Don’t curse the cursive!

Apr 22 2013 - 12:51pm


Neal Humphrey
Neal Humphrey

So there I was at the bank teller's window with my check from the Standard-Examiner. The paper hadn't published any libel against me recently so rather than making a deposit so it could be used for a fractional part of the cost of another consultation with my attorney, I was going to cash the little thing for walking around money. I turned the check over, pulled out a pen, and endorsed the check.

Seeing the pen, the young teller said, "Oh, a calligraphy pen?"

"No," I answered. "This is a real pen," as I screwed the cap back on my Pelikan fountain pen.

Among my semi-useful vices is using pens with nibs -- the kind of pens that require a bottle of ink to fill their reservoirs. This peculiar habit has been with me for well over half a century when I discovered that my wretched handwriting becomes almost legible when I scribble with the light touch a fountain pen allows.

Now, I'm not a Luddite by any means. I graduated from high school accurately typing at 75 words per minute on a manual typewriter. When I lived abroad for a couple of years for the usual reason Utah young adults leave home for that duration, I purchased and lugged around a compact portable typewriter to make sure my correspondence and reports were legible. Most of my hand-written work was devoted to 800 pages of entries in two volumes of my daily journals.

Then 30 years ago, I saw the technological miracle of a word processor in action on a personal computer with a CP/M operating system. I immediately acquired one and moved from my electric typewriter into the wonderful world of WordStar. 

Eight years later I was in graduate school and I was the only person on the campus with a laptop. I have managed the transition of two offices from typewriters to computerized word processing. And I have a nifty Bluetooth keyboard for those occasions when my smartphone or tablet communications have to be wordy.

Still, the console of my pickup truck has a bottle of ink stashed in it just in case one of my idiosyncratic writing instruments gets a bit dry.

Speaking of my pickup truck ...

The badge on the grill has the automaker's four-letter name written in Spencerian script. When Henry Ford approved a new logo in 1912, it was simply his name using the everyday cursive writing style predominate in business.  The traditional Coca-Cola logo is also ordinary Spencerian script.

For 75 years American businesses used the cursive script developed by Platt Rogers Spencer as a universal standard for quickly producing legible documents with pen and ink. When typewriters displaced the elegant Spencerian handwriting in the 1920s, another developer, Austin Palmer, designed a new cursive that was as fast as typing and could also be taught to children. The Palmer Method and it's derivative, D'Nealian was widely adopted in education.

Educators used to recognize that the practice of penmanship was important. Some even claimed that part of the reforming of delinquents was learning how to write in a clear cursive hand. Among the spiritual disciplines of some cultures is the contemplative production of hand-written characters.

Still, trying to decipher a cursive scrawl can be tedious. My secretary and I have pulled the Urim and Thummim out of the drawer on more than one occasion to try and figure out what a parishioner's note was trying to communicate. Still, if a person cannot write and read cursive, they are illiterate.

Contrary to this tradition of literate people being able to produce what is called a "fair-hand" with pen and paper is the trend to eliminate the teaching of cursive writing in schools. America's schools already struggle to produce literate students. Failing to teach cursive writing will just be taking the already weakened literacy standard down another notch. 

I have had more than one tweener-aged youngster hand a note back to me with the pitiable explanation, "I can't read cursive."

My daughter is a tech-savvy professional who makes a living managing computer services for schools. She occasionally hand-writes on her tablet. For her birthday last month I gave her a stylus that would draw and write on the capacitive touch screen of her tablet. But, I couldn't help myself so the barrel of the writing instrument had an ink reservoir and a fountain pen nib opposite the stylus.

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