I recently came across an Associated Press newspaper article from 2009 with the heading “Cursive writing may be fading skill.”
It was not too long ago that I learned that “cursive” writing is what they called “longhand” writing in the old days. The revelation that longhand was probably going the way of the party line and princess phones was disturbing to me.
Throughout history, good handwriting has been considered a skill. Being able to write legibly was important. The ability to record history and communicate was completely reliant on the hand-written word. Now, according to the article, writing in longhand is a “fading skill.”
Back in the days of my youth, having a nice handwriting was something to be proud of. “You have nice handwriting” was a real compliment. A nice signature was even better. People took pride in their signature and worked hard to get it right.
The AP article reported on an eighth-grader in one state who could not write cursive and her signature looked like it was written by a little kid. When the girl’s concerned mother called the school to find out why her daughter was unable to even legibly sign her name, she was told that the state system taught cursive writing briefly in the third grade and that, because of today’s technology, there was little emphasis on handwriting skills.
Back when I was in grammar school, I remember what seemed like endless hours of handwriting exercises. They called it “penmanship.”
For the exercises, the teacher gave each student a sheet of paper with lines and a wooden pen with a removable metal tip. The desks had inkwells. (Remember inkwells?)
The drill involved holding the paper with the left hand while dipping the pen tip in ink. Then, while holding the pen lightly between the thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand, and with the little finger lightly touching the paper, you made counter-clockwise loops with pen on paper.
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While the students made loops, the teacher walked around the room making sure that hands glided over the paper, that the tops and bottoms of the loops touched the lines and that they were elliptical. No matter how hard I tried, I could never make loops that satisfied the teacher.
After making a few loops, you had to stop, dip the pen in ink and make more loops. If you happened to get a pen with a bad tip, the tip might snag causing ink to splatter on the paper making a mess.
The class made loops for a while and then graduated to writing cursive/longhand phrases between the lines.
Some years ago, it became apparent that penmanship drills as I remembered them had either changed or been discarded when I noticed young people holding a pencil or pen in the palm of their hand like they were going to stab the paper. I was amazed that they could write like that.
Actually, as the AP article mentioned, cursive writing is not that important anymore. Other than maybe handwritten invitations and letters to loved ones, most people now communicate in writing either by computer or telephone texting.
So, like a lot of other important things from my younger life, handwriting has become a “fading skill.” I guess my time spent making loops was wasted.
Next, I will probably hear that grammar school students no longer have to memorize multiplication tables. That may already be the case. Today, if they need to find out what three times four comes to, all they have to do is press a few keys on their cellphones.
Email Jim Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org.