Have you watched a young person’s fingers fly across the keyboard of their computer or contort in seemingly impossible gyrations as they text on their smart phone? The dexterity of the so called “digital natives” is amazing to those of us who were educated in the pre-electronic age. We spent hours in elementary school classrooms trying to master Spenserian Script, the Palmer Method, Getty-Dubay, the D’Nealian Method or some other form of cursive writing.
On the other side of the coin, for the current generation the gently flowing script we all worked so hard to cultivate has become nearly as remote as hieroglyphics or cuneiform.
The New York Times in a recent article titled The Case for Cursive, told this story:
“Sally Bennett, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Central Arkansas, signs her name in all capital letters and never gave any thought to it until she took the ACT college entrance exam. Students must copy a prompt, with explicit instructions that they do not print. So the classroom of test-takers tried cursive, Ms. Bennett said.
‘Some people in there couldn’t remember, … I had to think about it for a minute. It was kind of hard for me to remember.’”
Many people think the decline in cursive literacy is not important “Schools today, we say we’re preparing our kids for the 21st century,” said Jacqueline DeChiaro, the principal of Van Schaick Elementary School in Cohoes, N.Y., who is debating whether to cut cursive. ‘Is cursive really a 21st-century skill?’”
Others believe the disappearance of cursive will have significant consequences. “Sandy Schefkind, a pediatric occupational therapist in Bethesda, Md., and pediatric coordinator for the American Occupational Therapy Association, said that learning cursive helped students hone their fine motor skills.
‘It’s the dexterity, the fluidity, the right amount of pressure to put with pen and pencil on paper,’ Ms. Schefkind said, adding that for some students cursive is easier to learn than printing.”
“Richard S. Christen, a professor of education at the University of Portland in Oregon,… worries that students will lose an artistic skill. ‘These kids are losing time where they create beauty every day,” Professor Christen said. ‘But it’s hard for me to make a practical argument for it. I’m not one who’s mourning it because of that; I’m mourning the beauty, the aesthetics.’”
The practical argument is one of particular interest to historians. Jimmy Bryant, the Director of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Central Arkansas warns that when students stop writing in cursive they may lose a connection to archival material. Whether trying to read documents like the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or letters from your great grandmother unfamiliarity with cursive may prove a stumbling block.
How long will it be before we’re looking for a Rosetta Stone to decipher anything not printed in block letters or written on a computer?