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October 20, 2014

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The handwriting is on the wall: cursive is obsolete


By now we’ve all seen the report that says this year’s incoming college freshmen are unfamiliar with cursive writing. Yep. The handwriting is on the wall for handwriting. Cursive, foiled again.
I find people have one of two reactions to this piece of alleged news: “Oh, for crying out loud,” or “So what?” Which reaction you get depends on the age of the reactor. Age 40 seems to be the median. Older than that, and they can’t believe what the world is coming to. Younger, and they can’t believe the old folks are getting their briefs in a bunch over something so inconsequential as handwriting.
As a card-carrying (AARP, library and pinochle) member of the oh-for-crying-out-loud set, I think I know why all of us grayhairs are reacting as we are: Resentment.
Yes, resentment — for all those hours in the classroom, making row upon row of loops on-lined paper with a Scripto cartridge pen that turned your fingertips a nice, necrotic blue; resentment for the cramp that would seize your hand somewhere between the 8000th and 9000th loop, wrenching bone and sinew into a useless, shriveled, blue-tipped claw; resentment for the fact that no matter how many loops you made or how many cramps you suffered, your handwriting was never good enough to satisfy your teacher, who insisted – despite all evidence to the contrary – that you, too, could form letters as perfect as the white ones printed on that green border above the blackboard. Or maybe that was just me. All I know is I was awfully relieved when I learned to type.
It seemed to be different for girls. For example, my older sister Vicky has beautiful, flowing penmanship. For a guy like me, whose penmanship was so atrocious teachers felt compelled to mention it on report cards, it is miraculous. Except it isn’t, because just about every woman that age I have ever met has exactly the same handwriting. Bunch of teachers’ pets if you ask me.
For older members of the pro-cursive crowd, the resentment runs even deeper, because they had to learn the Palmer method of handwriting, in which the writer actually uses his shoulder and upper arm to move the pen around the page. It makes for big, loopy handwriting that was all the rage until they discovered its dark secret. You know how great-grandma has gotten sort of lopsided as she has gotten older? That drooping right shoulder is worn out. It’s the ticking time bomb of the Palmer method.
Kids, of course, don’t understand what the fuss is about. It’s handwriting, which they stopped using years ago. Pen and paper might as well be chisel and stone. They don’t write. They text. The teachings of the Palmer method have been reduced to how fast one can type on a miniature keyboard using only the thumbs.
I text, too. But fossil that I am, I also carry a fountain pen. It forces me to slow down, to think about what I am saying, to form the words – and my thoughts – carefully.
Texting is just the opposite. Texting is blurting, usually expressed in some weirdly abbreviated mutation of English. Using cursive, with a real pen and real ink, is writing. Even with penmanship like mine, which caused more than one teacher to swear under her breath.
Why do you think they call it cursive?

Author: Mike Redmond

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  1. Privacy and the Obsolescence of Cursive Writing | The GKO Tech Blog - [...] posted two links today that lead to what might be shocking news to some. #1: www.ss-times.com/2010/08/26/the-handwriting-is-on-the-wall-cursive-is-obsolete/ and #2: [...] …

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