GalleyCat beat me to it, but when I saw this piece on the decision to let Indiana schools decide whether or not to teach cursive penmanship, I knew I had to blog about it.  A month or so ago, over a couple beers, a client and I got into a conversation on this very subject.  We were talking about our habits as students, and it suddenly dawned on us that school children might not be taught script anymore.  Learning JavaScript would probably have more use to them than knowing that an uppercase cursive Q closely resembles a 2.  Unless their names are Quentin or Quinn, they’re probably never going to use one anyway—besides which it’s a hideous letter, so I’d recommend they come up with a creative way around it in their signatures.

As with all questions about what the kids these days know, I base my opinions on surely 100% reliable anecdotal evidence from interns.  It seems every year or two I have to explain something new I assumed they’d know on arrival, so I use them as a gauge of how quickly the world is changing in little ways.  At this point, the majority of them have never photocopied anything before their first day here.  Ever.  I may have discovered my incessant Google habit in college trying to unpack the copious allusions in Paul Muldoon’s “The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants,”* but I still spent seemingly half of my college income buying Bobst copy cards.

A few times a year, we have to handwriting test our interns for the odd task that requires handwritten legibility.  You’d be surprised how often I get a stack of 12 subrights contracts all missing the same clause, already signed by a far flung publisher who’d taken 6 months to put pen to paper to begin with on a contract they didn’t even have to draft.  Handwritten contract changes require printing, of course, but I’ve found that whether we want print or script, it can be hard to find even one intern who can write legibly anymore.  There have always been people who never learned or quickly unlearned how to write clearly, but the number of reasons to actually write with pen on paper just isn’t as high when you carry a computer in your pocket everywhere you go.  The number of interns who can be counted on to handwrite a mailing label that we can be confident will arrive at its destination decreases yearly.  The odd scribbled post-it to a roommate isn’t going to keep your penmanship in shape.

I’ve always prided myself on having nice handwriting (my Catholic school-reared mother has penmanship so impeccable that the bar was set very high in my household), but I wonder if Indiana isn’t on to something.  Other than signing our names, how often do most of use cursive?  You’ve got to be able to write clearly somehow, but these days, doesn’t print cut it for most things?  Schools have a finite number of hours to instruct students, and penmanship instruction is probably not getting them anywhere productive.  Yes, sure, they should learn to use a keyboard efficiently as early as possible—perhaps even instruction on predictive text and thumb typing would benefit them.  I say they should get more spelling lessons as well, since the deep recesses of their brains will need reinforcing against the detrimental effects of text speak and internet acronyms.  Let’s truly prepare the kids of today for the world of tomorrow!

What do you think?  Anyone clinging to fond memories of that weird beige paper with really widely spaced lines?  Are there still good uses of cursive?

P.S.  It’s been a quiet week on the blog, between the holiday Monday and three agents being on vacation, but we’ll return you to your regularly scheduled programming next week!  I’m sure you wait with bated breath.

*Nerd that I am, I count among the seminal weeks of my life the one I spent in the computer lab googling phrases in every poem in Quoof trying to figure out what Muldoon was getting at.  It’s what made me realize that the internet knew the answers to virtually everything one might wonder, and it’s the first time I really put a great deal of research time into anything I was studying.  It’s also the week I discovered the internet could lead you down a rabbit hole of fascination, obsession, awe, and disgust at the human condition, since the aforementioned googling led me to the transcripts of the then-ongoing Saville Inquiry.  I basically lived in the computer lab that semester, devouring knowledge the internet could offer me.  Man, I bet the interns don’t even set foot in the computer labs any more, do they?

11 Responses to Antiquity

  1. Tamara says:

    Oh! And do college students still have the joy of hanging out in the bookstacks and, while avoiding that nasty term paper, idly and delicious browsing Shakespeare and DeLillo and diaries of pioneers? Or have online resources taken that all away?

    • Lauren says:

      I honestly think they didn’t go away, just transformed. Idly browsing the internet or clicking from link to link in Wikipedia is, to my mind, equally joyously indulgent. I sometimes spend hours of my free time this way, since I am a nerd. And now this sort of activity is safe for those with dust allergies!

  2. Sheila Hurst says:

    What’s cursive writing? Just kidding. It’s interesting to see all the changes, even if they do make me feel old. Maybe cursive will one day be thought of as some sort of hieroglyphics in need of translation. The weird thing is, it’s easier to write in cursive because you’re not always lifting the pen off the paper. Not that I know what cursive is.

  3. Laura says:

    Many years ago I gave up on the cursive capital Q and S entirely, just on principle because I thought they looked stupid. If for some odd reason I was writing in cursive, I’d just print the capital Q or S and then go on with cursive for the rest of the word (I know, I know — I was a rebel). Then my writing eventually morphed into a print-cursive hybrid, and then I finally abandoned cursive altogether.

    Oh, I forgot — the cursive capital Z. I do like that one. It’s fun.

    I guess kids need to know how to sign their names in cursive, at least. Or they could invent whatever signature they want. Or draw pictures instead. Or maybe someone will just make an app for that?

    • Lauren says:

      For all my snottiness, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t write a proper cursive Q without looking it up first. I gave that one up pretty much from the beginning, though I can’t recall the last time I had cause to write one anyway. The S never bothered me. The Z did, because I never had the artistic skill to make it look nice. It’s an ugly letter, handled poorly.

  4. Maggie says:

    I guess that answers the question of how author signings will be handled with ebooks. If the author can’t write his or her name…

  5. Tammy says:

    I remember all to well the countless hours spent trying to perfect my penmanship. Just the thought of all those writing exercises makes my hand cramp up. My daughter has just finished up the second grade. The same grade that I had been in when I learned cursive writing. At the time I had wondered why they had barely touched on the subject but I hadn’t even considered that actual writing pen to paper was a dying art form. It’s sad to think that such an important skill will one day be lost.

  6. Gill Avila says:

    I never go anywhere without a pocket-sized notepad and a pen. That way I’m always prepared when I see a marvelous sight,I get an impression, a notion,or a snatch of dialogue that’s memorable.

  7. Kerry Gans says:

    My husband and I suddenly realized that our 2-year-old is going to grow up in a world where the answers to virtually everything can be found online. She will never know what it is like to not know something, or to have to dig through stacks of old magazines or reference books to find the answers. We are all learning sign language, and when I tell her I don’t know the sign for something, she points to the computer and says, “Up!” so I can look it up online.

    That’s when we realized she will need to know how to find information, but not necessarily need to truly learn the information itself. Is this progress? Or is this the dumbing down of our children? I suppose only time will tell!


    • Lauren says:

      I’m not sure I believe that intellectual curiosity will be snuffed out by the fact that answers are available at your fingertips at all times. If anything, I think it encourages the pursuit of knowledge and evaluation of data, both of which I’d say will make children more intelligent. I love that at 2 your daughter already realizes that if something is of interest to her, she can find out more about it. The things I know that I never would have if I couldn’t have googled them (b/c I’d have forgotten or not had to access or not cared enough to track down the answers) are too numerous to count. Judging by what passes for spelling in the general population, I think the people who seek out answers are few and far between, so it just makes it easier for those who do. I vote progress. A world where the limits of our knowledge and the limits of our curiosity grow ever closer is a world I’m eager to inhabit.

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