09052014 Who Put the “Curse” in Cursive Writing?

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This is the logo used when I was kid. Dolly Madison is now owned by Hostess Foods. I wrote them many years ago, telling their marketing department that their logo sparked my ability to write words.

For those of who know me, I love the style of cursive writing. Writing “longhand,” as we can archaically call it, is a peaceful, meditative thing – at least for me. I wrote letters long after my contemporaries abandoned the practice.For those who had to attempt to read and comprehend my writing, I apologize! My handwriting resembles the scrawls of a man being forced to write at gunpoint, while receiving random electrical shocks. It’s that bad – regardless of the time I spent trying to do it better.

But (and there is always a “but” in these essays), as a left-handed person, cursive written was indeed a cursed activity in school. I remember the first cursive letter I ever wrote. It was an “L.” I was living with my grandparents at the time and they had a small black and white television, so we gathered around it to be entertained. It was either Friday or Saturday evening and we were watching a show sponsored by Dolly Madison. In rural Central-Eastern Arkansas back in the very early 1970s, being able to get even 3 stations was a miracle. Much of the programming was very tame by today’s standards, too. Putting an antennae up was also a necessity but it increased the chances of a lightning bolt to the house, too.

If you look casually at the logo above you can see that the “L” that my grandma showed me how to draw was essentially the bonnet in the logo. I was so proud of myself.

I learned a lot of letters from my grandparents. What is amusing is how relatively uneducated they both were, but they loved the time they spent showing me words. In fact, the way grandpa taught me to read words caused me considerable trouble in 1st grade. My teacher ultimately assigned me special help. I was regarded as a little simple. I simply didn’t know how to sound out words in the way preferred in the alleged modern teaching method. Grandpa had taught me to recognize an immense list of words. I could pronounce them and use them in sentences correctly, but it set me back compared to other kids my age, as I could not break down words into syllables and sounds distinguished by letters. My favorite thing to use to learn new words: the TV guide. In grandma Nellie’s house, the TV guide had more stature than the bible. As I progressed, learning how to sound out the alphabet in pieces instead of whole words, the truth is that I actually learned how to conceal the fact that I was still learning much, much more by learning entire words than I was by sounding them out. I’m still convinced that I can read so quickly precisely because I learned how to read the wrong way. (If you believe that there is a wrong way to learn.)

Before I forget, I didn’t go to kindergarten. Due to mom and dad moving to Northwest Arkansas between school years, I skipped having to go. I went from reading TV Guide to 1st grade at John Tyson Elementary. It is now considered highly unusual for a kid my age to have skipped kindergarten. Back then, though, there weren’t any stringent truancy laws to exact revenge on parents who didn’t enroll their kids in kindergarten or other programs before elementary school.

Later, in school, I had the terrible misfortune of having to deal with a couple of teachers who stupidly insisted that writing with my left-hand was wrong and needed to be harshly weeded out of me. Naturally, I resisted them. My grandpa had insisted that I learn to write and draw with whichever hand was comfortable. He wasn’t progressive in any sense of the word – but he did make an effort to be sure that I enjoyed writing and drawing, even if I did it poorly. And make no mistake about it, my drawing and penmanship were terrible. Unlike other kids, though, I never learned to loathe writing or to be embarrassed about my notable lack of skill. Even as my left hand left huge smears on the paper as I wrote, I didn’t let it dampen my enthusiasm. Even when those very few teachers were asses to me about writing left-handed, I knew they were wrong. One of them in particular tried vainly to shame me for my horrible penmanship. I didn’t care, as I knew that no matter how hard I worked, my penmanship was never going to be great. Some teachers just couldn’t get it through their heads that, as a left-hander, their methods of instruction were exactly backwards to me. Even in the 6th grade, I had a teacher treat me like an ape over my lack of concern over writing with the “correct” hand. She never missed an opportunity to tell me my handwriting was atrocious. Little did she know that my dad had already provided infinite training in the ability to ignore a lot of harshness being directed at me. She was a child in an adult’s world, at least in my mind. I do wonder sometimes whether she realized how horrible she seemed to me then.

Now, seeing that the tide is turning regarding cursive writing, I would like to weigh in and say that I admire cursive writing. It’s elegant and evokes times past. It does enhance motor control and acuity. But so do many other activities, ones more anchored in our ever-changing world.

But it is still wrong to continue to require it. The arguments being made for continuing to teach it are usually based on not understanding where cursive originated.

The world has moved on and those who would shout to the heavens to require this antiquated way of writing are wrong to insist on their stubbornness to require it. Focus on regular writing and leave cursive writing with calligraphy, which once was an admired and respectable means to write. Like it or not, the world has shifted to block lettering, preferred by computers and keyboards. Try as you might to anchor written communication to the past, it is not going to be successful or even necessary. It is the way of the world to claim remorse over the changing ways we live our lives and to seek to keep elements of our past alive, long after the necessity or even the utility of it has passed. I can understand the appeal toward maintaining old customs, even when they are no longer relevant.

Remember, I love cursive writing, even though it was very difficult for me to learn. Part of it might have been that everything looked backwards to me in my hard-wired left-handed world. As much as I love the idea and essence of cursive writing, it is already an elective art.

It is time for schools to acknowledge the antiquated status of cursive and use the immense time involvement on something much more useful, such as reading. One of my personal prejudices is the belief that reading in and of itself is one of the most redeeming and intellectually valuable pursuits of anyone, at any age.

Sidenotes:

If you are interested, you should google “Writing in Cursive,” or read the link here: Click Here for Cursive Wikipedia Article        Cursive was used for informal writing, while what we might call block lettering was the preferred and more esteemed way to write. Cursive was considered to be more illegible. Interesting? I think so. If you only read the Wikipedia page in the leak, I’m certain that you will discover that the issue is a little more convoluted than those arguing about it would admit to.

Cursive writing also originated from the necessity of compensating for quills and other antiquated writing utensils. Not lifting one’s writing utensil not only provided for greater speed, but also mitigated limitations of the method used to write. Please note that people arguing in favor of mandatory cursive training in school are in fact making an argument based on aesthetics over obsolescence.