Penmanship and the Dodo

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...

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Valuing diversity of opinion, I’m pleased to have among my regular blogging contacts a woman and an educator. Jennifer Carey is both those things and I liked her recent blog post offering the InfoGraphic, “A Few Grammar Mistakes That Can Make You Look Silly”. I thought that using a cultural approach was very good because grammar has never been a popular school subject, even in my day. (I went to high school in the early 1950’s!) It seems to me that good grammar is in decline these days, but Jennifer rightfully pointed out that the record has long been spotty, citing some very bad grammar found in Civil War letters.

Highlighting that bad grammar can make one seem not just silly but socially inferior should be a real motivator. Isn’t it remarkable how difficult it is to change adult habits? Little wonder then that when an illiterate adult finally learns to read and write, it makes headlines.

Extinct As A Dodo Bird

I thought about Jennifer’s grammar post when I saw an AP News article in today’s Joplin Globe about many schools abandoning the teaching of cursive writing, mostly under pressure from mandatory testing under government laws like NCLB.  The thought that cursive writing might be going extinct gives me a sense of loss similar to what I felt about grammar. I mean, what if one of these solar flares takes out the whole electric grid and keyboards don’t work any more? Well, never mind – cursive writing will be the least of our problems if that happens.

Cursive is as much a part of me as keyboarding – it is something I simply take for granted.  But of course anyone in my generation will recall that a great deal of emphasis was placed on it.  It was called “penmanship”, a term now possibly considered misogynistic and seemingly destined for the vocabulary boneyard.

The AP news article noted that one neuroscience researcher thinks that handwriting seems to promote “important brain activity”. I think that should be pursued. From my own experience I can tell you that there’s something to handwriting analysis as it relates to personality and brain development. I watched my sons’ handwriting evolve throughout their lives, both in school and afterwards, and I could perceive a clear correlation between their handwriting and their growth in knowledge, assertiveness and maturity.  Not only that, when I urged them to practice getting more self-assurance into their signatures it seemed to produce more self assurance in them.  I do believe that feed-back loop exists, strange as it may seem.

I suggest that we not abandon cursive before we better understand its intrinsic value for self-expression, thought-process and pedagogical effects. There seems to be considerable agreement that NCLB was a failure and I hope it’s buried quickly.  If so maybe that will take the pressure off and cursive writing can be saved.

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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10 Responses to Penmanship and the Dodo

  1. I have to admit a bit of bias on this one. My hideous handwriting makes me long for a day where I’ll never have to put ink to paper again!

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  2. PiedType says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I wrote about this topic myself last year after learning that Georgia planned to drop cursive instruction from its curricula and that 85% of today’s college students print when writing by hand. Just another example of NCLB failing us and our children.

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  3. Jim,

    My cursive writing has always been D level, at best. I’ve always envied those who could write cursive quickly and still maintain legibility. I found a box of college notebooks not long ago and
    the pages of Flair scrawling could be a medical student’s attempt to master an illegible prescription signature. Thank God for word processors. A grocery list is the only paper that is defaced with handwriting — and then, more often than not, I usually forget to bring it along. Maybe I need to carry an iPad to the grocery store.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      You are a young sprout compared to me John, so I suspect that your cursive condition might be due to less instruction. When I was in elementary school the desks all still had holes for inkwells in them and I can recall buying wooden handles and steel nibs for the pens. Writing was a big deal and a lot of effort went into it. On the other hand, maybe you aren’t wired for cursive – genes have to play a huge part in it. I have marveled that my handwriting is almost identical to my mother’s!

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  4. Jim,

    Very interesting, especially the feed-back loop and the genetics and the stimulation of intelligence.

    I admit I would never had made the connection between cursive writing and brain development, which, now that I look into it, apparently learning cursive writing enhances intelligence and fluency in language and improves the neural connections! That would beg one to ask: Why is it being abandoned in some places?

    Duane

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  5. I love writing with a fountain pen – when I can find one. I love writing notes and letters with a fine pen. I love the tactile sense, and the beauty of the lines and circles and flairs on the page. And I remember some years ago reading that what we express, the way our brain accesses the thoughts and feelings, will be different, depending on whether we’re typing or writing. Because the two use different parts of the brain. I have a friend who works our daily xword on the LA Times web site, but I prefer doing it with my blue (ball point) pen on the paper itself. I like the tactile process and I like seeing the finished part. There’s something strange about all that, I guess. We lose something, surely, (even those who don’t enjoy it or believe they aren’t good at it) when we don’t have ease with cursive writing. I do hope the children growing up today will be taught cursive writing, and some of them, I’m sure, will even learn to enjoy it.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Helen, you and I share that joy of writing, and of crosswords with a pen. I do the USA Today puzzle every day, and the Sudoku – it has become a habit that I can lose myself in and I really look forward to them. I really think it’s a form of meditation.

      Thanks for visiting. – Jim

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  6. Rawhead says:

    Glad to see cursive go, really. I still remember how to do it though! Poorly. I generally print in all caps when I’m forced to write something. Not acceptable here, everyone thinks you’re screaming.

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  7. Pingback: Cursive or Cursing Writing | EduDad

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