Curtain closing on cursive writing

maxresdefaultThe written word is dying.

Like dodo birds and dinosaurs, handwriting is facing extinction. Approximately 46 states have adopted the new Common Core Standards, a set of educational guidelines that do not require cursive writing as part of the school curriculum. Many school districts around the country are already starting to phase out handwriting courses.

Some argue this is a natural progression in educational instruction.

Everybody uses computers now, so it makes more sense to teach kids how to type on a QWERTY keyboard, right?

My gut instinct is no, handwriting is still important.

Writing in longhand connects you to your words in a way typing doesn’t. Pushing ink over paper with a pen is a unique sensation, a singular pleasure. There’s nothing quite like it.

But I honestly don’t do much handwriting anymore, and, from what I gather, neither does anyone else.

I still sign checks, but most payments are made electronically.

I write to-do lists by hand, and shopping lists. (Then again, the last two times I went to the supermarket I forgot the list, so my wife texted it to me. I shopped with phone in hand instead of a crumpled Post-It.) I handwrite thank you notes and greeting cards, and sometimes I’ll leave a dirty note and/or crude drawing in my wife’s purse for her to find later.

I edit with a pen, and make lots of handwritten notes (like this one!)

And I’ll still use pen and paper when I need to write something with a certain shape or rhythm. Sometimes I’ll write magazine coverlines by hand if I need to see how the words stack up. I write song lyrics longhand. Poetry, too (hey, no giggling!)

Ol' Honest Abe was down with cursive writing.
Ol’ Honest Abe was down with cursive writing.

I’m old enough to recall how important penmanship was in grade school.

It was never my best subject.

I remember my second grade teacher pacing the room while the class worked on cursive writing.

“Good, Sally!”

“Nice job, John!”

“Robert, your Cs are so sloppy! Stay in the lines!”

I tried, but my penmanship hasn’t improved much beyond grade school level. My mother says I have a “doctor’s signature.”

Evidently my horrendous handwriting is now in style.

Autograph seekers have found that younger stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, have barely legible signatures, while older celebrities have a more practiced hand.

“With stars ages 30 and above, they generally have a much more full, legible signature,” says Justin King, a Toronto-based paparazzi and independent autograph seller. “When you deal with these new people like Elle Fanning, you’re lucky if you get an E an F and a heart for her signature.”

My script is sloppy, but I write fast, a skill I acquired covering town council and school board meetings as a Today reporter.

You had to get the quotes right, along with the facts and figures. I even know a bit of shorthand.

Not too long ago my wife and her sisters were cleaning out their deceased father’s old office records, boxes upon boxes of ledgers filled with neatly-scripted dental records.

That’s something you’ll never see again. I felt a bit strange feeding the pages into the shredder, like I was destroying a bit of history.

Because history is written in longhand, from the Declaration of Independence, to the old tax records down at town hall, to the love letters your grandmother keeps in a box in the attic.

I suppose there comes a point when a culture needs to let go of an old-fashioned way of doing things to make way for new technology. Cave walls gave way to stone tablets, which yielded to paper, the printing press, and now, the computer screen and memory chip.

But if schools decide to no longer teach cursive writing, I hope they still teach students how to read it.

History depends on it.

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College safe zones degrade higher learning

SafeZone_LogoColleges and universities were once hotbeds of creative ideas and free expression. Students used to question abuse, question authority. Today, students request “safe zones” so they can protest “offensive” Halloween costumes, and insensitive emails.

St. Louis University is one of several institutions of higher learning where designated safe spaces are a perceived necessity among minority and LGBT students. The SLU website reports:

“Homosexuality is an invisible diversity, both in its members and its supporters. The Safe Zone program helps to create a more accepting atmosphere on campus by providing visual statements of support and safe space. Many universities from Boston College, NYU, Georgetown, and Duke to Washington University, University of Illinois, and University of Missouri have already implemented similar programs.”

But safe zones threaten free speech. Missouri journalists were twice barred from covering college protests, according to USNews.com. Safe zones also create complex new job responsibilities for college employees. Professors worry about offending students in class with provocative texts or topics, while college administrators are being asked to step in and resolve conflicts among students instead of letting young adults fight their own battles.

I attended Rutgers University in the mid-80s, and there was nothing safe about it. (Except possibly the sex. It was the height of the AIDS scare, so people used protection.) There were many LGBT students on campus. Everybody knew where LGBT students hung out, and if you wanted to hang out with them, nobody judged you.

Safe Zone Image

For me, college was an unsafe zone. It was a place where I experimented, explored, and royally messed up. Hard partying landed me on academic probation after my first year, with a paltry 0.7 GPA.

That was when I learned to buckle down and take academics seriously. I learned the consequences of goofing off, and I took responsibility for my life choices. I still made time for tons of fun, but I learned to finish my schoolwork first.

And I did it well. By the time I graduated, I elevated my lowly 0.7 GPA to a respectable 3.0. It was hard work, but that’s the entire point. A good education should push you to your limits and beyond. If it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong. The most valuable lesson I learned in college was a simple one. Hard work pays off.

You can’t cut corners. If you do something, do it well. I learned how to be a major-league screw-up in college. But I also learned I could produce quality work if I set my heart and mind to it.

The college experience should be about taking risks, some smart and calculated, others blindingly stupid. Safe zones, language police, and other safety nets of the “bubble-wrap generation” take that risk away. We live in a “bully culture,” where everyone is a victim, even if they merely find themselves in “an uncomfortable situation.”

From Notre Dame University
From Notre Dame University

But uncomfortable situations are an essential part of life! How can young adults (or any living thing) develop and grow without occasionally stepping outside the comfort zone, if only to help define where exactly the comfort zone lies? Comfort zones change with time, age, and experience.

All colleges and universities are “safe zones” — places where young people can experiment, fail, succeed, and find out who they truly are without the emotional or financial responsibility of a home or family. There are still plenty of worthy causes for college students to protest in this country. This generation needs a better one than hurt feelings.

 

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