A few weeks ago, an NPR report discussed the disappearance and resulting anxiety of the lost art of cursive handwriting from elementary school curriculum. Years ago, when I was working at Starbucks many of my younger co-workers could not read my handwriting, and while this made me feel “old,” it really made me feel sad. There must have been some valid reason why I learned cursive handwriting other than ‘tradition’ or rote direct instruction. There had to be something there, some pedagogical reason besides just having good penmanship. While I strongly disagree with the philosophy, “watch closely and wipe any mistakes out immediately and correct the writing before bad habits or confusion is set”,(*)which completely misses some instinct, some notion about the importance of cursive, I do think the craft of cursive handwriting is fundamental to our beings.
When I learned that cursive was no longer being taught, naturally I thought about my own experiences with hand-crafted typography. It’s so much more than a rap on the knuckles or disappointed home-schooling mother: it’s art, it’s our voice in lines, it’s our signature. We use our chubby fingers to grasp a pencil correctly (to this day I don’t hold a pencil ‘correctly” and have clear memories of my frustrated second-grade teacher gently re-positioning my fingers, and my waiting until her back was turned to do it ‘my way’). The thin newsprint with pale red and blue lines proved sturdy structures while developing “favorites.” To this day I wish my name was Queen Kelly. (I really like the letter K.)
While many feel that it’s near treason American school children can’t read the Declaration of Independence, while some believe it really doesn’t matter if they print or script, as long as students are writing, or that it’s important to do things the ‘old fashioned way,’ but there simply isn’t enough time in a school day.
Regardless of external ideas, I sense there is something deeply important and internal at work at the brain-development level, and I may be right. Studies have been done that find that young children’s literacy capacities are enriched:
When she put the kids back into the brain scanner, the two groups showed very different results: The scans for the group that was simply shown letters didn’t look that different. But in the scans for the group that learned to write the letters, James saw a huge spike in activity in their brains’ reading network.
Okay, I confess; that token scientific research article, as well as this one, serve to sway those who think cursive writing is frivolous. I can’t help but think to the craft of writing truly being a ‘craft.’ My art background has always supported my teaching instruction: I see the art and creation of ‘making meaning’ and workshop/studio deeply embedded in language arts. My memories of struggling to practice perfect cursive letters, and then embarking on my own signature, then to the signature I have today, is as closely connected to my identity as any portrait: the change from my maiden name to including my married one, my “pretend” writer’s signature, and there must be a journal somewhere with my practicing future romantic roles, “Mrs. Blahblahblah.” As I dabbled in graphic art, not just the fine arts of printmaking/painting, I fell in love with grand typography. I always loved practicing calligraphy, and I adore a former student’s Facebook posts on his attempts with practicing Chinese characters with brush and ink, keeping his Chinese heritage alive.
Yes, generating typography/computer graphics is using technology and not hand-written, but I have often thought before we hand over technology to a child there should be some measure of foundational lessons. I am not talking about the “back in my day” kinds of things, but why do we always seem to need a “movement” to re-purpose or repackage traditional skills? We have the “maker movement,” going back to ‘real’ food, and life experiences that are authentic. I am not discounting the maker movement, only curious about our collective mania for re-branding our lives. My older son didn’t know how to sew on a button the other day, and I had no interest in teaching him. You know who did? My husband. I have a much more bourgeois attitude about the whole thing. Maybe I’m guilty of this — these hand-written cursive signatures seem too precious in our current state of “college and career readiness.” Just not sure how losing our identities further, our signatures, our marks, enable us to do that.
I recently bought a new i-Pad for myself. I’m pretty excited about it. My Kindle kind of stinks with its Silk browser (yes, I wrote a strongly worded review on Amazon about it: power to the consumer!). Last night my husband turned to me to show me this very cool pencil and app especially designed for i-Pads. I can’t wait to try it out, in my older, but still chubby fingers, and draw and write “real” things. Maybe there’s hope after all.
*That’s not even correct grammar. The sentence should read: “…before any bad habits are set.”
and even Steve Jobs gives a nod to typography: