Last spring, I hired a young fellow to do some chores while I was away, but when I handed him a handwritten list he stared at it for a few seconds with a perplexed expression before admitting that he couldn’t read it. My penmanship is still quite legible, especially when I’m writing carefully for someone else’s benefit, but at 12 years old he simply couldn’t read cursive handwriting.

Declining public-school attention to cursive writing has been lamented and lambasted with particular vigor in the past decade, especially after states began swallowing the Common Core Standards, which ignored handwriting. In 2013, West Lebanon’s Valley News observed that public schools were phasing out the teaching of handwriting. According to that story, the president of a teachers’ union near Washington, D.C., called it a “dying art” that wasted precious classroom time — time such as Conway grade-schoolers spend learning “mindfulness” and how to “appreciate diversity,” or participating in the ski program.

That same 2013 article also offered discouragement for the teaching of cursive writing from “one of the top U.S. experts on handwriting instruction.” He not only described cursive as “pretty much gone,” but implied that electronic communication made it irrelevant. He dismissed some common arguments for retaining instruction in that skill, suggesting that the only reasons for keeping it are sentimental, or aesthetic.

Late in that summer of 2013, inspired perhaps by a column I had written on the subject, The Conway Daily Sun followed up on handwriting in the SAU 9 curriculum. The principal of Conway Elementary likewise called penmanship “a dying art.” Superintendent Kevin Richard, who was then principal of Kennett Middle School, already saw kids coming into the seventh grade who had not learned cursive sufficiently to read it. He, too, cited time limitations as a determining factor in whether to teach it. Handwriting is still ostensibly taught in the third and fourth grades in SAU 9, albeit without the priority it once enjoyed.

The week that Sun article ran, the Tele-Talk question asked if cursive should still be taught. Of 38 respondents who addressed the question directly, 34 replied affirmatively, with varying degrees of emphasis. Only one thought it was not worth keeping, and three supported it only as an option, presumably in the higher grades, as an art form.

If time precludes the teaching of handwriting (or history and civics, for that matter), some topics that could and should be learned at home are consuming much of the school day, and could be abbreviated or dispensed with. What comes to mind first is the “social and emotional learning” that figures prominently in the SAU 9 curriculum. As for practicality, the relevance of handwriting seems a little more evident during New Hampshire’s longer power outages, which provide hints of how debilitating a hostile attack on the power grid or communications networks might be.

Pediatric neurologists and psychologists contend that learning and reading cursive aids brain development. It helps with hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and tends to improve spelling and memory, while fostering creativity.

Thanks to my mother’s Catholic-school education and her early attention to my handwriting, I learned an old-fashioned script that later conflicted with the method taught at Pine Tree School. Today, when writing hurriedly, I often blend the two, but anyone who can read one can read the other — and can decipher English writing from at least the 1720s.

That has been a significant benefit in pursuing history, making it fairly easy to scour manuscripts that have helped me to document counterarguments to dominant historical narratives. Even poor penmanship is usually consistent enough that it grows easier to read after a page or two. Decrypting a rogue phrase through historical context and an acquired familiarity with antiquated vocabulary can also pose a gratifying challenge.

American students who can’t read cursive writing will find half a millennium of American and British Empire history closed to them, except through the inevitably biased interpretations of others. The disadvantages of that should be obvious, except to parents who are content to have their children adopt predigested opinions, for it greatly eases any inclination to teach a distorted image of our past. Could that be the plan?

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

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(2) comments

Scott Shallcross

Refridgerator trucks are being deployed to hospitals throughout the state for an overflow of post-mortem Covid cases that the morgues cannot handle. Any plausible deniability that January 6th was not a planned insurrection went down the drain weeks ago and the usual suspects are pleading the 5th now. Fox News* propagandists: Lara Logan, Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, Brian Kilmeade, and Laura Ingraham have all been exposed (once again). And the veritable Herodutus of Carroll County is concerned about cursive writing.

MEPD Ret

One (unconfirmed) refrigerator truck at a single hospital does not constitute "trucks are being deployed to hospitals throughout the state".

And what does that have to do with January 6th or FOX News?

Or, "Herodutus[sic]"?

You really need to seek some psychological counseling or get deprogrammed from the Cult you have found yourself in.

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