My 13-year-old son can’t write his name and most of his buddies can’t either. My 10-year-old daughter and most of her friends can.
The reason for this shouldn’t have shocked me since the demise of cursive writing has been covered in the news, but I must have missed it, because I was completely surprised when I saw for myself.
We were at the bank at the time. I had just opened individual savings accounts for Sam and Daisy, and the kids were asked to sign on the dotted line. Daisy wrote out her name effortlessly, and then it was Sam’s turn.
“Don’t print it,” I said correcting him halfway through. “Signatures are supposed to be written.”
“I can’t remember how,” he said after attempting to do it. He couldn’t even recall how to script the ‘S.’
Daisy snorted and offered to write his name. I told him to just print it and we’d talk about it later. And talk we did.
“Why can Daisy write her name and you can’t?” I asked when we got in the car.
“The last time we learned handwriting was in grade three I think,” Sam replied. “We never write in middle school.”
According to a couple of 16-year-olds I asked, it’s rare in high school as well.
The art of handwriting that I used to practice diligently back in my youth just isn’t considered important like it once was. After my initial disbelief, I started to contemplate the significance of its gradual disintegration in this digital age.
Back when I was in school I spent countless hours practicing my penmanship so it would look beautiful and impress the reader. Yet I ended up corresponding with more of a speedy chicken scratch in the end.
Over the years it’s developed into a hybrid of writing and printing, and while I can easily read it myself, others have trouble deciphering what it says. That has never mattered though. With greeting cards and notes meant for someone else’s eyes, I’d take an extra minute to neatly print so my message would be understood by the recipient. Additional communications have either been spoken or typed.
“What about signatures?” my friend asked when I decided not to mind that kids are no longer engaging in cursive writing. “People can’t be printing their signatures.”
Well, Sam just did and it wasn’t a problem with the bank. And his friend just did for his passport application and it wasn’t rejected by the government.
Regardless, I would like my children to at least know how to sign their own names and have started working with my son on that. Not being able to write beyond a signature might become an issue the odd time, but the inability to read writing seems more problematic since there are older generations still communicating this way.
“I wrote something on the board a couple of weeks ago and my students had no idea what it said,” my teacher friend said about her grade 10 class. “This could look bad to a future employer who writes. Kids who know how to read writing might be more marketable.”
But many educators argue there are computer programs that can translate basic handwriting and it’s just nostalgia that has some wanting to keep the art of cursive writing alive.
“If the kids can communicate by talking, printing and typing, why should they spend precious school time learning handwriting when they’ll barely need it?” another teacher friend asked. “They’re better off learning a second language or something else that benefits their cognition and will become a more useful skill in their future.”
It feels kind of sad to see the demise of handwriting happening right before our eyes, but better that than spelling and grammar. We have to pick our battles, and for that, I’d put up a fight.
~ Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com