June 29th, 2016
Learning cursive for me was a rite of passage. I remember sitting in Mrs. Smith's third grade classroom at West Hill Elementary School in Connecticut and writing the alphabet on wide lines with a dotted line in the middle for guidance. She would come around and check our progress, suggesting a fatter belly on the G or a loopier tail on the Z.
I'm creative. I'm not an art major, but I make my living in a creative field, and have always like doodling with letters in different fonts. Knowing cursive has completely expanded my artistic expression.
Actually writing with a pencil and paper helped inform my sensibilities when it was time for me to help lay out the high school newspaper. Our teacher, Mr. Becket, taught us the difference between a serif and sans serif font, and how to combine the two for an elegant visual presentation.
That's why it's important for me that my daughter know cursive. Quality of life issues aside, there are the more practical matters of signing her own name. How will she sign for her credit card purchases after a shopping spree? (Ha ha.)
And then there's this scary bit from US News & World Report: "In the murder trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, Trayvon's 19-year-old friend, Rachel Jeantel, testified to being on a cellphone talking with him just before his death. Many in the courtroom were shocked, though, when Jeantel admitted on the stand that she could not read a document a lawyer handed to her -- because it was written in cursive."
I have been vaguely aware of the longtime national conversation about teaching cursive in school. In the 1990s, I reported about the impact of the No Child Left Behind laws, in which teachers said a narrowed curricula edged out instructional time for cursive writing.
Now there are Common Core standards, which are silent on cursive, but prioritize computer use because its tests are taken on computers. Not long ago, I asked some teachers, who told me they don't teach it anymore.
"I'll teach her, then. It's important," I thought to myself. I'm constantly busy or tired, so most of the school year passed without me taking action. And then came the recipe book.
I brought out a notebook of recipes my mom wrote down for me. I asked Olivia, who reads two grades above her own, to tell me what ingredients I need. She said she had no idea how to read cursive.
Gosh! That really was the first time I've presented her a document in cursive, which is shocking in itself that everything is typewritten nowadays. Mostly, I thought, "This is your Popo's recipe book! You have to know how to read it!"
That very night I drew lines on some paper and started her on the first few letters. She took easily to it and really enjoyed it. She is now writing her name and some other words, and she's very proud of herself - and so am I.
Is cursive an anachronism? Maybe it is a throwback to the pre-Internet era, but I hope there will always be a place for it in our society.
People will always need to jot a few lines down on a piece of paper. What about the handwritten Valentine's Day or birthday card? I believe there's lifelong value in known cursive, and I hope Olivia will feel that one day, too.