I need to clarify that by “write”, I mean “hand-write”. This post is inspired by a Facebook discussion started by a homeschooling mother. She, her husband and two young sons (ages 7 and 9) are traveling the world. She expressed some surprise and disagreement upon learning that some homeschoolers are not teaching their children cursive writing — with a fountain pen, no less. I should point out that she was educated in Great Britain and almost qualifies as a Baby Boomer.
If you’re a Baby Boomer, you learned cursive handwriting. In elementary school, we received grades for handwriting. Learning how to type was optional; writing in cursive was not. My recollection (and we’re practically talking ancient history here) is that we started learning cursive in 3rd grade which I started at age 7. I don’t recall having very good handwriting until 7th grade when I had an English teacher, Miss Kelly, who spent the entire year on diagramming sentences and handwriting. Even in 1966, she was considered “old school”. In her defense, I learned grammar and how to write very legibly, both skills that proved valuable. One of my college majors was Spanish. It’s difficult to learn a foreign language (as a teenager or adult) if you don’t have some grasp of grammar; and, I suspect that the ease with which my college and law school professors could read my examination “blue books” was probably good for a few additional grade points — even if they were awarded subconsciously. However, I must point out that Dr. Excitement (my Baby Boomer physician husband) has truly horrendous handwriting and he graduated from college and medical school summa cum laude.
I attended 11th grade (1969-1970) in England where my father was an exchange teacher in Devizes, a small, Wiltshire market town. I was intrigued to learn they were still using fountain pens — not a feather and quill, but the kind you had to dip into an ink well and draw up the ink into the pen’s ink reservoir. As you might imagine, this caused some indelible
disasters accidents. We then discovered new-fangled fountain pens where you could insert an ink cartridge, thus decreasing (but not entirely eliminating) the possibility of producing unintentional Rorschach tests.
My mother was a secretary. Remember those? She in no way encouraged any of her three daughters to learn how to type before we left for college. I think she was quite certain she wanted us to have secretaries, not be secretaries. Not knowing how to type was not a good thing during college where our papers had to be typed. As a double major in history and Spanish, with many papers to write, the hunt and peck typing method was beyond frustrating. Wite Out correction fluid was a huge mess, as was the erasable paper to which I resorted. I’m
almost sure it wasn’t the only reason, but I ended up briefly married to my college boyfriend who, perhaps not incidentally, typed 90 words a minute.
I didn’t learn to use a keyboard properly until my “he’s a keeper” husband brought home our first desk top computer in 1987 and said, “You’ll never learn how to use this.”
(Finger waggle) Oh – Yes – I – Did. (Snap).
I never thought I’d ever say this, but I don’t think children need to learn how to write in cursive. It’s certainly not worth making young children (especially boys) miserable about and I think some learning is stifled when the mechanics of actually putting pen or pencil to paper gets in the way of thinking and expression. In the foreseeable future, I think even keyboarding is going to become less important as voice recognition software inevitably largely replaces QWERTY. Our sons (now 27 and 31) were taught cursive handwriting in elementary school, but they were never very good at it (although not as bad as their father). Today, other than for their signatures, they both print on those rare occasions when they have to write by hand.
One reason my Facebook friend thinks her boys need to learn cursive script is her belief that when you apply for a job, you should submit your resume and a hand-written cover letter. I think those days are largely over. Employers these days (and I was one) want to and expect to receive resumes and cover letters via email, simplifying their storage, retrieval and sharing. On most forms we complete by hand, we are instructed to “print”.
I have a large cardboard packing carton full of handwritten letters I wrote and received, starting with childish scribbles to my grandparents. Many of them are to and from my parents. In our family, we were trained not to incur long distance telephone charges unless there was a dire emergency, and even then, we were encouraged to wait until after 11:00 p.m. when the charges were lower. Whenever I traveled and while away at college (in Massachusetts and Colombia), I was an indefatigable letter writer. I asked my friends and relatives to save my epistles for me, so I would have them as sort of a journal. My handwritten correspondence collection doesn’t peter out completely until about the time my husband brought home our first computer. I’m sad to realize that letter writing, as an historical artifact and an art form, has largely disappeared.
I miss the joy of receiving and writing letters. One of my college work-study jobs was sorting the mail and putting it in the student mailboxes. At lunchtime, my classmates would mill around the mailboxes, eagerly waiting to see if they received any letters. By the time our sons were in college, I had to call or email them to tell them if I was “snail mailing” something to them as they did not even regularly check their physical mailboxes.
Sometimes I miss the feel of crisp paper and the sensation of my pen or pencil gliding over the surface. I miss picking out lovely stationary and the subtle thrill of finding a letter in my mailbox and recognizing a loved one’s handwriting on the envelope. Whenever my friends or relatives returned a packet of my letters to me, they often said, “You know, you should be a writer.” Maybe blog writing is the 21st century equivalent of letter writing — and you don’t get ink all over your hands and clothes.
Update February 7, 2016: I recently watched this YouTube Tedx talk by Jake Weidmann, a certified Master Penman. He makes an eloquent case for reviving the art of penmenship. Soon after I wrote this blog post, I was introduced to Zentangle®. Maria Thomas, one of the creators of the Zentangle method of meditative drawing is, in fact, an artist and calligrapher. Maybe I need to rethink my initial premise that mastering cursive handwriting need not be taught in schools.