, Salem, MA


September 28, 2013

Shribman: Putting pen to paper to save cursive writing


Today almost every state has endorsed the so-called Common Core, which doesn’t require instruction in cursive. My bet is that the modern way of tackling a running back is taught in more schools than the old-fashioned way of writing out a pass for going to the bathroom.

That means there will be fewer concussions, which is a good thing, but also fewer billets-doux, which is a bad thing, and my point is sealed by the fact that hardly any readers of this column will have the remotest idea what a billet-doux is and even fewer have ever received one. (Save this column for its historical value: This may be the last time that compound word ever appears in print. It does not mean the same thing as a French letter. Look them both up.)

But the rationale for teaching cursive goes beyond the romantic.

“Writing in cursive is more than making letters,” says Paula Heinricher, who has taught handwriting for eight years in southwestern Pennsylvania through the Handwriting Without Tears program. “It’s putting letters into words and then into sentences. It’s not copying. It’s expressing ideas.”

There’s hope. This year a handful of schools in the Pittsburgh suburbs instituted a new initiative to teach pupils in kindergarten through second grade how to print, and next year pupils from the third through the sixth grades will be introduced to cursive. “It’s still a basic skill,” says Amanda Hartle of the North Hills School District, “and has an effect on all the other parts of students’ educations.”

At least the president still signs bills with a pen. For generations it was a sign of special favor to receive a presidential pen used in the signing of legislation, and grown men and women who wrote or conceived of the bill would brag their entire lives of being presented with a presidential pen. For years I admired a display in the White House pressroom of 50 pens used by Lyndon Johnson to sign elements of the Great Society.

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