The 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!)
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.
“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.