Handwriting's on the wall for cursive

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The idea that Indiana schools are no longer going to teach cursive writing mystifies me.

Heavens to John Hancock, what about our signature moments?

Are we supposed to scribble an X for our signature on the credit card form? Print block letters across the signature spot? Kiss calligraphy goodbye?

First penmanship, then the pen? What would be mightier than the sword at that point? A dull old Dell?

Sure, sure I understand, most of the young people type everything these days. Texts, emails, tweets. Even our phones have keyboards for crying out loud.

So the handwriting is on the proverbial wall for -- oddly enough -- handwriting.

Indiana and other states consider it "progressive" to kick cursive writing to the curb for keyboarding. It is part of something called the Common Core Curriculum in 46 states.

So apparently we are doing this, thanks to the revelation that kids today use computers more than pen and paper.

But if God had wanted us to keyboard (yes, it has become a verb) everything, wouldn't we all have been born with an IBM electric typewriter?

If young people are no longer going to be taught cursive writing, how in the world are they ever going to read it in the future? If I jot you a note would your grandma have to read it for you?

So we really can't even devote 10 school minutes a day to the loopy repetitions of making O's and A's? It that's the case, we seem headed toward a decision both illogical and illegible.

One of the younger guys in the room seemed equally as mystified about the anti-cursive crusade, and offered an interesting perspective.

"It's almost as if old people will have their own secret language in the future," he noted.

Now there's something none of us really wants to see.

Yet whenever I think about cursive writing, I do think about an older person -- my all-time favorite teacher, William F. Narkis, who taught me seventh-grade English back a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Before comedian Bill Murray was Bill Murray, Mr. Narkis was Bill Murray. A slick-back-haired, cool Chicagoan with a sarcastic wit and the intelligence to pull it off. My buddies and I admired these qualities so much, we even tried to copy his signature.

We got pretty darn good at it. Not forgery good, but pleasantly passable. But it was his cursive F that gave us fits.

To make his F, Mr. Narkis went up to the right with a flourish and swooped back down to the left, crossed to the left at the midpoint, looping back to the right and back to the left until he had an elegant F (the lowest grade the school gives, by the way) with loops left, right, bottom and top.

After practicing that F at almost every extra moment on the back of our notebooks, papers or envelopes, we dared drop its magnificence into into an English paper.

Mr. Narkis, of course, took note. And why wouldn't a teacher who would stand in the hallway at lunch and monitor student traffic by calling out, P.T. Barnum-like, "This way to the egress!"

We knew he had spotted our paper, and most likely our fashionable F, which we hoped was about to earn us an A.

He held my essay aloft, smiling right at me while invoking the wisdom of Snidely Whiplash to tell the whole class ...

"Cursive ... foiled again!"

Now I finally know what he meant ...