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Handwriting evolution

 

At Georgia State, many students are unable to write in cursive, and tend to avoid handwriting in favor of typing.

“You don’t realize how often you’re sitting at a computer,” said Shana Choi, senior English major. “If I try to write a paper by hand it’s not cohesive at all.”

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Senior Stuart McDonald said that, for him, cursive writing is very intentional.

“Nine times out of ten, when I’m writing something, I don’t have time to be intentional,” McDonald said. “I write a lot less than I used to.”

Dr. Steven Black, a linguistic anthropologist and professor at Georgia State, believes that we are currently in a technological state of transition, which may affect how much our society values cursive writing.

“For a while, when I was going to college, it was really a transitional period, in the sense that computers were becoming more common. People were using computers a lot more for a lot of things,” Black said. “But I still learned cursive growing up.”

Dr. Eddie Christie, professor of Medieval Literature at Georgia State had a very similar experience in college..

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“During graduate school, computers were just emerging, but hardly anybody had one,” Christie said.

Christie talks about the “digital revolution,” how it affects the way we write and how it has made “profound changes in the structure of society” in the opening paragraph of his essay The Image of the Letter: From the Anglo-Saxons to the Electronic Beowulf.

“Not least among these changes are the ways we consider communication to occur, ideas to be saved, and writing to be produced,” Christie wrote.

Despite the growing influence of technology, other students think that handwriting and cursive are important.

“Writing does help,” junior Keera Freeman said when asked if writing helps her  when studying. “You can retain information more. When I’m typing, I lose focus quickly.”

Though Choi writes academic papers more efficiently when typing, she singularly writes in cursive when she handwrites.

“I only write in cursive. I personally struggle with print,” Choi said. “I love script; it’s aesthetically pleasing. A lot of people don’t know most of the letters—it’s a shame.”

 

“Writing was really great for thousands of years, because there was nothing else, so it enabled people to store information and pass it on to other people, communicate over long distances or over long periods of time … all we’re doing is changing what the technology is for doing that.”                                                          -Dr. Steven Black

Fighting for cursive

In a March 2011 blog on ajc.com in response to the possibility that Georgia may stop teaching children how to write in cursive, Bob Barr expressed his outrage towards the “Common Core Curriculum,” a program in which the state attempts to create a curriculum that is more “relevant” to the times. This curriculum implies the state thinks in the current age of technology, students do not need cursive as a skill.

“The process of learning cursive,” Barr said, “teaches the young mind to think and organize thoughts in a way that flows more easily and imaginatively than the stilted and childish block letters one learns in first and second grades.”

Barr’s argument, though, seems invalid as students shift more and more to typing and computers for note-taking and writing.

Later, In a Huffington Post blog in Dec. 2011, Tamika Sayles asked her readers how people would conduct themselves in the real world without cursive writing skills, unable to “properly sign their name on a contract or write a check.” She uses herself as an example, claiming that because of her lack of cursive handwriting skills, she is forced to teach herself the craft “with the insertion of checks, contracts, and legal documents in the adult world.”

But if cursive is only required to sign documents or a slip of paper after you slide your credit card at the grocery store, then why should students be required to extensively learn it in elementary school? Sayles claims that “there’s nothing worst then not knowing how to properly sign one’s name,” but if the cultural standard has shifted because of technology, then what is the “proper” way to sign a name?

In his book From The Hands of the English Renaissance, Jonathan Goldberg mentions that in the Renaissance, though, the concern for signatures specifically was if it was authentic because of its newfound responsibility of marking official papers, not how pretty the cursive script looked. Based on the comments from both Sayles and Barr, it seems that the accuracy of cursive script is a concern as it disappears from our culture.

Today, many signatures are sloppy and hurried, but, according to Black, that doesn’t necessarily mean people are uneducated.

“If there’s a consensus that good handwriting means that you’re forward, or that you’re doing a good job, then people that don’t measure up to that can be judged according to that,” Black said. “There [seems to be] some sort of moral judgment about not having good handwriting. And I guess I would say that that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

 

Communication Through Space and Time

Sayles’ concern is that students like Choi are becoming harder to find. Some students cannot read cursive at all.

But it is possible that proficiency in cursive truly isn’t valuable in our culture anymore. Christie briefly explained how writing, which, in Antiquity, was a successive flow of letters that readers were expected to interpret, was an art in which the educated exclusively took part.

“Our techniques of handwriting have changed,” Christie said. In the past, “not everyone could read handwriting.”

Christie explains that in the Middle Ages, not necessarily every literate person was good at script.

“Some scribes were not great scholars and sometimes they worked on languages they didn’t understand,” Christie said.

According to Black, handwriting is specifically cultural and is a way of communicating through space and time.

“Writing was really great for thousands of years, because there was nothing else, so it enabled people to store information and pass it on to other people, communicate over long distances or over long periods of time,” Black said. “I can read what a philosopher wrote from the 1800s. But, then, all we’re doing is changing what the technology is for doing that.”

In the early 20th century, educators had been teaching cursive for centuries, and, according to Christie, this was the end of a culture that taught and valued cursive.

“Technology is a major force,” Christie said about the change, “but I also think our attitudes about education have changed.”

Though cursive may be a “dying art,” Black believes that handwriting will never completely disappear from society. As it changes as a result of technology and the opinion of our culture, each of us will develop our own reason to continue—or completely stop—using cursive and handwriting.

“Some people see it as an art form; other people see the way that you do it as being significant to who are; other people use it as a tool,” Black said.

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