I was amused to read last week that the State of Arizona has decided to reintroduce the teaching of cursive writing into its Common Core education curriculum standards. It has not been taught here for at least thirty years, and both of my children missed it. My wife and I were alarmed at the time, and passed on what we knew to our kids, who seemed quite eager to learn it. Their teachers would hand out practice sheets to the children (and parents) who requested them, and that seems to have continued to this day. My wife became an elementary teacher in 2007, and was doing the same for her students, but only upon request. For the most part, however, it has remained untaught. I now realize this has been the case for most of the country.
My daughter took to cursive and, being a strong reader and interested in literature, she was filling up spiral notebooks with fantasy novels by the time she was in high school. Her script was so small, my aging eyes could barely make it out, and I think the fact she was writing in cursive made it seem more rune-like and secretive. Her brother learned it, but wasn’t that interested, and they were both typing by the time they were in middle school.
Nowadays, my daughter has been working the past few years for a Senior Center in Ohio. She keeps their books, repairs and keeps their computers up to date, writes their newsletter, delivers meals, and whatever else they need her to do. She says that often the seniors will leave notes for staff members, and many of the notes are in cursive. She says that the younger staff members will bring the notes to her because they can’t read them! I have to admit that it never crossed my mind that not learning to write cursive would cause someone to not be able to read it, but, of course, this is the case. My wife told me that when she started her student teaching in a fifth grade class, she wrote an instruction in cursive on the chalkboard and turned around to a room full of blank stares. Finally, a child raised her hand and said, “We can’t read that.”
In a sense, I can relate to them. My mother had to be part of the last generation to learn Gregg Shorthand. Before computers, and voicemail, and dictaphones, and electric typewriters, there had to be a way to take notes at the speed of conversation. Gregg Shorthand was a system of swoops, lines, and dots that stood for sounds. I thought it looked like Arabic. My mother would take phone messages, write to-do lists and grocery lists all in shorthand. I had no clue. Going through her effects after she had passed away, we found countless cryptic, indecipherable notes. She could have been smuggling arms for all we knew!
Learning that hardly anybody under the age of forty could read cursive was particularly disturbing for me because I have been keeping a hand-written journal for most of my adult life. I say on this blog’s About page that I have a stack of spiral notebooks that is “knee-high”. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, though I suppose it depends on the length of one’s legs, but it is easily a couple dozen or more. Realizing that there may be very few people in the future who could read them, I was stunned by the fact that I might have to transcribe them to the computer. The thought made me feel a whole lot older!
My daughter kept a blog for a while. She mostly did it to highlight her artwork, which was in sort of the Imaginative Anime genre. She is very good at it and drew some of my early album covers. I talked to her about doing a blog in which my posts were hand written and posted as JPEGs. Her reaction was, “Hmmm . . . That would certainly be . . . novel.” I guess it is a good thing I decided not to do it that way.
Sometimes, I admit, I also miss the act of meticulously writing out my music by hand. Music calligraphy was very satisfying, though it took what now seems like forever. Every once in a while, I do some of it, if only to get the notion of longing out of my head. All I have to do is make a mistake with pen and ink to realize what a tremendous advantage the computer really is. My son was a pretty good violinist growing up, and after a youth symphony rehearsal one day, he came home in a huff. After complaining about how bad some contemporary piece was, he said as if it were the last straw, “And dad, it wasn’t even written on the computer! It was, like, scrawled out by hand!” I had to dig up some of my earlier scores to show him what life was like in the Dark Ages.