My mother once asked me: “Five years of college, you didn’t learn to add, write or spell — why exactly did you go?” It was a bit of an exaggeration, but for someone who did her formal learning in an era when education was reading, writing and arithmetic, she found my proficiency sadly lacking. Particularly my penmanship. I never came close to achieving her elegant cursive script.
I don’t think she ever really grasped that I was learning critical thinking skills that would equip me for my world.
So it was with some interest this week that I read in the Toronto Star about the plight of a father in Durham who discovered rather belatedly that his 13 year old son could not even sign his name. The young man was applying for his first passport and lacked this essential skill. How a father wouldn’t realize this until his child had basically reached high-school is beyond me. But what followed in the media reporting was a revelation that in many jurisdictions — including Ontario — cursive writing has been removed from school curriculum. In this digital world, writing has given way to typing — once an option for those, who like my mother, were pursuing clerical careers.
Beyond the necessity of a signature as part of personal identification, some educators argue that by dropping longhand writing, students are losing some important personal skills. They suggest that longhand writing forces mental editing while the computer invites an endless stream of consciousness (I think that’s the gist of it). Intrigued by this discussion, I brought the issue up at my Book Club meeting the other night.
One member, a teacher, mourned that students have lost the ability to communicate coherently, and now speak in short phrases intersected by “and.” Others talked about the impact of communicating in 140 characters. And still others derided the arrival of emoticons and other short-cuts (just shows what generation we are from).
Notwithstanding the numerous critics who complain that these blog posts run way too long, I feel obliged to weigh in. I have always loved to write, but I am a perfectionist. I can’t tell how often, back in the dark ages, I would begin to write an article or story only to rewrite the first paragraph so often my hand stiffened because of some minor error that occured in each successive draft. Eventually, I would abandon my work in frustration. Now it’s true that today I may ramble on — but at least I do get my thoughts down — and yes, I do go back to edit and reedit — and eventually I express what I have been thinking about.
I agree, that with the passing of cursive writing, something precious is being lost. But something equally intriguing is replacing it — a new way of self-expression, a new way of thinking and a new way of sharing our thoughts with others. Surely, if the only role left for a signature today is security or self-identification, some technology will fill the gap — chips already have in some instances.
I think the important thing is that our voices are heard, and it seems to me that today, more than ever before, more and more people are online sharing their thoughts, and ideas and feelings. That can’t be all bad;)