Apparently we’re moving away from cursive handwriting. My immediate reaction was, “That’s just stupid.” I mean, seriously . . . who doesn’t write in cursive? Upon further thought, I realized that I’ve hardly been required to write out anything by hand—cursive or not—in many, many years. Though I did have a pop quiz in class this week, and admittedly my hand was pretty tired after writing out a two-page of essay. Also, I was mad at myself for not having a pencil. I’m so used to editing my words as I type that trying to get the words correct when pen hit the paper wasn’t easy. Words were crossed out, and my handwriting drifted into a disgraceful mess by the end of the quiz.
With computers, it’s more useful to have good typing skills. With smart phones, I suppose we’re better off working on our thumb-typing skills by breaking out video games to improve phalangeal dexterity. I think my initial reaction was more about the loss of something that seems so basic. How many generations does it take to unlearn how to read something that’s slightly different? If I try hard, I can read a medieval manuscript with its uncial or blackletter script. But it takes time to decipher the words. (And it would probably help if I knew Latin.)
I think I’m also reacting to the sense of loss I feel about the demise of letter writing. Lately I’ve been reading a book of Jane Austen’s letters. They feel like dozens of emails or texts rolled up into daily or weekly groups, so you get some sense of her daily life. But it’s so much more fun looking at Jane’s handwritten letters. There’s more personality. Her handwriting is a mess, and she admired others who wrote neatly. She wrote to her sister, Cassandra:
I took up your letter again to refresh me, being somewhat tired and was struck with the prettiness of the hand: it is really a very pretty hand now and then—so small and so neat! I wish I could get as much into a sheet of paper.
Not that I hold her chicken scratch against her. My handwriting is no picnic, particularly now that I don’t try to keep it consistent. I guess I sort of miss the idea of everyone being taught penmanship. I used to marvel at how my grandmother’s handwriting looked just like her sister’s. And my aunt’s handwriting is also similar to theirs. (They were all teachers . . . maybe that has something to do with it.) But I guess it really doesn’t matter whether or not kids are taught to write in cursive. I draw the line at grammar, though. I will defend the need for good grammar (and the serial comma) to the death!