Opinion

What if the handwriting on the wall is cursive?

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Where did I learn how to write? I mean penmanship, the whole writing process; from learning to identify and pronounce the upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet, to learning how to form those letters with pencil on paper? How did I learn to write in cursive or script?

Last week, while helping grandson Grafton with his penmanship, I had a curious thought: What kind of penmanship are kids taught at home and school these days? And pondering kids and penmanship today prompted me to compare my life as a young kid learning how to write.

My parents always encouraged their kids to read and write. While I have no specific memory of either my mom or dad helping me with my penmanship, I’m sure they did. I certainly have memories of sitting at school desks in classrooms practicing writing letters of the alphabet on paper filled with three-line rows. Letters — script and print — were written over and over, with the tops and bottoms of uppercase letters kept within the top and base lines, and lowercase letters kept within the middle and base lines.

But, as of this moment, the specifics of where and when I practiced my letters in classrooms are lost. My point is: I did practice my letters, and I did learn to write using print and cursive. After that I learned typing on a manual typewriter, several computer programs, and then the touch screen technology of smartphones and tablets.

What about kids growing up with parents and teachers raised primarily on writing with computers and touch screen devices? What kind of penmanship are they learning? Does it matter?

While searching for background material on penmanship, I was surprised to see a bill submitted this year to the Maine Legislature titled, “An Act To Require Cursive Handwriting Instruction in Grade 3 to Grade 5.” State Representative Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, sponsored the idea and she had bipartisan support, including bill cosponsors Sens. Justin Chenette, D-York, and Rep. James Handy, D-Lewiston, among others.

Ten individuals, or individuals representing groups, testified before the legislative committee considering Rep. Sampson’s cursive writing idea. None of those entities testifying were opposed to students learning cursive writing. Opposition to the bill was based mostly on it being one more state mandate on teachers.

Within the ten testimonials are several worthwhile general points and questions about students learning cursive writing.

“The teaching or cursive writing used to be part of the handwriting curriculum in schools. No one seems to know why it was removed without a public discussion and debate,” said Sen. Justin Chenette.

Mr. Dan Davis asked, “How can cross-generational teams collaborate, communicate effectively, and address age-related conflicts and discrimination…in the workplace when our youth are unable to read (cursive)…?”

And Rep. Sampson detailed a list of attributes linked to cursive writing including: Improves fine motor skills; sharpens mental effectiveness; increases retention of information, and better social and communication skills.

Sampson’s bill died.

Not too many years ago, having breakfast again in Maine’s famous Moody’s Diner, a waitress was explaining to my friend and I, the diner’s new menu, which was heavy on full-color photos of meals and drinks, and light on text. The new pictorial format, explained the waitress, was in response to a growing number of customers unable to read their old menu. Now, those customers can simply point to a picture and tell the waitress, “I want that.”

I lean in favor of kids learning to read/write in print and cursive. One person testifying against Rep. Sampson’s bill said it makes more sense to limit kids to reading, not writing, cursive.

Maybe.

But I also favor older generations meeting their younger counterparts halfway, by learning to communicate with computers, smartphones, and/or tablets.

Anything to keep us from communicating by pointing at pictures and saying, “I want that.”

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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