Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Cursive Handwriting" © By Abraham Lincoln

When I was going to Gordon country school, there came a time when all students had to know the alphabet. Just to prove that you knew all 26 letters, Miss Beatrice Brown had the student stand in front of all 8 grades and recite them.

That was a special day for me and I remember practicing on my recess; saying the alphabet over and over until I could do it without getting stuck somewhere around “m,” “n,” or “o.”

I stood there and repeated every letter and moved on with my life to something else to worry about. I know that I worried about having to remember the addition tables and after that came subtraction, multiplication and division.

There was this story in the Washington Post, and it disturbed me. Margaret Webb Pressler, Washington Post Staff Writer, wrote an article: "The Handwriting Is on the Wall" — Researchers See a Downside as Keyboards Replace Pens in Schools. Fifteen percent of students introduced to the SAT exams for the class of 2006 used 'cursive' handwriting for their answers. Fifteen percent from 1.5 million students is like a drop in the bucket; it's two and a half million people of the class of 2006 can still write, apparently they felt 'legibly enough' to use cursive for their answers. The other millions chose block letters (printing) because, one: they no longer write or never learned how to write; or two: they believed nobody could ever read their cursive writing and didn't want to screw up their SAT test with cursive scribbling.

When I went to school we couldn't wait until we were in the sixth grade because that was when we were introduced to steel dip pens and ink and we were taught the formal round hand script put out by Zaner-Blosser manuals from Columbus, Ohio. Oh my. I can still remember how hard it was. We had been introduced to cursive writing in the third and fourth grades and had writing for one period every day since. So getting a chance to use a real steel dip pen was like a sack full of toys at Christmas.

The banks and hotel lobbies all had writing stands with ink wells and steel dip pens. I used to admire people standing there writing out checks and then reaching for the stack of ink blotters to blot the excess ink on the signature so it wouldn't smear. When I got tall enough to reach the dip pens I used to practice dipping it in the ink and making attempts at writing letters on the deposit slips of paper but I was never very good at it — maybe I was too small.

We had to use yellow tablets in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth grades to write on. I was so anxious to get out of the first grade because we had to use those big, fat, yellow pencils with the lead bigger in diameter than wooden matches, and that was supposed to fit my tiny first grader's hands.

And the tablets were thick and the lines were a mile apart and we had tiny hands and we had to drive the pencils up and down to make letters or numbers in between the lines. Golden Rod tablets were a lot of work for a kid in country school back then.

We were allowed to use #2 yellow pencils for normal use. Some kids got white notebook paper but I never got a notebook until I was in the fourth or fifth grade.

I was in the sixth grade and Miss Brown handed me a new steel dip pen with a point as sharp as a carpet tack, along with a new bottle of ink that fit in the round opening in my desk, without falling through the hole.

I couldn't wait for her to give me my daily spelling test (I was the only person in the sixth grade that year). She read the first word to me and I picked up my new dip pen and dipped it in the 'washable' blue ink and touched the side of the pen to the neck of the glass bottle just like Miss Brown had told me to remove excessive ink. And then I moved the pen over to the new yellow tablet for grown up people, like me, but I was still a sixth grader, and I touched the pen point to the paper to make the first letter of the word and the ink ran out of my new pen onto the paper and made a big round puddle that began to soak-in the paper making an ugly mess.

I was so disappointed — I cried and the other kids in school smirked and laughed. I remember Miss Brown told me to practice with a dip pen later, but for now to switch to my #2 yellow pencil and finish the spelling test using my pencil. I did. And she said the writing my pretty.

That I went on to become a well known calligrapher and even did a television series about writing and calligraphy; and wrote dozens of books about handwriting and calligraphy, has nothing to do with the story in the Washington Post; except that I found it disturbing that nobody, anywhere, will ever have the same experience learning to write cursive with a steel dip pen like I did. Cursive handwriting is no longer taught in most schools. School officials have learned to believe that cursive handwriting comes with a kid's DNA; either born with it like walking, or scribble through life.

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