News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

February 14, 2012

LIZ CIANCONE: A little bit of cursive comes in handy

Good grief. What next?

I read recently that there is a movement underfoot to cease teaching cursive writing in the public schools. I understand that this is merely a suggestion and is optional, but still …

Like all students from my youth, I labored through the “Palmer Method” learning the “push pulls” intended to teach me to make firm and controlled vertical lines, and those “whorls” to promote a flowing script. I think my muscular control had not peaked. I was never very good at either.

On the other hand, I did learn to write my name and everything else I needed to write, including the answer on the essay tests Miss Strauss was fond of giving. I can’t claim a beautifully flowing handwriting, but it is legible.

Why the push to abandon cursive? Of course kids are virtually weaned with a computer keyboard on the highchair tray. Maybe that has something to do with it? It brings to mind the joke about the kid who first encountered cursive writing and complained, “I can read reading, but I can’t read writing!”

I once marveled over the signature of Queen Elizabeth I in the document room of the British Museum. Good Queen Bess signed with a flourish both beautiful and highly individual. Shakespeare’s signature was less distinctive, but maybe he had to write faster to get all those poems and plays to meet a deadline. All those were done in cursive.

Thomas Jefferson gave us the Declaration of Independence in cursive and there was no typewriter for the Founding Fathers to dash off our Constitution. Abraham Lincoln’s notes for the Gettysburg Address, not to mention his signature on the Emancipation Proclamation, are done in cursive.

Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dashed off the Sherlock Holmes stories in cursive. I’m not suggesting that we rewrite “War and Peace” in cursive, but it would be a pity if we could no longer read the original Bill of Rights or understand why we wanted to free ourselves from the English Parliament in 1775.

We really do need to know how to sign our name. We still need to know how to sign a lease or a contract or endorse a paycheck. I doubt that a printed signature is the same.

Liz Ciancone is a retired

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