July 10th, 2011

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Learning to write

I tripped over an article recently where a school in Indiana became the latest edcuational instution to abandon the teaching of "cursive", electing to concentrate instead on the students' proficiency on a computer keyboard.

WHat they call "learning cursive"... I call "learning to write".

It's bad enough that the love of reading for the sake of reading is slipping - when you look at some of the statistics for the United States about how many people actually PICK UP A BOOK in a year, frankly, it scares me - it shows a population that is abandoning the written word in droves. (and when I say picking up a book I'm not getting into "real" book vs ebook here, now, because that's splitting hairs - you all know what I am tallking about. Arguably those stats will change with the rapid influx of ebooks into the reading pool.) But the concept of some child in school today who will not, as an adult, be able to write anything longer than his or her own name in cursive...belongs to a future that I cannot wrap my head around.

Sure, computer keyboard usage is increasingly important. But hey, hello, here I sit typing this, and I took to the computer WAY after I learned to write by hand - and it hasn't done me any harm whatsoever. I am still probably faster than most ordinary people, because I type so much, because this is my primary working tool. But what I write and how I write it... are two different things.

How many of today's grandparents communicate via computer? How many of grammy's emails will a grandchild keep - or be able to read, a few generations of computers down the line - or treasure?

But I have letters from my grandmother which I keep carefully folded away in a box with her photographs, because they are in her language, and in *her handwriting*. I know that those belowed hands touched that paper, wielded the pen that wrote those words, harboured leisurely thoughts and warm memories of me and my parents (to whom she was writing). I can see her sitting at the table, blank sheet of paper in front of her, her lines always going slightly skew on the page,, the rounded shape of her a's and her o's, and I feel the love that she poured on those pages, from her heart, from her eyes, from the half-smile that plays on her face as she writes. If the power goes off forever tomorrow or next week or ten years from now I will still have a box of letters from my grandmother to treasure and re-read, in her own hand. Everything else is smoke and mirrors and electrons.

I wrote my own first attempts at fiction - novels, stories - my poetry, when I was younger - in longhand, in ever-present notebooks which were always with me in some way shape or form. I still have some of those early writings. Some of them were obviously written by the child that I was - and I know this not because of their contents alone (which tell a certain tale) but by the shape and form of my childish handwriting, still unformed, still to morph into the steady written-out scrawl that my handwriting eventually became. And there's another aspect - there are letters of my own, written to my grandparents in cyrillic, and looking at those hnadwritten lines shows me one thing - the latin-alphabet handwriting that I own evolved into its adult form through practice and repetition but I didn't have that much opportunity to use the Cyrillic script and that has stayed oddly childlike, much like it was in the days when I first learned to write, yes, cursive. And that discrepancy defines me; perhaps some astute biographer, if ever one feels the urge to look into my past, will be able to tell the story of my life from the way my handwriting did or did not change according to what language and what alphabet I used to write in. My "cursive" is what makes me... me.

We have notebooks of family recipes passed down from grandmother to mother to me, from an aunt to me, from some random neighbor whose only remaining presence in the recipe is a name in the title (the cake is given HER name) and... her handwriting. There are recipes I recognise the provenance of just by recognising the handwriting in which they have been preserved - and know what the dish was, and how I had liked it, and whether I would ever make it again.

I just... feel deeply sorry for the children who will grow up illiterate in anything other than keyboard. The children who will never lift a fountain pen and feel the flow of ink onto a pristine page. THe children who will never write a letter. The children who will never learn, possibly, how to read a letter that someone still versed in cursive writes to THEM.

Yes, keboards are important. They rule our lives with an iron, er, key. They are here to stay. But dear GOD, why is their presence taken as licence to render our children illiterate in the art of picking up a writing implement and writing something in longhand without having to PRINT it painstakingly letter by letter?

I hope that the parents of the children who will no longer be taught to write at their schools take it upon themselves to teach their own progeny what seems to be the vanishing art of writing in longhand. Who knows where civilisation is headed or how long it will last? Why is it considered "passe" to know how to... WRITE A SENTENCE IN YOUR OWN HAND?

I'll go caress the fountain pen I inherited from my grandfather, look again upon those treasured letters from my grandmother, remember them both through those simple things, know that the memories cannot simply vanish at the stroke of a keyboard or a change in computer generations rendering earlier communications unreadable. What I have, I can never lose to the vagaries of technology.

Children of the world... stay human. Learn to WRITE.