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HANDWRITING

   I’ve been following the latest education flap concerning the teaching (or dropping) of cursive handwriting. Those who are against cutting it from the syllabus claim that somehow learning cursive wires the child’s brain for greater things. The silliest argument I read this morning wailed about future anthropologists and linguists not being able to read documents from our time because they wouldn’t know cursive! Oh yeah? I can read a lot of medieval scripts  – admittedly, with some difficulty – without being able to write as those scribes did. And how did anyone figure out Egyptian hieroglyphics?
   On the other hand, there is something to the notion that the brain treats handwriting and typewriting differently. Though I type all my fiction and non-fiction first drafts (but not poetry), I have to write my notes by hand. I’ve tried but I absolutely can’t get my raw thoughts down any other way. That’s why I was so panic-stricken when my notebook went walkabout after the Eaton Conference last spring. I think the exception about poetry is a clue, at least to the way my own brain is wired.
   But why is cursive the gold-standard anyway? It’s an ugly, overly loopy script. When I was in school, they abandoned cursive  – which had replaced the elegant copperplate of my grandparents’ time – for something more simplified with the name “Marian Somebody-or-other” who I suppose is the person who invented it. Then in college, they advocated for italic script, very pretty, but I never fully mastered it. Why is one style better than another – except for aesthetic reasons?
   What do you think?

Comments

Cursive handwriting is useful -- and important -- in one very specific respect: it's very highly individualized.

See in particular, signatures. For things like signing contracts and autographs and prescriptions, one wants a form of handwriting which is relatively difficult to duplicate or forge by another person, and cursive script is far more distinctive from one person to the next than any sort of letter-by-letter printed script one writes by hand. (A high school classmate of mine had two forms of handwriting: one of the messiest cursive scripts you could possibly imagine, and an incredibly neat and precise printed script that he used specifically for taking notes during competitive debate rounds. The contrast was utterly amazing, and he could write about equally and blindingly fast in either form.)

Now yes, electronic data transfer and biometrics are beginning to devalue written signatures in a number of contexts, but autographs at least are going to hold on for awhile yet. And I think it may be wise for other reasons to introduce and retain cursive writing as a marker of identity even as society goes more and more technological.
But any of the other writing scripts would serve to individualize signatures, wouldn't they?