Many school districts teach little or nothing about cursive writing.
“How will they be able to sign their names?” is a frequent complaint.
But something more insidious is destroying penmanship for young and old alike. It is dooming the ability to write legibly in cursive style, where all the letters in each word flow into one elongated curlicue of a pen stroke.
The villains are plastic-screened, stylus-signed credit/debit card readers in checkout lines at stores, gas stations, etc.
Does anybody write a legible signature on those cramped little screens?
I do not.
I have never been accused of legible penmanship. That is one consequence of using typewriters or keyboards almost exclusively ever since high school.
One of the few “You SHALL take this course!” orders my mother ever gave me occurred during my junior year in high school. She made me take a half-semester course in typing, supplemented for the remainder of the semester by a home economics course.
There were fringe benefits.
I was the only boy in Mrs. McClure’s typing class at the old spire-topped Warren High School in the 1950s. The other 45 or so students were girls. When I reluctantly signed up for the typing class at Mom’s order, I complained to my friends. They teased me a bit, but mostly understood that in those days, when Mom spoke, children obeyed — or else Dad (or even Mom) swatted.
When I was not even a week into the class, male friends were offering me extra cupcakes at lunch if I would “fix them up” with Carol or Anne, who sat near me in that typing class.
I made friends with some really nice girls — and more than a few were head-turners.
Unhappily, they did not regard me as boyfriend material. That might have had something to do with Mom as well. We had little money after Dad died, so I was also under her orders to wear geeky plastic pocket protectors to preserve my shirts from ink leaks; we carried liquid-ink fountain pens in those days. My “not a boyfriend” status was also enhanced by my stick-out ears, my horn-rimmed eyeglasses and my white-sidewalls haircut with a flattop crown.
I did not date a lot of girls, but I did learn to type. That skill paid dividends in college, when I helped to pay for my education by typing others’ term papers. Also because I I could type, I got a job as a sportswriter at the old Erie Daily Times, which led me into journalism as a lifelong occupation.
But typing every day, for hours at a time, put the kibosh to what legibility remained in my handwriting. I quickly reverted to block letters, which is what I suspect will happen to many of today’s primary grades students, even if they are taught cursive writing.
“Use it or lose it” is true of young students. Just ask any of us who took foreign languages in grade school or high school but never used them after graduation. Today, I can only grunt in German and Russian, and I dimly remember most of the Italian profanities we giggled over as children when we discerned our adult relatives’ attempts to disguise their chatter from our then-little ears. But that’s it. I cannot carry a conversation in any of those languages, though in childhood years I was fluent in all of them.
Today, I have about as much need for cursive writing as I do for “Guten Tag!” in German or “Buon Giorno!” in Italian, i.e., none.
I still sign an occasional check, but friends in the banking industry assure me that signature checking is also a lost art there, with other methods used to validate the authenticity of checks.
I chuckle when I read that this or that handwriting “expert” at criminal trials can verify or rebut the authenticity of someone’s handwriting. Two or three decades ago, perhaps. Today? Hah. Most of us under age 50 either use keyboards or, if we use pens or pencils, scribe printed-out block letters.
What use, then, is there for continuing to teach cursive writing? Some say today’s students will need it in order to read original copies of historical documents. C’mon. I have seen the original copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, glass-encased in the Library of Congress. I can puzzle out the convention that then substituted something like the letter “f” for the letter “s” in some usages. And though I have long ago forgotten most German, I can also puzzle out the Old German Script that employs a similar “f for s” and other wrinkles.
But the coup de grace to cursive writing is being administered, day-by-day, through those “signature” machines at checkout counters. They respond to any lines, from pound signs to actual letters, and their slippery surfaces discourage even the neat handwriters among us.
Nostalgia must yield to reality, mustn’t it?
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org