I’ve read several articles lately on the debate over teaching cursive writing in schools or tossing it out. Those in favor of ditching it argue that with texting, tablets and computer keyboards, there’s no need for cluttering up the curriculum with a skill whose time has passed.
On the other hand, advocates of teaching “longhand” point to studies that show students retain more when they take notes in cursive, because cursive writing engages more areas of the brain. In addition, people who don’t learn to write cursive have a hard time reading it. That means personal family journals and letters, as well as historical documents, could be indecipherable to future generations without assistance.
The last argument resonates with me because of something that happened years ago, when my children were young. I was frantically trying to finish a writing project with a firm deadline. As the due date approached and true panic set in, I figuratively barricaded myself in my office – as much to keep me in, as to keep others out. I gave instructions to my daughters, then 7 and 11, along the following lines.
“Do NOT come into the office. Do not knock on the door. Do not shout through the door. Do not even approach the door unless someone is bleeding, or the house is on fire.”
“But what if—?”
“No what ifs. I have to get this done. Today. If you hear me open the door, you can talk to me then. Otherwise, I don’t exist. I mean it.”
Being resourceful, independent, and insightful enough to detect when their mother was on the edge of a nervous breakdown, they took my words to heart and left me to my work. Occasionally, a thud, door slam, cry of outrage, or shout of laughter penetrated my fortress of solitude, but I heard nothing that sounded like an in-person intervention was warranted.
After about four hours I had made real progress. As I leaned back in my chair for a good stretch, I heard the sound of hushed debate coming from the hallway. I was about to investigate, when a sheet of lined paper fluttered in under the door and across my office floor.
I stooped to pick it up, and this is the message I read, written by my seven-year-old.
“Sorry to buther you. Alex [our dog] has a sore spot on his back. It is bleding. We think it is bad. Sara says, should we call the vet? Please answer.
P.S. Not in cursf please”
It made me laugh and feel guilty at the same time — both responses my children remain skilled at invoking. I felt bad that I had been so forceful in my demand for peace that they only dared breach it with a note. (Though in my defense, I did specify “bleding” as a reason to knock on the door). And I laughed because my daughter feared that even if her negligent mother responded, she might do so in the indecipherable code of cursive writing.
I understand that technology may make cursive writing seem obsolete, but I’ll always favor it, because the thrill of mastering the secret language of ‘cursf’ seems like a rite of passage to me. And yes, pun intended.