The Extinction of Handwriting and the Wobbly Travel Journal

Cell Phone

Electronic devices have infiltrated our wild places, but power supply is sometimes missing. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews.

In just a few short decades, something that was a big part of our culture will probably go extinct: the ability to write and read cursive.

Indiana is just one of the most recent states to join the list of forty-two others that have stopped requiring schools to teach the art of cursive handwriting — creating those flowing, joined-up letters — to elementary students. Instead, children will be taught keyboarding skills, based on the precept that almost all written communication today is done on computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices.

There are still times, however, when putting a handwritten word to paper is necessary, such as when you need to sign your name on a loan document, a marriage license, or a credit card receipt. And handwriting is unlike some other antiquated skills, such as knowing how to make soap or thatch a roof: It’s a visual art, an individual statement of who we are and what’s in our characters.

And can you imagine not being able to read something as grand as the Declaration of Independence or as small as a travel postcard, spontaneously scrawled and sent on the run by a wandering friend or favorite relative?

Printing is enough

Some say that if a situation calls for a written signature or a handwritten thought, printing will suffice. We’re in a post-handwriting world, they would argue, and there’s no longer a need to spend time limited classroom hours teaching an obsolete art.

Cursive

New American Cursive® Penmanship Program.

As long as people can read and write printing on some basic level, then, does it matter if they cannot read or write cursive? Technology has become a dominant force in our lives, and bringing students up-to-date and teaching them how to grow with it is far more important than learning penmanship.

Writing is so much more

But block printing every letter takes far more time than putting down the looping letters of cursive. Imagine having to take lecture notes or trying to jot down your impressions out in a remote, wild place by printing rather than by writing; you’d never be able to keep up with the speaker or with your own thoughts.

Cursive is a lot more than an “irrelevant relic” of the twentieth century, Mark Bennett said recently in the Terre Haute, Indiana, Tribune-Star. Studies have found that handwriting boosts fine motor skills in children and may increase comprehension. And sometimes, computers and technological devices aren’t readily available, such as in New Orleans hospitals during Hurricane Katrina. Computers can lose power, for any number of reasons.

Fading Light

No electronic media can capture the nuances of scribbles made by fading light. ©Candice GaukelAndrews.

Adventure travelers, especially, are often in places where they’re off the power grid — and enjoying a place all the more for precisely that reason. It’s then that writing in a paper journal by script is what feeds the soul; creating a record of our travels that incorporates the bumps of our boat rides, the scribbles of our fading light, and the spills and smears of our coffee cups. No electronic writing apparatus can capture those tactile and sensory memories.

Perhaps most important of all, it’s not what you get out of handwriting, but what the recipient of your handwriting receives. We’ve all experienced that indefinable feeling that comes over us when someone takes the time to send a handwritten thank-you card, birthday greeting, or “wish you were here” postcard — written by the fluid, artful hand of a best friend or favorite uncle, replete with words written all the way to the bottom and continuing up the side because there wasn’t enough room to express all that was going on and how much you are missed.

If you ask me, no text message can quite duplicate the eloquence of that.

Do you think learning how to read and write cursive should be allowed to go extinct?

Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,

Candy

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