My teenage son’s French teacher complimented him on his handwriting the other day. This is a big deal. The last time anyone outside the family saw fit to comment on his penmanship was when a friend’s little sister asked him, “How old were you when you did that?” … while looking at something he had written that morning. Schools today spend about 15 minutes a day on penmanship, as opposed to an hour daily in my time. I have lovely handwriting. But of course, except for signing electronic signature thingies at the grocery store, I hardly ever use it.
So should kids have to learn cursive (or, as they called it in my day, script)? Most people would probably say no. As a homeschooler, I had the option to teach my kids whatever I wanted. And I opted not to drill my kids with their little Zaner-Bloser lined pads more than about 15 minutes a day. Instead, they did virtually all their written work on the computer. As a result of which, their handwriting was, until recently, on a par with a second grader of the last century.
(Not to imply that they’re terribly graceful on the keyboard, either, as I’ve already mentioned in my post about my attempts to get my kids touch typing.)
Now — although they did spend some time with cursive workbooks — I would have been happy with a neat manuscript (what we used to call “print”) style and an ability to make a signature when required. But with so little practice putting pen to paper (and probably because they’re boys), everything they wrote looked like this:
At this age, I figured I/they were going to have to live with their chicken scratchings. Then I read about a book called Script & Scribble by Kitty Burns Florey. What I read, actually, was that the book was a misbegotten attempt to keep cursive alive. It is not. Florey’s book is not only lively and interesting – her copious footnotes in the margins of every page are a hoot — it is inspiring. Lamenting the deterioration of her own pretty hand since her days at St. John the Baptist Academy in Syracuse, NY, Florey goes into the history of handwriting from the Sumerian cuneiform, through Gothic and Copperplate and up to penmanship styles taught in American schools: the Palmer Method and Zaner-Bloser. She even gets a little bit into the pseudo-science of handwriting analysis.
In the last section of the book, Florey describes her own efforts to spruce up her penmanship, even going so far as to use the services of a handwriting coach. But one avenue she explores seemed promising: the idea of using a kind of print-cursive hybrid known as italic. Several decades ago, Lloyd Reynolds of Reed College in Oregon drew a following with his popular classes on calligraphy. (One of his students, Steve Jobs, gave Reynolds credit for inspiring the use of multiple, proportional fonts in the Mac.) Two other Reynolds protégés, Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay, went on to develop an italic program public schools in Oregon which Florey says has been used with great success.
Getty and Dubay also have a workbook for adults called Write Now. It is completely written in their distinctive italic style, and uses (sometimes quaint) model sentences about the history of writing. Last spring, I bought copies for each of my kids. It took a while, but they recently finished going through them. Here are the results:
Not an enormous change, true. But at least my kids can now take notes they can read back once they get home.
Their signatures are still gonna need some work before they’re worthy of an electronic signing thingy, though…
(Images: Kathy Ceceri)