An Overrated Skill

In my opinion, any way, is what cursive handwriting is. I knew how to do it, once upon a time, but I quit in junior high school, when I realized that I could write more legibly and quickly by printing. I understand the theory that things go faster when you don’t have to pick up the pen, but I never found that it went that much faster, and it was unreadable, often even by me.

Now comes an old-school teacher who wants to revive the skill, which is apparently dying out among the nation’s youth, because many teachers can’t do it themselves, and if they can, don’t want to take the time to teach it, or have the students practice.

In high school and college, any student without a 24/7 laptop cannot hope to keep accurate notes on a lecture course. Kate Gladstone, a handwriting specialist based in Albany, estimates that while a student needs to jot down 100 legible words a minute to follow a typical lecture, someone using print can manage only 30. “That’s fine for class,” she said, “if the class is first grade.”

Sorry, but I just don’t buy the necessity of this in a world in which keyboards cost five bucks and laptops continue to drop in price and size. Committing thoughts to paper with pen or pencil is pure drudgery for me. If I hadn’t had access to a typewriter in high school and college (this was before word processors, which would have been a godsend), it’s quite possible that I’d have flunked out, so extreme is my aversion to handwriting in any form. And in fact, I can only think of one time that my inability to write script has had any noticeable impact on my academic or professional career. In 1981, when I took the GRE, I had to write on the front of the book an honor pledge of some sort that I wouldn’t cheat. It said that it must be written, not printed. I dredged up out of memories of elementary school how the letters were formed, and carefully and laboriously dragged the pen across the page to write the words. That was the first time I’d done so since about eighth grade, and I’ve never done it since.

And I don’t buy her speed estimates. As already noted, there was little difference in speed between printing and cursive writing for me, and a huge difference in legibility.

I absolutely disagree with this statement:

Once you learn to walk, you won’t go back to crawling again.”

Perhaps not, but the analogy is poor. For me, cursive writing is stumbling along, printing is walking (painfully), and typing is running like the wind, in which my thoughts simply magically and effortlessly appear on the screen, with no intermediary between. If it be dying, I refuse to mourn the loss of handwriting, or support efforts to revive it.

[Update at 1 PM EST]

One more point. I also disagree with this:

“…you’re probably going to be taking notes for the rest of your lives. I don’t know anybody who works on a computer and doesn’t also have a pad nearby.”

This must be like Pauline Kael’s famous comment that Nixon couldn’t have won, because she didn’t know anyone who voted for him.

In fact, I work extensively on a computer, and have no physical notepads nearby, and haven’t for years. That’s what text editors (e.g., Microsoft Notepad) are for.