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It Is Written
Typewriters couldn't doom handwriting -- and now Barbara Simmons hopes it survives the digital age, too.

By Barbara Simmons

I was eager for 3rd grade, anticipating penmanship practice and the transforming of my block printing into what I hoped would look like my mother's handwriting.  I had seen her write the looping "D" of her name, Dorothy, adding a curvilinear flourish at the end of her signature. I wanted to write like her.

Growing up in Waltham, Massachusetts, I learned the Rinehart method. William Rinehart was considered the "master of the ornate capital and the shaded letter." His company, located in town, taught Functional Handwriting. The typewriter had appeared; the art of penmanship threatened. But our school cursive lessons kept us moving our fingers, hands, shoulders and arms rhythmically.  We wrote compositions with handwriting as personal as our fingerprints. I wrote with an almost Liberace-type sweep, my finger sporting a writer's bump.

Cursive writing lessons remained in schools even as the Royal typewriter became more popular. Defensively, educators spoke about "an increase in discipline and character" because of cursive.

Now there is a current movement to take cursive writing from the elementary school curriculum, I see images of iPads and laptops and keyboards, far from that physical feeling of forming letters on paper, of learning how to hold a pencil and pen, of dipping above and below the lines with my inked ideas.

I am not qualified to side with commentary from either camp to remove or retain cursive writing in schools. On one hand, I read that cursive can lead to more electrical activity in the brain; that it can aid literacy.  On the other are plausible arguments that cursive is not needed in a technological age.  Even the Post Office discourages cursive's use, so hard is it for optical recognition software to sort cursive addresses.

But my heart sides with keeping cursive in the curriculum. I want our children, and their children, to draw personal loops and flourishes as they sign documents for major moments in their lives, from deeds to licenses, not looking at Lucida Calligraphy or Brush Script from a list of simulated handwriting fonts for their John Hancock.

Tapping a keyboard simply doesn't look right.

With a Perspective, I'm Barbara Simmons.

Barbara Simmons is the director of College Counseling at Notre Dame High School in San Jose.

 

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