Thursday, July 7, 2011

Writing Off Penmanship

I've been waiting with trepidation for the day when schools officially embrace SMS-inspired abbreviations like u r ("you are"), l8r ("later"), and i <3 u ("I 'heart' [love] you"), and spelling tests disappear or at least are graded more leniently. So I shouldn't have been surprised to hear that Indiana public schools will no longer be required to teach cursive handwriting, but I was.

Although my own handwriting is often illegible even to myself, I'm oddly fond of cursive, maybe because it's been championed by people I admire. My mother's gorgeous handwriting looks like an example from a penmanship manual because "that's how we were taught to write back then," she says. When I took a couple of semesters of Russian in college, the instructor, a native Russian, allowed the class to print (in Cyrillic, of course) only for the first half of the first semester. After that, she started deducting points from homework assignments and tests that weren't written in cursive. "In Russia, only little children print," she explained.

I'm thrilled to wave bye-bye to most skills that are obsolete, or nearly so. Thanks to electronic banking, I've only had to write about ten checks in the last five years. I never really got the hang of manual record turntables, and almost always produced that horrid zipping/scratching sound when putting the needle on a vinyl record. Typing on an actual typewriter—I even had a manual (non-electric) student model in my youth—and using Wite-Out® correction fluid are now as antiquated as getting up from the sofa to change TV channels. There are some things I'll miss, though. I never got, and now never will get, my chance to pilot the space shuttle, darn it. And there are a few practices that I stubbornly refuse to let die. I mow my lawn with an old-fashioned push mower; it's good for the environment and my cardiovascular system. I baked a cake from scratch just last week. I handle most correspondence via emails or greeting cards, but I still write condolence letters by hand (even though I first compose them on computer, then copy them out in pen). Writing still has its place.

Indiana schools that want to teach cursive handwriting will be allowed to do so, but my guess is that most won't bother. Andree Anderson of the Indiana University Northwest Urban Teacher Education Program says that cursive lessons have been a low priority for a while now. Keyboard proficiency will be the new focus, and eventually even that will be supplemented or replaced by something else: voice commands, multi-touch gestures like "pinch to zoom," neural implants...who knows? I think that the use of paper and pencil will eventually be limited to the briefest of notes, probably no more than will fit on a Post-It®. Until someone invents disposable devices that'll display text and stick to pretty much anything, we've got to at least have Post-Its!

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