Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 25, 2013

"All she wrote" for cursive?

"The end of cursive?" article in the September 2013 "Real Simple" magazine caught my eye. For those past a "certain age" who haven't had kids in school for awhile, cursive was once called penmanship. Many schools no longer teach cursive writing, opting instead to concentrate on keyboarding.

Of course, not everyone agrees this is a good idea. Indiana University neuroscientist Karin Harman James has been studying this matter. A press release about her work said:

"Her preliminary research involving cursive writing found that college students remembered information better one week later when they transcribed a paragraph in cursive, compared to printing it or using a keyboard."

I remember how proud I was in grade school when my penmanship measured up to the various patterns we were given. I rather enjoyed making those curvaceous letters.

Mom taught cursive as an elementary teacher. She'd put records on so students could practice to music. It was an important part of her job during her 31-year teaching career.

Sister Gaila said,

"I just remember practicing and practicing the strokes and how I often wondered how the teacher could even grade something like that. I can't remember if I enjoyed writing cursive or not � A lot of time was put into it, though. Guess today teachers have to have more time with reading, writing and math. I've read articles that cursive hits a part of the brain that is important for other functions, too � That is one thing I've heard. How will kids read all the old documents (Declaration of Independence, etc) if they don't know cursive. Now, I guess, they are all on computer, so it doesn't matter �"

I know of at least one case where this has happened. When Hitler became chancellor of a unified Germany, the schools were required to simplify the many handwriting styles acquired from the separate states. One consequence is our German friend Barbel's children cannot read the letters written by her parents from those earlier times.

Husband Art, who seems to have an uncanny sense of recall, described - in detail - his experience with handwriting:

"In kindergarten, there was a ledge above the big windows. On the ledge were large cards with black backgrounds and white writing, each having four versions of a letter of the alphabet - block style and cursive, upper and lower case.

"What I best remember about penmanship was that I was awful at it. This carried on to college where I took two semesters of drafting in my engineering course. Each drawing had two grades, one for methods and one for technique. I regularly received A/B - the B being the best I could do even with block letters! To this day, I sometimes have to work to read my own writing.

"There was some irony in this for my brother's handwriting is as perfect as if it was made by a machine. In a letter to my aunt, Uncle Art once mentioned how Tommy's handwriting put his to shame.

"My Aunt Ione's cursive was unlike any other I have seen. It could be easily read, but looked as if she had invented her own font.

"For fun, I once studied handwriting analysis. A lot of it is baloney as far as I could tell - but not all. One day at work, a co-worker made a comment about how unusual his daughter's handwriting was and then went on to describe it. I suggested a personality profile. His eyes widened and he said, 'Have you met her?'

"I 'met' Gloria's handwriting before I met her. I have only known a few people with some of her traits. According to the rules I learned, she should be an unusual person. In this case, it was spot-on!"

Perhaps Art has touched on an important point about cursive writing. Graphology, the pseudoscientific study of handwriting, has long been used to analyze personality traits. In medicine, handwriting has been used in diagnosis and tracking of brain and nervous system diseases. Experts in handwriting have long been employed in criminal investigations such as cases involving forgery.

But I just enjoy studying how different people write - even those whose writing is hard to read. Youngest daughter Katie told me that her goal was to make her signature as illegible as her Dad's so that no one could copy it. In contrast, older daughter Mariya has a careful signature that combines cursive with printed letters more like mine.

When I told Mom I was going to write a column about cursive writing, she handed me an article Lynn Nicholas wrote for the October 2013 AARP Bulletin.

"Before email, text messaging and electronically generated cards, I would open my mailbox hoping to find a personal letter tucked between the mass-produced bills and junk mail. Recognizing [a] unique cursive script was like hitting the jackpot. ... Handwriting embodies who a writer is; it breathes life into paper. Nothing but a voice better captures a person's individuality."

Nicholas knew her English grandmother only through notes "inscribed with fluid blue cursive by an expensive fountain pen and scented with her signature cologne."

I've had similar experiences when reading family letters. I can see similarities between my Dad's handwriting and that of his father and even of his grandfather. Dad's brother - my Uncle Stan - has some of the same familiar loops, too.

A stash of 1850s handwritten letters from my great, great, great-grandparents to their children gave me goose bumps. Seeing news about the weather, crop yields and family members' health and activities in the careful script of those relatives of long ago made them seem so much closer. I felt as if they were looking over my shoulders when I was reading their letters.

In 1997, even seeing my own signature made me happy. I had been afflicted with a neurological disease that didn't allow me to swallow, eat, talk or move. I could blink one eye and flail my left arm around - that was it. I couldn't type with one finger, let alone write by hand. But high doses of steroids and intense therapy started reversing the damage. Illegibly signing my name with my left hand was a tangible sign I was getting better.

I'm sure children need to develop keyboarding skills, yet there's something emotionally rewarding in receiving a message in a familiar hand. So I hope it's not "all she wrote" for cursive handwriting.

Top: An example of German script of the type younger Germans have difficulty reading. Below the cursive are the corresponding modern letters. The snippet translates to, "The memory of my forefathers..."; bottom: three examples of attempting to write my name while in recovery from my 1997 illness. The leftmost was my very first try on February 28, about a month after admission to the hospital. The middle one was the same day after several attempts. The far right example is from several generated on April 6.

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