Handwriting without tears: I haven’t written cursive since 5th grade
Every Monday we would crack the spine of our “Handwriting Without Tears” workbooks, an artifact of early 2000s elementary school curriculum, a time when public schools could still afford such luxuries. While these cursive primers generally honored their promise of dry eyes, the exercise of tracing dotted lines instead of keystrokes was contentious.
Our teachers found themselves playing defense against a classroom of 10-year-old children acutely aware of the forthcoming extinction of script. The translucent blue iMac G3 perched in the corner of the classroom mocked the obsolescence of learning to loop letters together. The naivety of third grade did not blind us from the Lucida Handwriting font accessible on a word processor. How could they contend with the frustration of learning to connect a cursive “o” to a “l” when the two letters were just three millimeters apart on a computer keyboard?
My teachers would resort to a honeyed threatening — a survival tactic refined by elementary school educators in admirable fashion. The sweetness of their candy apple red teacher voice would mask the startling proposition that your cursive abilities would determine your future academic efficiency: “You will need cursive every day once you go to middle school to take notes.”
What? As a burgeoning member of the type A breed of student, this notion was distressing. My teacher’s correlation of cursive writing with success propelled the hamster wheel of academic anxiety that has not stopped turning even 14 years later.
When I reached middle school, I kept waiting for the day when my fragmented print would be rebuked with a red pen comment, “Please write cursive next time.” But it never happened. In high school, I braced myself before my first Advanced Placement history lecture, frantically trying to remember how to write a cursive “b.” But the connected script would soon prove unnecessary as my layman handwriting kept pace with the slides.
A skill that was once lauded by my teachers as indispensable became irrelevant only a few years later. Just as I can no longer tell you what the state flower is or how to distinguish a brontosaurus from a Tyrannosaurus rex, my knowledge of cursive has dissolved into the dark hole of elementary school acumen.
The cursive alphabet is now buried in my hippocampus beneath a clutter of keyboard shortcuts. The hazy remnants of penmanship lessons yield a mediocre signature and lecture notes that begin with the intention of beautiful calligraphy but, by the second page, evolve to an improvised cursive-print hybrid.
I hold no spite for the years of cursive lessons we endured. Yet, as pupils whose identity is so often lauded as the iGeneration, I think it is important to point out that the technology of our classrooms was so often juxtaposed against an unease for losing the relics of traditional schooling. We were not immune to the nostalgia for the blackboard hallmarks of education.
There is perhaps no fiercer representation of this reality than cursive. It is the reason my teachers held their penmanship lesson plans so tightly despite the headwinds of replaceability blowing from Silicon Valley. No matter how many times “Fast Company” publishes another article popularizing the technological dependence of our generation, it should not be forgotten that our 8-year-old eyes witnessed the two worlds collide. We faced pressure to write cursive just as much as the burden to type 40 words per minute.
Of course, I can understand how the belief was formed that our generation does not understand how the world operated before technology. The wandering thoughts of diarists and sweeping language of freedom from an era gone by are now encrypted by slanted strokes foreign to today’s readers. Their once-perfected penmanship now makes our eyes squint as we shield embarrassment of the unreadability of a bygone era’s thoughts. And there will certainly be no inked wedding invitations with romantic calligraphy or tender script journal entries in my future.
Even more extreme, our relationship with the pencil has become intermittent. After a summer of tapping screens and dancing on keyboards, we reunite with the pencil at the first lecture of fall semester. The alien sensation of scribbling for 90-minute intervals welcomes us back to the classroom with hand cramps and fresh calluses reinforcing the endurance lost during the summer months. It is a reminder of the dispensability of writing on a page.
So, I get it. I get how we are often viewed as robots who lack the grit of paper and pen academia.
The inferiority of students in our generation is expressed through our chicken scratch handwriting. But we were in the room when our teachers espoused their polemics defending cursive. We heard the whispers of parents worried we were watching too much television. And we remember when the first laptop carts were wheeled into the classroom and we dropped our pencils.