Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cursive handwriting is not obsolete

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

An interesting debate has been brewing lately. It concerns the future of teaching our children to write in cursive.

Naturally, I suppose, much of the dividing line in opinion can be traced to the age of the respondent. Those of us who are a little older can see no reason why cursive handwriting should go the way of the slide rule, while the younger generation seems to believe that there is no reason to even pick up a pen, and they ask, "What is a slide rule?"

I used to be very proud of my handwriting. It is probably from attempting to emulate my mom's writing. My mother had the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. She continually received compliments.

Things were different when my parents were in grade school. My mother attended Catholic school in Michigan, where legible, if not elegant, handwriting was expected. My dad attended grade school in the 1930s, in Champaign County. My dad was a lefty. Back then, I guess that teachers decided that there was only one way to write, and that was using one's right hand. His teacher carried a wooden ruler and whenever dad picked up a pencil in his left hand, he would receive a ruler across his knuckles.

By the time my dad was an adult, he wrote using his right hand. His handwriting was legible but not outstanding. While the treatment that my dad received would probably be grounds for criminal punishment in today's society, one thing that I know he brought away from the experience was the ability to be ambidextrous. It was an ability that he passed along to me by insisting that I learn to handle tools using either hand.

We have moved on since those days. Computers, cell phones, typing and texting are all the rage. I agree that most of us rarely pick up a pencil or pen other than to affix our signature to a document.

Texting, along with the most awful form of shorthand that has grown from it, seems to be the most common form of communication.

There is additional insult to the injury. Not only can our children no longer write, they canÕt spell either. Not to mention, most of them think that "grammar" is a word to describe a female parent of their mother or father.

Our kids believe that it they can not see a direct benefit from something, they should not have to do it or learn it. Most of them are growing up believing that if any shortcut can be found, take advantage of it. It does not seem to matter that the benefit of a little hard or extra work, on their part, may help them down the road. They are growing up in a world where taking the easiest and shortest route is the way to go.

Learning to write may seem trivial in a world full of keyboards but the skill is as critical today as ever.

The most common scenario used is the "what if" there was a power outage. That is, of course, an issue, but I believe in looking a little deeper. My "what if" list extends to full-scale wars, large natural disasters and/or a major communication disruption across our country. Sure, all of this stuff sounds unbelievable. Don't think that it could happen? Just ask many residents of Japan if they think that "it" can't happen.

Basic writing skills could be the major form of communication in a disaster, just as they were for hundreds of years.

We frequently hear how American students have fallen behind their counterparts in other countries. I don't believe that our children less capable of learning. I believe that our children have grown increasingly lazy and disrespectful of both their parents and teachers with each succeeding generation.

The answer doesn't lie in longer school years or year-around school. The answer lies in telling our children what they need to learn and holding them accountable for learning, not asking them what they prefer to learn and hoping they will do us the honor of studying.

An extra dose of discipline at school would be helpful, maybe even bring back the wooden rulers. I don't think our parents were any worse for the experience.

None of that will do any good; however, unless our kids start by getting some discipline, mixed, of course, with a lot of love, at home.

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