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Lawton Posey: In defense of cursive writing

By Lawton Posey

I sometimes wonder what my second grade teachers would say if they learned that cursive writing is on the way out. The piece is true, I am told. Schools, many of them, no longer teach writing in longhand or what is called, cursive writing.

My personal opinion is that writing with joined letters is a good thing. In my small, rural elementary school, we grubby country children practiced what was called Palmer Hand, which was supposed to make our penciled scribbles sit more elegantly on our nickel pads. Even looking at my best hand of a half century ago shows that I never mastered that kind of writing. I have a friend who is a year younger than I, and his writing is beautiful, and rather like that shown on the charts in our schoolrooms. He has never typed nor used a computer, yet his writing is legible and readable.

Writing in cursive fashion has benefits and deficiencies. In brief, handwriting reveals something of the personality of the one writing. Sometimes from a handwritten letter you can guess whether the writer is hurried or in stress, or relaxed and in great humor.

To get a handwritten letter is a joy to me, even though I say that some correspondents have writing that is unique and often hard to read. Part of the joy is transforming scribbles into thought. Once, a friend of mine had moved away and I had no idea how his health was. I had gotten no emails from him. So I sat myself down and handwrote a letter to him. He was moved to answer because I had transmitted my thoughts and love by way of my own hand.

Now, I must confess that I rely on my computer more and more, since either age or something else has caused my penning of letters to show unsteadiness and to shrink. Perhaps this is the beginning in me of my mother’s experience as her neat schoolteacher’s writing became smaller, and then one day, I learned that she could not write. She had never learned to type. She could not sign a check. It was a tragedy for her. I had new responsibilities.

Now it is possible that cursive writing is going to disappear altogether. Now and then a person, handed a handwritten document, will confess that they cannot read “writing”. Will the rather well documented tendency not to teach cursive in some schools make simple tasks like writing a check difficult for a person, and require the blanks to be filled in by hand printing? Not a bad way, but slower, with the writing instrument being lifted after each letter is placed on the paper.

The subject of the supposed death of handwriting may lead to exaggeration of its effects. I believe that cursive writing may last for a couple of generations, leaving those of my generation deceased with pen or pencil in hand. From my ancient perspective, I remember that most all of the great texts of world faiths were produced by those who had become artists in carving, punching and pressing or by some other personalized form of communication. And, yes, there were cursive forms of words written on papyrus or laid on mud with a stylus.

I asked my granddaughter Chloe, soon to finish her degree at the University of Florida, whether she can read or write cursive. I inquired by computer. She tells me that she has not used cursive since fourth grade. She can read cursive. She prints. I expect that she has a signature. “If I had to write in cursive, I would have to make some letters up,” she said.

I have viewed some old documents made by my ancestors who could not write, who made an “X” at the bottom of a will or deed. Duly witnessed, it was a legal signature.

Then I remembered that our great German teacher Dr. French at Davidson showed us German Cursive. I could neither read nor write it, thus developing a humility about the subject. Still, I hate to see cursive run off the paper into oblivion.

And to collectors of them: Autographs please! Many signatures are unreadable.

Lawton Posey, of Charleston, is a retired Presbyterian USA minister, lwposey@suddenlink.net.


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