Our computer has just helped make the case for what appears below. This entry originally was written in a cursive type face. But when the words were transferred to Word Press for posting, the computer threw a bucket of 21st-Century cold water on the Twentieth Century author and issued a Borg-like warning that all resistance is futile (Star Trek fans will understand). Feel free to transcribe it in longhand to appreciate the original intent.
How sad that we have reached a point where a machine keeps you from reading what you have written as it was written. However—-
Some school districts no longer teach cursive handwriting, what some call longhand. The means of creating the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, letters home from the battlefront, and thousands of our greatest and/or most popular books has been dismissed by the Common Core Standards. Missouri is one of 42 states to adopt Common Core although it was done only with a certain amount of legislative thrashing around that led to formation of a committee to recommend our own standards which turned out to be pretty much Common Core.
Killing cursive was the idea of the National Governors Association (have you tried to read the signatures of our governors or other high officials; they’re hardly good examples of cursive?) and the Council of Chief State School Officers. States can, if they wish, put the teaching of cursive back into their schools.
But don’t make Common Core any more of a whipping boy than necessary. Cursive fell out of favor with the enactment of No Child Left Behind, which did not include it on tests that led to rating of schools under NCLB. And if it’s not something that’s being assessed so schools can be rated on their quality of teaching, why teach it?
Life experiences have taught most of us that a lot of life is made up of things that were learned but not assessed in school. We’ve talked to some teachers who worry that their schools are so obsessed with assessments that teaching and learning are diminished.
Why is this system of writing that most of us practice with varying degrees of legibility so suddenly so, so—Twentieth Century? Well, say critics, cursive just takes too darn much time. And as students move through their education and into the workplace, cursive handwriting isn’t as useful a skill as using a keyboard.
Why, heck, it’s not going to be very long at this rate before a replacement for Common Core rates schools on how well their students use their thumbs. The rest of the hand is reserved for Olympic sports or musical instruments.
Some people believe cursive writing hones motor skills in children. Some think it encourages gracefulness in an otherwise decreasingly graceful world. We saw a story that ran on ABC News quoting an associate professor at the University of Staganger Reading Centre (it’s in Norway) who doesn’t dismiss typewriting but who says, “Handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.” Translated, said ABC, “Those who learn to write by hand learn better.”
Some researchers suggest that the fastest handwriting involves the use of a mix of cursive and printed letters. One researcher thinks people writing by hand can gain speed that way without losing legibility.
Cursive writing has all but disappeared in the legislative chambers of the Missouri Capitol. It is so rare as to invite comment when a lawmaker submits a handwritten amendment to be considered in debate. Hours of time are wasted each year while the chambers “stand at ease” so someone with a suddenly brilliant idea can consult with a staff member sitting at a computer who knows how to put together a string of words on a keyboard. Some observers link a perceived decline in the intellectual capacity of our lawmakers to the decline in the use of pen and paper and handwritten amendments. We are taking an official neutral position for now.
There are plenty of articles on the pros and cons of cursive writing. But we’ve come up with our own ideas of why teaching cursive writing remains important. It’s simple.
If you can’t write it, you can’t read it. And not everything written is on a web page somewhere. Sometimes you have to be able to read the original document. Maybe it’s grandfather’s letter from Vietnam to his girl at home. Maybe it’s the middle pages of the old family Bible where your family records have been kept for generations. Maybe it’s the original survey of your property. It could be anything and it could be highly meaningful.
There is something about seeing the original final version of the Declaration of Independence and the final engrossed copy of the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington. Something about those handwritten words says something about the human striving that went into the creation of those documents. Your observer has yet to see a thumb-written message that indicates any striving, and precious little thought, has gone into the expression of something. Your observer has not yet seen anything noble written by thumbs.
Yes, these meanderings are written on a keyboard. But at least, all ten fingers are used.
Not all handwritten things are easily read. Many years ago, a friend sent a prominent Missouri lawyer a letter that told him, “Send me something I can read.” Your faithful scribe has been working for a couple of weeks transcribing an 1846 lawsuit challenging the ownership of the land on which Jefferson City stands. Some of the writing displays the elegance of a learned hand of the 18th and 19th century. But there have been times when it has taken fifteen minutes to figure out one word. And in typing the transcript of the documents, there are several blanks where the scrawl is so bad that we just ran up a white flag.
We fear the day that a new foreign language will be added to the list of college courses: Cursive 101. Advanced Cursive. Honors Cursive. Practical Cursive. Maybe colleges of education will offer a course such as Teaching Cursive 256. It would be an elective.
Wonder what the final exam would be like.