“Cursive writing does not mean what I think it does.”- Bart Simpson
The other day on the train, my eye fell upon the stack of papers clutched by my seat partner. The text slashed the page; all letters touched together, the rounded curves squashed flat against the bottom line. What language is this, I wondered. I realized at long last that it was English cursive… but a very terrible attempt at cursive. This really did look like chicken scratches or hieroglyphics… it was that bad.
I read an interesting article this morning in the New York Times about the disappearance of cursive handwriting. Many schools do not teach cursive anymore… most stop their instruction by the third grade… which is, ironically, the last year I remember doing cursive in a formal environment.
I was in public school at the time… as a Kindergartner I was given a large landscape-oriented sheet of newsprint with a blank space on top and a block of tri-ruled lines at the bottom. You know the ones I mean… the two inch wide green lines with a dashed demarcation running down the middle… frightening word highways… repositories for the letters I was still learning. At the time, it was not expected that we know how to write in the traditional sense… in fact… we were expected to draw a picture in the blank space and draw squiggles akin to children’s representations of mountains. Up/down/up/down/up/down. It could say whatever you wanted… it didn’t matter. All the pencil peaks and valleys were the same.
Then, once you reached the number grades… the mountains came crashing down… real writing was required. I suppose the mountain writing was a way to acclimatize us to the flow and movement of cursive… just a softer, more grown-up squiggle. I probably was dyslexic, but I was dedicated. A different marble composition book was required for every subject, and I used a new page for each assignment to make it seem like I wrote a lot. I must have learned the cursive letters… one at a time, copying them in my wide ruled note book over and over…but my memory is very hazy. All my elementary school classrooms had cursive alphabet borders running around the room near the ceiling line… they were high up there. I wonder if any children actually paid attention to them, craning their necks, following the 52 squiggles left to right… uppercase and lowercase. Sadly, what I remember clearly is that some of the people in my class still couldn’t read by the 2nd grade… and the first class of the year was spent on a remedial alphabet refresher.
I don’t remember cursive being required… I wasn’t writing book reports in cursive, nor did I have handwriting tests of any kind. As a 4th grader, I transferred to private school where no one cared about cursive… it just wasn’t done. I remember envying one of my best friends for her cursive “M”s… I practiced my own signature over and over again, in case I grew up to be famous.
When I spent time in my mother’s office while on a school break, I took it upon myself to improve my lettering. She made examples of the cursive letters for me, spaced out on a yellow steno pad. I would sit in a leather high-backed chair for hours, chewing on the straw of my cherry coke, forming the letters over and over… row upon row of every letter, both cases. After many long afternoons in her office, the steno pad was completely filled up with dark blue penmanship. It did not resemble my mom’s handwriting, but at least it was a valiant effort.
The Times article mentions that some younger folks can no longer read the eloquent scripted writing… the mythological beast known as cursive. While I may not be an expert in graphology (that’s the study and analysis of handwriting), I feel confident that I can at least READ the stuff… even if my lowercase “u,” “v,” and “w” all look relatively the same. I do empathize, though, with the children who were surprised when they learned that cursive “D” in Disney’s bubbly script at the start of old VHS tapes was actually a “D”!
In college and graduate school, I continued to practice my cursive as a deterrent to falling asleep in class. Cursive, since I was not a born natural, required just that extra bit of concentration. I slanted my notepad… pulled out my disposable fountain pen… and began to script continuously. Whether or not I could read it later when studying was another matter… as the smooth squiggles slipped off the lines from time to time, trailing off into swooping curves.
I understand that times are changing… that word processing skills take precedent and smart phones, IM and text messaging are pervasive ways of communication. My current print is only a more refined version of the print I did as an elementary-age kid. I value my handwriting. I much prefer to write long hand for just about everything. I’m a list maker, a letter writer, and I have my own wax seal. Believe me; the concept of a blog is still very foreign.
Who cares if no job requires cursive… I don’t know many professional scribes these days… but that’s beside the point. Why not learn to do it for the love of doing it? To improve your own print by honing another side of it… or to marvel at the sheer art value if you think it’s otherwise irrelevant? We shouldn’t eliminate these skills from our repertoire simply because they’ve been targeted as “outdated”… ludicrous.
Go write a letter in cursive and spend the money to post it… it won’t kill you. If you’re feeling really racy, see if you can use roman numerals in the process… there’s another thing we’re missing out on these days.