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What would Mr. Hancock say?

July 25, 2013
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

By Joyce Schenk


When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence more than 230 years ago, they proudly wrote their names into history. The largest and most sweeping signature on that pivotal document was that of John Hancock.

But in today's world, Hancock's bold penmanship, as well as the artistic cursive writing of the Declaration itself, have become relics of the past.

Proof of that fact came as recently as the widely-followed George Zimmerman trial. When prosecution witnesses Rachel Jeantel was asked about the contents of a note, she testified, "I don't read cursive."

That statement shouldn't be a surprise since cursive writing is quickly being left behind in today's "texting" world. In fact, growing numbers of states are choosing to remove instructions in cursive writing from their schools' curriculums.

By the next generation, the ability to read such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the original writings of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or even the love letters and journals of our grandparents, will be lost.

Yet you and I still remember those long-ago classroom sessions when we laboriously struggled with the Palmer method of penmanship. We'd practice our circles and push-pulls, exercises designed to help us form letters like those on the banners above the black boards.

There was a feeling of accomplishment when we finally mastered the necessary skills to produce a flowing piece of writing.

Today, time spent on penmanship is all but gone. Instead, schools are adopting a new set of standards that stress keyboard proficiency, but omit cursive writing.

There's no doubt that today's generation has far more keyboard contact than any before. From computers to iPads to Smart Phones, keying is a constant activity.

Still, as one leading expert pointed out, not only does learning cursive help students hone fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination, but when no keyboard is available, cursive can be a survival mechanism.

Another leading educator pointed out that the ability to form letters with our hands "separates us from primates who can be trained to use a keyboard."

In addition to the practical matter of learning both keyboarding and cursive, there's a security aspect to be considered. Those who work in the field of crime fighting have become alarmed over the ease of forgery and identity theft when block printing is used for a signature.

One suggestion has drawn growing support in the discussion between the two approaches to writing. It's a concept being taught to doctors and others who have "handwriting deficiencies," The approach is a mix of printed and cursive called "italic." Proponents stress it's both fast and legible.

Although the schools are continuing to struggle with questions of keyboarding vs cursive, some continue to stress the value of teaching both.

Chances are if John Hancock were still around, he would remind all of us how important it is to be able to read the past as well as write the future.



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