GOODBYE HANDWRITING

I was in the first grade. Miss Nichols my teacher. The class being taught handwriting by Miss Nicholas. Involved, the Palmer method of writing.

The Palmer method required the student to learn to write while balancing a nickel on the back side of the writing hand. The nickel could not fall off. If it did, you were not writing correctly.

I could not keep the nickel balanced. It kept falling off. Miss Nichols stood over me, worked with me. To no avail.

I was the only one in the class that failed. All others who wrote balancing the nickel received a Palmer method button. I did not.

The first major tragedy of my life. I felt inadequate. I was a failure. Even at a young age, such feelings can abound.

If I were in the first grade today, it would be impossible for the problem to confront me. Handwriting is no longer taught. By the Palmer method or any other. Keyboard efficiency is the name of the game. Computers, cell phones, etc.

Most young people today cannot hand write their names. They were never taught to write with letters joined together to make words. They do not know how to write. The wave of the future, already here, is that hitting keys is the way it is. Keyboard communication. Handwriting no more.

I recently discussed the problem with a retired school teacher. She told me her grandchildren cannot read cursive. She has to print for them to read. They do not have signatures. They cannot write their names.

She considers it appalling.

Cursive is the key word. Cursive handwriting.

Cursive handwriting uses letters. Written letters. Like a, b, c, etc. The letters are written cojoined in a flowing manner. The a, b, c’s being used to form words.

Man got into cursive writing because it made writing faster. Speed was desired. Quill pens were first used for the purpose. Inefficient. Broke and splattered. Steel pens followed. Better than quill, with limitations also.

The final pen developed was the ball point pen. A winner! Mass produced quickly. Cheap. Writing swift. Cursive writing easy.

Cursive writing began in England before the Norman conquest. From the 16th century forward, cursive writing was used both for personal correspondence and official documents.

Cursive writing as we know it evolved in the 17th century.

Now, Thomas Jefferson’s story. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. A brilliant document. However his penmanship was lacking. He could not write cursive sufficiently. Many of the words in the Declaration were not connected to make the words whole.

Ben Franklin and others were dismayed. Jefferson was approached and told of his shortcoming. Franklin advised that the group was bringing in the services of a Master Penman. Nothing would be changed. Except the words used would be all cursive.

Jefferson was not offended. He was aware of his shortcoming and agreed that such an important document should not appear slovenly written.

Tom Matlick was the Master Penman called in to fix the Declaration of Independence. He used a feather quill pen.

The handwriting on the Declaration of Independence is considered elegant. Not Jefferson’s however.

Eighty seven years later, Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address. It was a cursive masterpiece. Each word fully joined. Experts tell us that Lincoln’s handwriting is similar to that used today. The writing comparable to the excellent penmanship of today.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, professionals in Great Britain and the United States used cursive for correspondence. The handwriting on the documents was called “fair hand.”  Fair hand meaning the instrument’s finished product looked good.

Then came the typewriter. Better for professional and business purposes. Not adequate enough that handwriting be abolished.

During the mid 19th century, most U.S. children were taught the cursive method. In the second and third grades. The teaching and use remained the same till the mid 20th century.

U.S. colleges taught students cursive handwriting into the 1930s and 1940s. A credit course. The colleges stopped teaching cursive handwriting techniques at that time.  Cursive handwriting was deemed to be too slow.

Cursive handwriting since the mid 20th century has been on a downward slope. As time progressed and technology changed, teaching professionals viewed cursive writing as too slow. The move was to computers. Keyboard efficiency the aim.

Teachers today prepare students to use computers in their future lives. Cursive writing considered of little value.The largest teachers’ union in the United States is purported to be the FairFax Education Association. The Association considers computers the wave of the future. Cursive writing a dying art..

Common Core State Standards allows teachers to teach what is required and tested through various standardized tests. Cursive handwriting is non-essential for graduating high school students. There is no standardized test for it. So why teach it.

No Child Left Behind does not rate schools on cursive writing. Ergo, the schools do not teach cursive.

The bottom line is cursive handwriting is too tedious to learn and not useful in the long run for school rating purposes.

The proof in the pudding is the 2006 SAT exam. Only 15 percent of the students wrote essay answers in cursive. Eighty five percent used computers.

A 2008 survey revealed most elementary school teachers lack formal training in teaching handwriting to students. Only 12 percent had taken a course in how to teach cursive handwriting.

A 2011 study of the effects of Common Core were not surprising.  Common Core had not made cursive handwriting a part of the curriculum. The thought was why teach something that is not subjected to standardized testing. As mentioned, forty four states push keyboard efficiency rather than cursive writing.

The 2012 trend reflects cursive handwriting down and dying. Whereas, keyboard efficiency is spiraling upward.

Recall George Zimmerman’s trial for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. Trayvon’s 19 year old friend Rachel Jeantel testified she was talking on the cellphone just before Trayvon’s death. A lawyer handed her a handwritten document and told her to read it. Rachel said she could not because it was written in cursive. The jury was shocked.

Though hard to believe, handwriting is a relic of the past. All critical writing today is done on a keyboard. Widespread use of computers is driving the written word to extinction.

The most shocking development is that your grandchildren or young children do not know how to write their own names.

Progress? I am not sure. On the other hand, I am 80 years old and buck change. I do know however that if I could not hand write notes of my research, outline my columns and stories, and play with words before entering them in the computer, I would be lost. I am married to pen and paper.

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