By Norma J. Kirkpatrick
I am sure by now you have heard that cursive writing is out of date. The lovely, flowing method of penmanship people have used for centuries to capture thoughts on paper … or parchment, depending upon the century. At least 45 states and most of Canada have dropped cursive from their required school curriculum. Cursive is still offered in the state of Alabama but at the discretion of the teachers. I assume that means it is optional and not mandatory.
Who needs it anyway when everything is digital and wireless? Just scan your smartphone and everyone knows who you are, what you bought and who you love. Why write anything as significant as your own name, with your own hand, in anything as singular as cursive?
Are we all being reduced to a few impersonal bytes somewhere in the cloud as a symbol of our identity? I love my technology as much as anyone, as I sit here at the computer, sharing thoughts far faster than I could in cursive. However, that is a skill in addition to my ability to read and write cursive. We should not neglect either of those learning processes.
Writing by hand has lost most of its character, as instruction in penmanship has disappeared. Many young people make block letters when they are forced to put pen to paper, as in the case of a required signature. That is not writing; it is printing.
My mature daughter accepted a position with a company out of state last year, where most employees belonged to the millennium generation. She signed a document and a young employee held it up for all to see; taking it from desk to desk, while exclaiming, “Look, she wrote her name!” Who would have ever thought that would become something unusual?
I think of the love letters my husband wrote to me years ago. He is no longer alive, but I have saved those letters and can reread them whenever I want. Thank goodness he didn’t print in block letters, or send them by email that would have been deleted. I would have nothing to hold or reread. I would not be able to trace his distinctive signature with my finger and smell his aftershave still lingering on the paper. There are many other significant materials I own that were passed to me as part of my family history. They were inscribed in cursive long before I was born.
When I was considering a column about this subject, the original Declaration of Independence came to mind as a prime example. The whole thing was written by the hand of Thomas Jefferson, copied and enhanced by other hands and signed by 56 delegates of the Continental Congress.
I can close my eyes and visualize the signature of Thomas Jefferson. The way he wrote revealed a lot about who he was. And John Hancock, in big, bold strokes, wanted all to know he had signed a document of independence from the British Empire. Many of the signees later paid a great price in property, possessions and life itself, for symbolizing who they were by writing their names.
If my grandchildren and great-grandchildren cannot read or write cursive, they will not be able to read the original Declaration of Independence, nor the signatures of the signees.
There are many vital documents, maps, books, records, deeds, minutes from meetings, signatures on photos, lineage entered in old Bibles, etc., written in cursive. They might be preserved in the Library of Congress; the Lee County Courthouse here in Opelika; or stored in your attic. Cursive will look like Greek to forthcoming generations. What have we done?
Perhaps interpreting cursive to younger generations will become a new opportunity of employment for retirees, as a source of income. Take care of your eyes and keep your glasses clean; you are going to be needed soon.
But when you are gone, there will be no one to take your place. You will take the knowledge of a lost art known as “cursive writing” with you.
Kirkpatrick is a guest columnist for the Opelika Observer.