who thinks school should be like it was in 1955, let me tell you that I’m all in favor of a changing curriculum that takes into account the times in which we live. Calculators in the classroom? Absolutely (especially if they’re graphing calculators). Memorizing the chronology of events? Yes, kids should have an understanding of history that takes into account events of the past, how they may have impacted other past events that came after, as well as how they might affect our present. They can’t do this, if they don’t know that the U.S. Civil War came before World War I, which came before the Spanish Civil War, which came before World War II. Memorizing exact dates of specific battles? Why, when everyone walks around with the Internet in his or her pocket these days? Have them memorize poems and songs they like, so they can carry art around with them at all times. Have them memorize commands and codes and sources of information in an age when there’s so much information available and those who succeed will be those who know how to get and interpret it.

But deciding not to teach script shows an utter lack of imagination. I won’t get into all the primary sources that will be lost to these kids (letters and first-drafts of novels and compositions, etc.), but I will get into one of my first thoughts about raising a generation that can’t read what I write (and not just because of my notoriously bad handwriting). What’s going to happen to one of these kids in a few years when she gets her first job, walks into the office on her first day of work, sits down in her cubicle, and finds a sticky note on her desk (written by her childless, forty-something-year-old boss in a barely legible cursive scrawl), “Please pull and read the Smith files for our lunch meeting with the Battleby Group today.”?

That was my first thought. These days, I’m thinking about Smartpens and Smart Notebooks. If you don’t know what these are, take a look at this. They’re in their infancy, and they have their flaws, but I’m quite sure they’re our new future (especially if those of us who happen to be pen obsessives have any say). One day, we will move away from clumsy laptops and awkward keyboards and back to the elegance and simplicity of the pen and notebook, a pen and notebook that will archive what we write both digitally and on paper. When we do, anyone who can’t write in cursive will be at a disadvantage, because, everyone knows, it’s quicker and easier to write in cursive than in print.

So, you see? I’m not so w-a-a-a-a-y behind the times after all. Greg the Wimpy Kid may be grown with wimpy middle schoolers of his own by the time I finally get through his series, but I’m ahead of my time because I can read and write cursive. I’ll be able to teach those who can’t when it comes back into vogue.

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4 thoughts on “Of Cursive and Smart Writing

  1. Emily, I’m left handed and old enough to remember when grammar schools were still wrestling with changing a left hander to a right hander. No wonder us poor lefties are so challenged :-). In any case, they allowed me to write left handed (on a right hander’s desk of course, where my elbow had no support) and when it came to cursive, my handwriting was nearly illegible and as a consequence there was talk about leaving me behind in the 5th grade. I remember that Easter vacation doing practice penmanship sets for extra credit so I was not left back. All the other kids were out having fun:-( (No wonder my mother taught me how to type before I got into high school. I was the only male who could type 80 WPM in HS — and the only male in the HS typing class – good for getting dates at least — and if it was not for that skill, I think being forced to write cursive would have led to a very different career.) So I say farewell cursive! (OK, OK, teach them to read it but don’t force them to write it.) I can’t even think without a keyboard.

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    • Bob, see? I’m not in favor of a return to the classrooms of the 1950s. Thank goodness schools finally saw fit to get things like left-handed desks. How sad you had to spend your Easter break practicing your handwriting. And thank goodness your mom had the foresight to get you typing. When I worked with dyslexic kids, many of whom were also either left-handed and/or dysgraphic, we taught them all how to type, which made writing easier for them. Most people, though, can learn cursive just fine, so I say, teach them, and then let them choose how they want to write (or type, as the case may be). As you know, my own illegible handwriting is a cross between print and cursive (copied from one of my seventh-grade teachers who wrote that way and on whom I had a massive crush). No one can read it, except me. Still, I much prefer to compose anything I write in long-hand before typing it up. That Smartpen has my name all over it!

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  2. I love how the smartpen people call them “pencasts” 🙂 Pretty nifty but I’ll stick with my fountain pens thanks. Even if you were taught and can read cursive I still have a very hard time reading the cursive of my boss who is close to 70. I feel like I work at Bletchley Park instead of a library every time she leaves a note on my desk. It is a shame many kids aren’t being taught cursive these days. It is a useful skill and studied have shown it is good for the brain too.

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  3. If kids aren’t taught to write, what are they going to do in the workplace? I, and most of my colleagues have a laptop, but in the majority of the meetings I go to, everyone has a notebook and pen, and I work in the digital team! If the company was dishing out tablets, it might be different, but while they can’t afford to do that and it’s crappy laptops that barely hold a charge, the notebook is still the option of choice. Workplace tech has a long way to go before catching up with personal and home tech.

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