Niagara Gazette

May 5, 2013

GLYNN: No need winding up to write

By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Now the computers are threatening to take away one of our cherished skills that connects us to our past — handwriting.

Under what’s known as the Common Core Learning Standards, we’re informed that cursive writing is obsolete. States are now allowed to teach cursive if they choose while some like New York are considering abandoning the longhand lessons altogether. The Empire State curriculum coordinators apparently intend to emphasize computer typing in the classroom, starting at the elementary level.  

Most people today think of cursive as fancy loops and flowing letters but it isn’t all that simple. What’s at risk though is the long-term impact of losing that personal touch.

Think of it this way. You receive that Christmas card from a friend you haven’t seen or heard from in decades and there’s no written message. (As in all other years). Not even a signature, only a printed name at the bottom. 

And there’s the required “Thank You” notes to all those people who send gifts and cash for your wedding, graduations or some special anniversary. Do you think for a fleeting moment that some of today’s youngsters — 20 years from now — will ever take time to write a personal note, especially if they don’t know anything about handwriting? A single Happy Ad in the newspaper addressed to “All You People” will probably suffice. 

Perhaps the worst example of losing touch, someone has actually produced a card designed to acknowledge all the wonderful expressions of sympathy over the loss of a loved one. It states (Well, almost) “Our family will forever be indebted for whatever you did when (he) or (she) was called home. Whether you sent flowers, a card, coupons, food, a six-pack, donations to the six suggested memorials, served as an usher or pallbearer, or even thought about coming to the funeral home but you had two flat tires .... our heartfelt appreciation.” That should cover most of the bases.

There are some strong arguments against such a drastic change. For instance, as one teacher pointed out, if students can’t write cursive, they won’t be able to read cursive. Handwriting, it can be said, is a reflection of our humanity.  

“Penmanship develops fine motor skills, and most students find that when they practice, they can radically improve their handwriting,” according to Eldra Avery, a high school English teacher. She raises a valid point: “With Internet plagiarism a concern, many teachers have increased in-class writing assignments, and they essays must be legible.”  

As for correct penmanship, Ring Lardner, the great humorist, baseball writer, newspaper columnist and masterful writer of short stories, offered a suggestion gleaned from his childhood days in Niles, Mich.

 Lardner explained: “The rules of penmanship at that time provided that you had to lean your head over to the left, wind up like they was nobody on second base, and when you finally touched pen to paper, your head followed through from left to right so that when you come to the end of the line, your right ear laid flat on the desk.”

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THE OTHER SIDE: Not everyone, of course, is upset that cursive has fallen out of favor. As one fourth grade teacher noted: “This is the age of iPads, cell phones and computers. When a kid can text 80 words per minute, does he really need to learn cursive?  

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.