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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Do you hear what I hear? Probably not

nowhearthis“I need you to bring this dirty laundry down to the basement,” my wife said. “Move the stuff that’s in the washer to the dryer, and bring up the clean clothes that are down on the folding table.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I replied, grabbing the laundry basket and heading down.

“And don’t forget to separate the colors from the whites!” my 7-year-old daughter shouted behind me.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said again, already at the bottom of the basement stairs.

“Daddy isn’t even listening to you,” I heard my daughter’s voice drift down through the floor vent.

“No. I don’t think he is,” my wife replied.

“On Spongebob, Plankton’s wife says that husbands never listen to their wives,” my daughter said.

“Well, you’ll find that with a lot of men, honey. They don’t always listen to their wives,” my wife said. “But eventually, they come to realize they should have listened more closely.”

Down in the basement my jaw dropped. How dare my wife give such advice to our daughter! I’m a pretty considerate husband and father – better than some (most) of the guys I know. But like any man – any person – I occasionally lose focus during conversations and/or forget things.

I could accuse my wife of being equally inattentive. How many times have I asked her not to leave her shoes in the middle of the floor? How many times have I asked her to uncap the empty water bottles before she tosses them into the recycle bin? How many times have I told her that the plug on her iPhone charger needs to point left —not right – in order for it to work? Sometimes I just don’t think she listens to me.

But the truth is we’re both listening to each other, we’re just hearing and retaining different types of information. Scientific studies have shown that men and women listen differently. Men primarily listen with the left side of their brains, while women use both sides. That doesn’t mean women are better listeners. It means men and women process the same information differently.

It’s unfair to paint all husbands — all men— as lousy listeners. Women are equally guilty. I flip the laundry, dump the dirty clothes in the washer, start it up, and head back upstairs to set my wife and daughter straight.

“You know, I can hear you through the floor vents!” I said when I reached the kitchen. “And I don’t think it’s right you’re teaching our daughter that all men are bad listeners. I listen to you!”

“Did you bring up the clean clothes?” my wife asked.

“Did you separate the colors from the whites?” my daughter followed.

#%@*!

I turned around to head back down to the basement… and tripped over my wife’s shoes in the middle of floor.

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College Daze: Is Higher Education Worth The Cost?

studentloan3Is it worth going to college?

The answer used to be an unequivocal “yes” — college grads got better jobs and better pay than non-graduates. But the job market is different today. The cost of getting an education has risen dramatically, while the job market has shrunk. Many young graduates find themselves with thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of dollars in debt with student loans, and few lucrative job opportunities to pay them off.

High school grads are left in a quandary. Is it worth spending four years and $100,000 to earn a bachelor’s degree, just so you can compete for a $25,000-a-year entry-level job? Wouldn’t you be better off working for four years instead, getting real world experience and a head start on the your career?

It’s a sad choice to have to make. An education is priceless, whether it helps land you a job or not. Feeding your head, expanding your base of knowledge, is perhaps the most important function a thinking being can perform. Getting smarter and growing wiser are signs of a life well lived. It’s a shame to have to put a price tag on that.

But most people do. I remember a tear-filled confrontation with my parents during my freshman year at Rutgers University. I was flunking out, not because I couldn’t handle the academic load, but because I couldn’t wake up for classes. But I was enjoying college life…a little too much.

I sat in my parents’ living room, blubbering like a fool, trying to convince them I’d do better if I transferred to Seton Hall. But SH cost three times more than Rutgers, and my father couldn’t or wouldn’t pay it. Why should he? He’d already paid for two wasted semesters at Rutgers. Why should he pay triple for me to goof off at a different school?

He was right, of course. If my parents had made me pay for college myself, I probably would have seen it their way much sooner. Instead I transferred to Rutgers Newark campus, commuted to school and worked full time. I buckled down (somewhat), though I still relied on mommy to wake me up for class. I took summer courses and was able to get my degree in a semi-respectable four-and-a-half years, and graduate with a not-too-shabby 3.0 grade point average.

Higher education has become another consumer decision, like buying a house or car. You have to consider which school offers the best value for your budget. I endorse state universities and community colleges — places where you can get a feel for college life and earn credits toward your core curriculum without spending an arm and a leg. If you do well and want to be a rocket scientist, then you can transfer to Yale or Harvard, and assume the $200K student loan. You’ll probably be able to pay it back fairly easily.

But if you’re paying $200K to get an Ivy League degree in business, education, finance, or a variety of other milquetoast majors, you’re wasting your money. There’s not enough return on your investment.

Your degree won’t be worth the kind of job you’re likely to get (if you’re lucky to get one at all). That wasn’t always the case, but it is now.

A college degree is still important. But which college it comes from — and how much you pay for it — is becoming less so. Online universities offer endless opportunities for continuing education. Internships and apprenticeships can you teach you much more about your potential career, including whether it’s worth investing money in college or specialized training.

A passion for learning and a continual quest for knowledge should be essential traits for everyone.

But a college degree, not so much anymore.