Technology may script an end to the art of cursive writing
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As a new school year begins, many children will be returning to classrooms filled with brand new computers, tablets and other tools essential to prep students for life in a plugged-in world. But as schools go high-tech, the move may spell the end for cursive writing.
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My handwriting — either printed or cursive — has indeed suffered from disuse. It’s actually become somewhat painful to write a sentence out. It certainly takes some doing. Whereas my typing skills have gotten proficient-enough to almost expect my thoughts to be put onto the screen as quickly as they materialize in my mind.
I think that my age group was perhaps the last to take pride in its penmanship at any time. I recall how awesome it was to finally get to the age at which cursive was taught and we compared our output and competed with each other for the best penmanship, which usually went to a girl in the class, as it was the girls who seemed to treasure the ability to write prettily the most, while us boys learned that the whole idea behind cursive handwriting was speed. We wrote quickly and the competition angle learning cursive dropped away, even for those of us who practiced our handwriting with pride. We thought our handwriting looked nice; it didn’t. But that was okay. We had our assignments in while the girl next to us carefully swirled and looped and “dotted” lowercase “i”s with hearts. Their writing was gorgeous. Ours looked like dogshit. I see examples of handwriting from younger people nowadays and wonder if the kid’s even literate. High school-level adolescents, putting out sheets of whatever that would make a 3rd-Grader in my time gasp. This kid must have problems, I reason. Yet, such young people are graduating high school at the tops of their classes. Graduating with honors. Step over to a keyboard, and what you witness from them is something like Elton John in The Who’s Tommy as “The Pinball Wizard”, only to be outdone by the blind kid next to him, going completely nuts at the keyboard. I remember typing class. We started out with — gasp — manual typewriters. Our fingers constantly getting caught between the keys on each painful downstroke. Then we moved to IBM Selectrics, which were much better. There was something awesome about an IBM Selectric. It was like typing on a machine gun. The feedback each stroke gave was incredible. They were joys to use. Still, for a great number of us, typing wasn’t fun and the idea of moving on to an advanced course was ridiculous, even for those of us thinking of heading toward a relatively new field in the computer sciences. Even the few whose parents for whatever reason produced a computer for their in-home use typed in a way only slightly better than the “hunt-and-peck” method. But some of us who’d gotten just good-enough at typing and went on to hone our skill at the keyboard on machines that didn’t eat our fingers or require huge amounts of time correcting typographical errors eventually saw our typing speeds get crazy fast. After years of this, people like this — people like me — began to think of the computer keyboard as another appendage, almost, never knowing how much we might miss it if it were taken away until forced to write something out by hand.
I see these kids, struggling with their handwriting, and I forget that I didn’t get to lay my hands on a computer until high school. I didn’t learn a lick of typing until I was in the 8th Grade. A major part of my elementary school years were spent practicing my handwriting. These kids are introduced to keyboards before they start Kindergarten. To expect them to produce a handwriting sample that doesn’t look butchered makes as much sense as someone expecting me to produce the same.