Sunday, April 3, 2011

Writing, the lost art

The End of Cursive Writing
The death knell has been sounded: cursive writing is done. Kaput. Over.
The majority of states in the United States have made the decision to cut cursive writing from their curriculums. Who needs it? Everyone has a computer now--no one takes notes by hand or writes to each other anymore. It's a lost art/subject, like the old educational requirements that everyone take Latin, that simply don't make sense anymore.

Is this going to be a case of unintended consequences?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for computers. In fact, over the last year, I've started moving into the ranks of independent authors who published e-books, rather than going the "old fashioned" way of traditional publishing. The poster child for indie publishing has been Amanda Hocking, who made over $2 million (yes, that's 2 million) on books she independently published through Amazon.

But wait! Amanda now has signed a contract with a traditional publisher's the thing. You can't just walk into a Target or Wal-Mart and buy an e-book off the shelf. But you can walk in and buy a paperback (or hardcover). So at least for the time being, traditional publishing matters.

What does this have to do with cursive writing?

Well, Amanda made the decision to do both traditional and indie publishing, because she can reach a wider audience.

This is going to be hard to believe, but there are some people who do not own computers! And even if they owned computers, they don't have and can't afford access to the Internet!

But schools are making the determination that, well, everyone has a computer with access to the Internet so there is no need to teach cursive writing because everyone communicates through the Internet! If not by computer, than by smartphone.

Is this true? Before this, the ability to write a letter to someone was one of the few unifying facts in Society. Rich and poor, over-educated or 6th grade education only, most people were literate and could write. (Obviously, there were some who had difficulties with writing, but there were more people who could write than currently have computers. And if you're illierate, I can't see how the emphasis on computer skills is going to help you.)

According to some statistics, 76% of U.S. citizens have a computer or have access to a computer. I think that latter bit is what makes this statistic a bit misleading. Have access to a computer could just mean, well, you can go to the library and use the computers there.

Fine, but that is fairly inconveniant. It means an awful lot of people out there could be squeezed out and marginalized. More than are marginalized now, at any rate.

I don't think the inability to read or write using cursive script is going to affect the underlying factors that contribute to this, but I do believe it is a symptom of our increasing focus on the computer as our major means of communications. I'm not sure that's a good thing. And don't get me wrong--I love computers. I've worked in the computer industry for over 30 years as a programmer and enterprise administrator. I adore technology.

But I also live in rural America where Internet costs are high and computer usage is low. So this shift worries me.

The one big "unintended consequence" that I see right away is: how are kids going to write a check?

Okay, so they can pay bills electronically.

Okay, how are they going to sign the back of their credit card?

Maybe signatures are obsolete?
Could be. But then, I'm working on a project at work involving certificates and identity proofing, so maybe instead of signatures, we'll all just go through an identity proofing system (e.g. obtaining a driver's license) and get a certificate or even a smartcard (e.g. driver's license with a certificate embedded) and that will be our proof of identity. No more pen-and-ink signatures.

It will certainly be a different world and it pains me to think the kids of today won't be able to read their great-grandmother's letters.


Sheila Tenold said...

Great post, Amy! I see retina readers as the ultimate identifiers, though still decades away. As a left-handed writer cursive instruction was a struggle for me.

Hand printing is too time-consuming. Future generations will be bereft of saved letters from loved ones. Rare is the person who prints out a lengthy email message. I believe our cultural memory bank will lack any true context in regard to our personal lives. And rarer still will be the historical cursive readers who will translate our past.

Jill James said...

Doing genealogy, let me tell you, everyone's cursive writing is not the same. I've thought that cursive writing was going the way of the dinosaur for awhile. My friend has letters that belonged to her mother. Letters from her husband and brothers in WWII, sons in Korea and Vietname. And now emails from grandchildren in Iraq and Afghanistan. The media changes, but the message is still there.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Interesting topic. My daughter is in 4th grade--public school-- and she is required to write in cursive.

I know that varies from place to place, but her handwriting is better than mine.

On the other hand, my dh went to school overseas and even after 27 years of marriage, I still struggle to read his writing.

Josie said...

I had no idea that they were cutting cursive writing from school classes. Why?

Good penmanship is so important.