I spent second grade trying to please Mrs. Rebscher. She had a paddle, and she wasn’t afraid to use it on any seven-year-old who got out of line. Under her watchful eye, we worked hard on our penmanship. Graduating from printing to cursive was proof we were growing up.
If Mrs. Rebscher could see what a mess I’ve made of my handwriting, she’d be reaching for that paddle. My signature is almost as bad Jack Lew’s loop-de-loops, my day-to-day cursive only slightly more readable.
Still I was sad to learn that longhand is going the way of the typewriter. The Common Core State Standards don't require it, so more and more schools are swapping out the teaching of cursive for lessons in keyboarding, which is deemed practical, fast, and efficient - the same advantages that cursive once had over printing. Before long, cursive will be like Gregg shorthand, a quaint and old-fashioned novelty, or like calligraphy, an art practiced by people with too much time on their hands.
I understand we have to move on. But my sadness is not just nostalgia. There are good reasons why I’ll miss cursive:
· Longhand reveals who we are in ways that printing does not. If you want to check this out for yourself, write the sentence She sells seashells by the seashore. Then go here for a little analysis. Through this short exercise, I learned that the slant of my letters affirms that I’m open and like to socialize. The size of my words indicates that I’m well-adjusted and adaptable. The way I write e’s and l’s shows that I’m somewhat skeptical and unswayed by emotional appeals (sorry, PTL Network).
· Handwriting changes as we change. It documents our growth. As years intervened between Mrs. Rebscher and me, I quit connecting some of my letters. My loops have gotten larger. Other letters have compressed. My handwriting may not be all that readable, but I like it. It’s me, all grown-up (mostly).
· In losing cursive, we’re not just losing a way of writing. We're losing a way of thinking. Longhand encourages right-brained messiness. Poetry, brainstorming, revision notes – for these, keyboarding just doesn’t cut it. And the kinesthetic activity of the hand on the page, joining letters, makes us feel close to our work. That’s why there are still authors who draft whole books by hand. One of them is Claire Messud, author of The Emperor’s Children. In a recent interview with Poets and Writers, she reports how writing by hand brings her close to the text. “It sounds silly,” she says, “but it used to be that when I was reading aloud from a book at a reading I basically knew it by heart.”