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If you don’t have kids in school, it can be difficult to know what’s happening within those taxpayer-funded walls.
For example, until state Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, submitted LD 387, “An Act To Require Cursive Handwriting Instruction in Grade 3 to Grade 5,” I had no clue Maine’s education system had formally abandoned the teaching of cursive handwriting.
Maine is not alone. Only 14 states require kids to learn cursive. Computers and smartphones have obviated the need for handwriting, anti-cursive educators argue.
The only problem is that it doesn’t work in the real world. Cursive is helpful because it expedites the writing process. And – this is a biggie – it allows people to write their signature, which, growingly, today’s kids aren’t able to do.
I have personal experience with this, having witnessed a student at a Portland private school struggle to sign his name. The embarrassed teen said he hadn’t been taught cursive and could only print his name. It struck me that he’d been cursed by the modern educational establishment to live a life without knowledge of cursive, which, not too long ago, was a basic skill taught to all children.
There’s little to argue with Sampson’s bill, which has garnered bipartisan sponsorship, except about the time frame. Her bill wouldn’t require schools to start teaching cursive until third grade and require mastery by fifth grade. I and my fellow Gen-Xers, on the other hand, learned cursive in second grade and mastered it in third grade.
I loved cursive writing. The letters were beautiful. And they all somehow connected. The Q was the hardest to figure out, but the Ms and Ns, my favorites, rolled on and on like the surf at Higgins Beach. I loved all the curls and loops and the fact that you never had to lift your pencil from the page. Such efficiency.
When I look back, I can see how today’s cursive advocates are right. Cursive writing, according to sources I’ve recently read in Psychology Today and The New York Times, helps with motor skills, hand-eye coordination and self-esteem. It helps connect circuitry between the left and right brains, much more than simple printing and keystroking.
I also remember how proud I was when I figured out how to write in cursive. I had gained a life skill at the ripe old age of 8.
Once mastered, that skill was practical, too. I put it to good use taking notes in high school and college. I used cursive daily as a newspaperman. Cursive allowed me to write fast enough to keep up with the highlights of what a source was saying. I always lamented the fact that I didn’t know shorthand, an even faster form of handwriting that allowed for verbatim recording and was once taught in high schools, but at least I knew cursive. Today’s kids can’t even say that.
Just last weekend, I bought some new pens for work. On the back of the package, Bic – which, understandably, needs to sell pens to stay in business – has gone to great lengths to promote handwriting.
The French company launched a campaign a few years ago to “save handwriting.” The pen maker has even set up a website, BICFightForYourWrite.com, which advocates for penmanship in a world gone crazy for computers. It, too, lays out all the benefits of handwriting compared to typing.
We seem to be in the grips of a worldwide realization that handwriting, and particularly cursive, needs preservation. Here’s hoping our Legislature sees the many benefits and passes Sampson’s bill.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.