By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
Picture this. Sometime in the future your young grandson is rummaging in the attic. He finds a cache of letters from your grandfather, who was writing from some distant clime while wearing the uniform of his country during a conflict that took him far away.
These letters home might tell a story that few in the family any longer recall or maybe never knew. Your grandchild picks up a clutch of envelopes and pulls out a page.
“What’s this,” he might ask himself out loud. He scans the paper but never having learned cursive handwriting is unable to read it, so thinking it is meaningless he tosses it aside.
It isn’t too dramatic to suggest that if the teaching of cursive writing is universally scrapped, as the Common Core curriculum seems to encourage, whole eras of every day history might be lost to the ages. A dividing line will be drawn in the on-going record of life’s granular events.
This will open a chasm between the written accounts of ordinary folks who prior to the 21st century put their thoughts on paper in cursive script for future descendants to discover and the people who don’t read cursive script, the sort who commit everything to electronic devices via texts and e-mails.
People in the past who used cursive to faithfully keep diaries, day books, and journals, people who wrote letters that got saved, farmers who documented the weather and the growing seasons in notebooks had faith that someone in the future would be interested in their observations.
If the day comes when few can read what they wrote, their efforts will have been wasted. Only the most determined scholars of the daily doings of past generations may any longer make the effort to decipher their thoughts and ideas, while the keyboard-caressing masses will tap and tickle their devices, oblivious to what they are missing. Hand-written historic documents from long ago could also become as mysterious as runes.
When teaching cursive was considered to be essential, anyone waiting for a love letter, a card from grandma on their birthday, or a reply to an invitation from a friend could recognize the sender’s handwriting on the envelope at a glance. That’s because a person’s signature is almost as distinctive as a fingerprint. Familial similarities are immediately obvious, but so are the differences. Hence your signature and that of your parents or siblings or your children can usually be quickly discerned from each other, but the fact that you are related can also usually be seen in the commonalities of style. Handwriting is a reflection as well as a projection of the self.
The actions that are required to transform a concept or idea into its expression on paper utilize the neuromuscular connection between a person’s brain and his or her hand. This process is thought to facilitate the development of motor skills, which supporters cite as a reason to continue teaching and using cursive script.
In addition, some studies suggest that writing in longhand leads to faster and more complex communication with more words and ideas being expressed faster than when using keyboarding or printing. Research also has given rise to the belief that learning to recognize separate letters in print, cursive, and various typefaces stimulates the brain’s capability to process complex information. An opinion piece in the New York Post one year ago last month (February 20, 2017) quoted an article in Psychology Today by Dr. William Klemm in which he said, “The benefits of brain development [from writing in cursive script] are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument.”
Yet, those agreeing with the Common Core’s omission of cursive writing argue that it takes too much time away from other subjects and is being rendered obsolete by electronic technology. Better, they say, to concentrate on learning keyboard skills even though evidence exists that students understand and retain information better when taking notes on paper as opposed to a word processor. Apparently, that doesn’t matter enough.
And what about the ability to sign one’s own name on legal and financial documents? Even as the prospect of facial, fingerprint, and iris recognition and the use of microchips in credit cards looms on the horizon, signatures are still required for many transactions and will be for a long time to come. Children who aren’t taught cursive may not be capable of signing their names and may only be able to print them. This is not a good thing.
However, there are positive developments for determined advocates of the pen and paper tradition to embrace. In reaction to the Common Core failure to mention it, some 14 states have legally mandated the teaching of cursive handwriting. Although Rhode Island isn’t one of those fourteen states, inclusion of cursive instruction is left to the local school districts, and some of them require it.
If you are a proponent of the skill and live in Smithfield, that’s good news. The School Department assures us that cursive handwriting is still being taught in the third grade here.
May it always be so.