Press-Republican

November 20, 2011

Cursive is the right way to write

GORDIE LITTLE, Small Talk
Press-Republican

---- — This is an obituary. The demise of cursive writing is imminent. If you are surprised, read on.

I'm a media fan and spend time reading, listening to and watching news on myriad topics. I've been noting the slow death of cursive for years. Granted, the mandated teaching of cursive writing in American schools might not equal the importance of other things, but I believe it deserves more general notice before it's gone.

My understanding is that 44 states have rendered teaching cursive writing "optional." Further, those states that make it mandatory have cut back to little more than that of a passing fancy. Many teachers insist they simply don't have time to spend on something so trivial given the demands of the so-called "Common Core State Standards for English" curriculum.

When was last time you wrote something on paper in cursive with a pencil or pen? I was stunned with one answer from a young adult who said, "Oh, I haven't used cursive since fourth grade." Another said, "I don't even use cursive to sign my name." I received 98 wonderful handwritten letters from bright students at a school I visited recently. Eighty were printed, 17 were in cursive, and one was half-and-half. The sentiments were wonderful, but I realized their lives have gone digital.

I was raised as a preacher's kid (PK) and was force-fed scripture verses with my pabulum. The phrase "handwriting on the wall" is Biblical in origin. Specifically, it comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel. In the King James version, we read: "In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote." Sounds like old King Belshazzar could be the subject to some cool paranormal activity, doesn't it? None of the king's best astrologers could understand the handwriting on the wall. Perhaps it was done in cursive, which hadn't yet been invented. Along came Daniel, who interpreted the handwriting, telling the king he wasn't humble enough and would be overthrown. Sure enough, he was killed that very night.

It's like a slow faucet drip. Little-by-little, people think we don't need cursive anymore. They type and they tweet, and they try to approximate the printed letters when they're forced to use paper and pen for exams. The handwriting on the wall was a prediction. So is this. Ask your children and grandchildren. Think about your own penmanship.

For little Gordie Little, cursive started early. Granted, I didn't pay a lot of attention in the lower grades. At ages 7 and 8, our family moved. I remember using the Palmer Method to practice loops and curls. However, when it came time to start learning the cursive alphabet, I contracted what was then called yellow jaundice. To top that off, I fractured my right leg.

Missing a lot of school, I returned to find my peers proficient in cursive. To avoid further red remarks on my report cards, I began to stare up at that long cardboard banner stretching the breadth of the classroom just above the blackboard. It depicted each alphabet letter — uppercase and lower — in cursive and printing. I practiced ad nauseam. Soon, I was writing in perfect cursive as well as in the printed form. Thereafter, I enjoyed using that newfound talent for every occasion.

If I hurry, my cursive handwriting is terrible. When I took notes for new stories while on the radio, my scribbling shorthand was horrendous. If I didn't transcribe it on a typewriter or computer keyboard within 15 minutes, it was lost forever.

With cursive heading the way of the fountain pen, who will be left to read our great-grandmother's love letters and historic documents? Is cursive still relevant? My vote is a booming "Yes!" Is it obsolete? No! Will a handwritten thank-you note in the future be as undecipherable as the handwriting on the walI was for the king? Gosh, I hope not.

Thanks for letting me vent. Have a great day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the "Our Little Corner" television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at gordandk@aol.com.