Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Right writing

Al Diamon

I have a friend who thinks cursive writing means sending politicians emails full of swear words.

If that were true, the world would be more fun.

Unfortunately, cursive doesn’t necessarily involve curses. It’s that thing old people do when they hook all their letters together in an effort to make their handwriting indecipherable. Doctors are especially good at it.

I was taught cursive in grade school. It was a dreary exercise in conforming to arbitrary guidelines for no useful purpose. Upon graduation from high school, I promptly abandoned it, along with doing math on a slide rule and reading the last 90 pages of “Ethan Frome.”

With the arrival of digital devices, cursive became all but obsolete. Entire generations have now grown up neither knowing nor caring about it. Republican state Rep. Heidi Sampson of Alfred seems to believe this indifference is contributing to the decline of western civilization (more on that in a moment) and has introduced a bill to require schools to once again teach the art of illegibility.

According to Sampson (as reported in the Portland Press Herald), cursive writing increases hand-eye coordination. According to a recent study, so does playing video games.

“Cursive,” she told a legislative committee on Feb. 14, “stimulates the brain in a way that typing cannot.”

So does sex.

Sampson appears to have based much of her testimony on propaganda put out by a program called New American Cursive, published by Memoria Press, a Kentucky-based outfit that describes itself on its website as producing “classical Christian education materials for home and private schools.” Memoria claims that learning cursive results in “improved neural connections,” increased writing speed, better memory, better spelling, increased self-discipline, greater self-respect and a “higher quality signature.”

Also, whiter teeth, fresher breath and lower blood-alcohol levels during binge drinking.

Is there was any actual evidence supporting the claims for this wonder drug? I emailed Sampson and asked her, but got no reply. An online search turned up assorted babble (“Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between left and right hemisphere”), but no links to real studies done by reputable scientists that indicated any of this is true.

On Memoria’s website, I did find a video titled “Saving Western Civilization” that seemed to indicate everything would be better if we just went back to the type of education practiced 150 years ago. That included not only cursive writing, but reading all the great books (a category that includes only works from the Anglo-European tradition) in their original Greek and Latin. Except the Bible. That should only be read in the English of the King James version.

You can draw your own conclusions about what the real agenda is here.

As for Sampson, she’s serving her second term in the Legislature, after a five-year stint on the state Board of Education (she was nominated for that post by former Gov. Paul LePage, who was known to use cursive – and curses – to reply to communications he disliked). Sampson was the first home-schooling parent to hold such a position, setting policies for an education system she doesn’t seem to trust. She’s churned out op-eds attacking Common Core and proficiency-based education, because she doesn’t want the big bad state and federal governments imposing themselves on local schools. Unless they’re imposing themselves in order to require kids to learn cursive.

She seems to be a couple curlicues shy of a curriculum.

Feel free to try emailing me in cursive at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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22 Responses »

  1. Representative Sampson promises, in op-ed after op-ed, that her bill to mandate cursive “will help create better writers, readers and thinkers” with “improved memory and fine motor skills as well as better coordination” along with “better social and communication skills and increased self-respect.” (The above quotes, are from her most desperate recent effort, at https://www.centralmaine.com/2019/02/21/rep-heidi-sampson-cursive-lessons-will-help-create-better-writers-readers-and-thinkers/ )

    Other states have enacted similar cursive mandates (often five years ago or more) — without visible effect on the quality of children’s writing, reading, thinking, memory, motor skills, coordination, social skills, communication skills, or self-respect.
    Depending on a handwriting style to make people smarter — let alone more graceful, nicer, communicative, or self-respecting — is a dubious use of taxpayer dollars.

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)
    More recently, the research has als documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
    This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
    
    — According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.
    Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds —once they read ordinary print.

    Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.

    Cursive’s cheerleaders repeatedly claim the support of research — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.
    So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no source,

    or

    /2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrased by the person citing it,
    
    or
    /3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

    
    By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
     Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:
    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED05601

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf
    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4

    The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
    https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james

    Background on our handwriting, past and present —.

    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
    http://youtu.be/3kmJc3BCu5g
    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
    http://youtu.be/s_F7FqCe6To
    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —
    http://youtu.be/Od7PGzEHbu0

    Yours for better letters,
    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com

  2. I still have to write a check once in a great while which includes signing it in cursive.

  3. The same people too lazy to learn and use cursive also probably don’t make their beds. Stupid Alexa, can’t do one simple chore...

  4. I have always enjoyed cursive, and my daughter has self taught herself to write that way, only because she wanted to learn and the schools no longer require it. I am also surprised schools no longer require you to learn your social security number.....now that comes in handy as you get older!!

