Tuesday, October 4, 2016

To π’žπ“Šπ“‡π“ˆπ’Ύπ“‹π‘’ or not to Cursive

There are a lot of posts on Facebook and other social media sites about whether schools should continue to teach students how to handwrite cursive. 

When I was in grade school, learning cursive consumed a big portion of our school day during the first few years. We had to learn the Palmer Method. In fact, I don't remember hearing the word "cursive" used. It was handwriting or just writing. Handwriting tests, handwriting practice, handwriting homework, handwriting workbook, handwriting paper, handwriting grade on the report card, etc. It was how our teachers, parents and grandparents wrote. Everything not from a typewriter or printing press was in cursive. We even had mimeographed (kids, ask your parents or maybe grandparents what mimeograph means. Ask about the ink color and smell) work sheets and test that were handwritten by the teachers and then copies run off. 
Mimeograph Machine

All of the important documents from the founding of our country like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were handwritten in cursive. The immigration records from places like Ellis Island are in cursive as are most of the old US census records. Every letter or note I ever got from my Mom, grandmother or high school sweetheart was written in cursive. 

So as you can see, I grew up with cursive and yet like that algebra stuff I learned in high school, I rarely use it. In fact, being a computer geek, I probably used algebra and math way more than cursive. I was never good in "handwriting". I could write or draw all the letters, but it was not smooth, flowing or graceful like it should be. I always put the pencil or pen in a death grip. That does not induce a smooth flow. My middle finger would develop a bump, my thumb a deep groove and after a few minutes of writing my hand was sore and fatigued. I also tended to write very small so it was even harder to read. Small and sloppy is not a good combination.

Accounting Ledger Sheet
I started migrating to printing by the time I went to college it was easier for me and slightly more legible. Being a business/accounting major reinforced that. We were still doing spreadsheets by hand, no Excel, no PCs. Column and row headings and labels were printed. Any notations were also printed.
IBM Assembler Coding Sheet

Then the final nail in the coffin for me and cursive. I became a computer geek after college. The computer had no use for cursive, everything was printed. There were good reasons for that. Back in the late 60's and 70's most computer stuff was done in 80 column card images or 132 column print images. There were forms with little designated spaces for the programmer, operator or technician to write out these instructions before sending them to the keypunch department to be transferred to punch cards that the computers could read. You can't write cursive across those little boxes when each character has to be readable and in a specific column. A letter or number in column 9 may mean something completely different than a letter or number in column 8 or column 10. Computers are very particular and not forgiving. They do exactly what you tell them to do, not what you want or meant.

So, although I don't write code anymore and haven't used coding sheets for many years, I have had no reason to resurrect my limited cursive skills. The only remnant of those old days is when I sign my name or write a check. I suppose you can print checks, but old habits die hard. I normally write only about one check a month, maybe 15 a year. I often struggle half way through the amount or a long payee name. Every other expense is a credit/debit card, PayPal, or electronic payment. Even my deposits are electronic or I take a picture of the check with my phone. Oh yes, I still endorse the checks with my signature in cursive but I print "for deposit only"

I think there should be enough exposure and teaching so that today's generation can at least read cursive. If they do any historical searches of old documents, it will be very helpful if they can decipher the information. I have researched some census documents that were somewhat of a bitch to read, but I could. All census takers and Ellis Island workers were not created equal when it came to handwriting. More importantly is if they find old family letters or other documents after the prior generations, and cursive writers, are gone. 
Old Census Form

One thing we lose as cursive fades in use is the beauty of some people's hand. On the other hand, we should not miss those who turned handwriting into a contest with chickens scratching for grain. No, of course, I am not referring to doctors.

Remember too that there are already cursive translation apps. Point your phone at a note, passage or page and the app will render the cursive into crisply printed letters on the screen. A bonus feature of these apps is that it doesn't matter what language the original was written in. Simultaneous cursive and language translation is no problem. These apps will only continue to improve. π’―𝒽𝑒𝓇𝑒 𝒢𝓇𝑒 π’Άπ“π“ˆπ‘œ π’Έπ“Šπ“‡π“ˆπ’Ύπ“‹π‘’ 𝓉𝑒𝓍𝓉 π‘”π‘’π“ƒπ‘’π“‡π’Άπ“‰π‘œπ“‡π“ˆ, which convert printed characters into π’Έπ“Šπ“‡π“ˆπ’Ύπ“‹π‘’. For word processing apps there are multiple cursive fonts available.

Here are my thoughts. I think students in the early years while they are learning to read and write should be exposed to cursive, at least the reading of cursive. I think they should be taught the rudimentary concepts of cursive. The same way that I think math principles and concepts should be taught with pencil, paper and blackboards (whiteboard, overheads, screens) even though there is almost always a sophisticated calculator or digital assistant available. I do not think that there should be hours of drawing ovals and other cursive writing practice. The kids are going to type everything on a phone, tablet or computer. The few times they need cursive, one of those devices will translate what they want to read or translate their handwriting into digital characters. That is as long as they recognize it as human English cursive and don't think it is Klingon.

Old school folks think that today's kids should have pretty much the same school curriculum that they did. After all, if it was good enough for them, it's good enough for the next couple of generations. Times change. We no longer need to teach typing, but keyboard skills may still be useful (he says as he types this on a laptop keyboard). Looking back, I'm glad that I can read cursive but I think most of the time practicing how to write it in a perfect Palmer, nun approved form was a waste. I would also like to have back every minute I spent in four years of high school Latin. Although I can read and translate the following latin phrase written in cursive. 

What do you think?


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