There was an article
Monday’s Toronto Star about the fact that many schoolchildren aren’t being
taught cursive writing any more. The article focused on a local father’s shock
when he learned his 14-year-old son couldn’t sign his name. The father
discovered this when he noticed his son printing – rather than signing – his name
on the signature line of a passport application.
This seemingly off-beat story clearly struck a chord with many,
including the paper’s editorial board, who formally commented
on it the next
day. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if your local paper has written about this
topic recently too. Why do I say this? Well, this week I also came across an
article about it in the current Costco magazine
(I know what you’re thinking: a Costco magazine? Well, there is one and, to my
surprise, it isn’t all ads – there are some actual articles in it.) Though it
might be a coincidence, I’ll bet that we have some teachers’ association, or
maybe a calligrapher’s group, to thank for alerting media outlets to this issue.
Besides the “news” that cursive is no longer taught, some
things in the Star’s article simply gave me a chuckle. For example, it said
that in today’s “digitally focused curriculum”, schools are teaching
keyboarding rather than cursive writing. When did typing become “keyboarding”? When
I was in school we learned to type and if we wanted to use a keyboard, we went
to the music room.
The article also mentioned another unforeseen consequence of
this education crisis: the impact on cake decorating. That’s right – it could
well be that in the future there won’t be any bakers skilled enough to “write
graceful messages in continuous icing”. But don’t worry about it just yet – the
local culinary institute’s pastry instructors are aware of this issue and they’re
now requiring students to practice writing things like Congratulations using a pen and
paper before they even touch a pastry bag!
On a more serious note, the issue of whether a passport
application might be rejected because the signature was printed rather than signed
in cursive writing had the lawyer in me scratching my head. It’s been a long
time but I seem to recall learning in law school that a will, for example,
could be validly executed by someone simply “signing” an X, so long as that’s
the signer’s “mark”. (In other words, Zorro would probably get by with just a Z.)
Then again, I suppose the father featured in the article
figured there must be a reason a passport application has a line for one’s signature
and a line where you’re supposed to print your name. I suspect that’s just to
increase the chances of readers being able to actually read the name – after
all, even if you learned cursive, it doesn’t mean your handwriting is legible.
(Trust me – though I take care to make my signature legible, if I didn’t type –
I mean, keyboard – On being…, most of you wouldn’t be able to read it.) Getting
back to signature lines on documents – they probably have more to do with the
fact that it’s harder to forge a signature than a printed name. But, as the Star’s
editorial noted, thanks to finger prints, retinal scans, and other biometric markers,
identifying someone by their signature is well on the way to becoming obsolete.
In the Costco article, education experts made interesting
arguments about developmental benefits to learning cursive – things like fine
motor skills, attention to detail, and so on. But, as other experts point out, these
important skills are also developed through other activities, including
keyboarding and even playing video games.
Though all the legal and pedagogic pros and cons are
interesting, the thought I found myself coming back to all week was the idea that
if students aren’t taught cursive, they’ll miss out on the unique pleasures of writing
– and receiving – handwritten notes of thanks, support, condolence and – dare I
say it – love. That seems a pity…
But of course, hand written notes aren’t the only way people
express their feelings toward others. Indeed, my mother’s signature way of showing
gratitude, friendship and love has always been delivery of a loaf of her
homemade bread – a gesture I know many people have cherished over the years.
So, as handwriting goes the way of hieroglyphics, I guess we’ll
just have to come up with other signature ways of communicating compassion and
tenderness. What will yours be?
© 2013 Ingrid Sapona