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Silver Threads: Suggested writes of passage

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

In my memories of the elementary school classrooms of my childhood, there are always strips of handwriting exercises tacked over the blackboards -- you know, that Spenserian script with the rows of circles that looked like slightly pulled out springs, the “push-me, pull-mes,” the fancy capital letters.

We pupils were being taught the Palmer Method of penmanship, and in my case, the learning culminated in the eighth grade, when we had a daily, one-hour class in cursive writing. That seems as old-fashioned as home-ec for girls, doesn’t it? And that was the class I had right after Miss Dozie McGowan taught us how to infuse our personal and business correspondence with elegance.

Miss McGowan was a spinster who was probably in her early 60s, although, at the time I thought she was about 105. The nasty boys in the class called her “Aunt Dozie” behind her back, and one time she snuck up on a duo having a discussion about her and said chillingly, “Boys, you’d better believe you’re no relatives of mine.”

I got to thinking about Miss McGowan the other day when I read that cursive writing is on the endangered list.

If you’re an old person, friends send you emails with lists of things that are no longer being used, like typewriters and record players and wringer washing machines and  crank up and down car windows. I guess if our moms and dads had had PCs, people would have forwarded  pictures of gramophones,  horse-drawn buggies and ice-boxes that came with  compartments to hold those big blocks that you got at the neighborhood business that froze them for you.

But who would have thought people would dispense with  something like cursive writing -- “handwriting” -- script?  Cursive writing in some languages began in ancient times; in English, it dates back to the Norman Conquest.

The method originated because it’s faster than printing by hand and the fragile quill, then used for writing, didn’t have to be lifted from the paper as often. But unless reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated, the next generation or two -- who won’t have to worry about breaking their quills -- will one day be printing everything they need for communication without technological assistance. The Common Core State Standards (which we’ve been reading a lot about in our local newspapers recently) set guidelines for what students should learn and when they should learn it, and now absent is any mention of handwriting or cursive.

Ken Makovsky, contributor to Forbes magazine, recently wrote:

Sad news! One unexpected off-shoot of the internet revolution has been the slow death of cursive writing. And one unanticipated consequence, according to The New York Times, is that the non-cursive generations coming after us old-timers will be unable to read important historical documents … including, for example, the Declaration of Independence!

He quotes some teachers as lamenting the loss of handwriting skill among their students, but writes, “others disagree, including Jen Doll at the Village Voice,  who asserts that ‘cursive sucks! And, in our modern day keyboard- and Smartphone-focused lifestyles, we simply don’t need it.’”

Texting rules! Students already turn in homework assignments via their PCs, greetings are exchanged on Facebook, thank-you notes are e-mailed -- and I’m guilty of that myself. Taking pen in hand is an action that’s going the way of dialing on the landline -- but you get the message anyway.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]