  5. There are many jobs that should require cursive. How, for example, could one work for the Post Office and not be able to read cursive?

  6. Perhaps Mrs. Gladstone should have wrote her own op-ed. Yes Old Maineiac when writing a check not to mention any other legal document in life ie. mortgages, any contract anywhere, school loans, etc. My children came to me to learn cursive because it was not taught at school and they wanted to learn it simply because of my wife and I use it not to mention some teachers use it when they leave notes on a graded paper.

  7. Cursive? Next thing you know, people will demand the return of civics.

  8. Admit it Al - you're all thumbs!

  9. Going to great lengths to forgive those who cheated a generation of a valuable skill!? Or maybe so as to not be held accountable? What is wrong in being able to do both, print and write in cursive? SOME teachers continued to teach both, even though cursive was dropped from the list of curricula.... they are to be commended! It is bad enough that kids can't read the wall clock(the one with hands), make change, measure, spell.......

  10. Bob Millay, there are apps. for all the things you mention.
    What's next, bring back the buggy whip?

  11. That's right billyjoe stuff your face deeper into your "device".
    There should be an app that shuts it off every time you look at it.
    Now "that" would be true progress.
    U guys might find something valuable to do with your opposing thumbs....
    Have u ever seen yourselves??
    Of course not.....

  12. Hey Opposing Thumbs, you hurt my feeling. Is there an app for that????

  13. Ive got to say opposing thumbs is right. The zombie apocalypse is here. Everywhere you look people are just drones with phones. You see couples sitting in restaurants staring at there phones, people walking staring at their phones. Driving, staring down at their phones. Writing, with a pencil, on paper and in cursive is bad? Reading an actual book? How about an actual conversation with a person, in person. Looking at each other. Oh that's right, theres an app for that............

  14. I went to an oral surgeon's office today and there were six people sitting there. All but myself were busy exercising their thumbs. It was odd There were some nice magazines on the table.

  15. What about historical documents that are written in cursive? Is the next generation doomed to repeat history simply because they are unable to read what has already taken place?
    I am not sure I understand the basis for not requiring our students to learn cursive. I use it every single day. I cannot imagine if people were unable to read what I write on a daily basis. I cannot imagine a world where cursive would actually be a code only understood by the older generation.

  16. BillieJoe,,
    Sorry about your "feelings" being hurt.
    The GREAT NEWS for you is that YES there are many apps freaking with feelings. "Imood" is one in particular that might be helpful.
    Dude listen,,, there literally is an app for averything... And that's the problem.(there's mucho $$$$ to be made)..
    But,, have at it and hope you feel better.

    Oh btw,, there are many many apps to teach....(drum roll please).....Cursive Writing.. TaaaDaaa!!
    What will they think of next...
    Shut the damn thing off and look up..

  17. I started out making a joke to Bob Millay about there being apps for things he said kids can't do.
    Somewhere in my 2 comments, a total of 3 sentences, I must have really struck a nerve with you.
    If by saying " Shut the damn thing off and look up " you mean my cell phone, I turn it on and use it about 5 minutes a month. I just recently got one after being without for a year or so. I don't have much use for them anymore.
    I learned cursive in second grade around 1965 and helped my children learn it in the 1990's.
    You might want to try some deep breaths, or decaf, seriously.

  18. Proof that society is purposely dumbing us down. A poor dumb citizen is critical to keep the elite in power. Big Brother is right around the corner...

  19. BillieJoe,,
    Thank you for the advice but instead of decaf or deep breaths I think I'll install and start using the "mood" app to get a better handle on my issues here...
    I mean,,, why go actually talk to another live person when you can stay "connected"............ To a device.

    Us old farts see the world differently than the younger folks. This is nothing new. I see people passing each other without looking up from their device, they say they "are" communicating with a real person,, just someone who is at another location.
    Touche'

    I learned cursive because it was taught and value it for reasons that are mostly outdated and unnecessary.. My first experience without cursive was in the military where it was not allowed in critical log book entries.
    Without being nostalgic, I think we're ok without it.

    I don't like every change I see.
    Look up.

  20. Right on Tim! AND it hasn't been difficult to find and direct those who aren't thinking or can't to do their dirty work. Of course, as history has proven, you begin with the young. Target the schools and destroy the process that has been proven. Look at it and see the changes being made and what is resulting. Learning and grading styles of late are an example.

  21. Wondering "why" we have printing and cursive both.?
    Printing came first. Cursive was developed by scribes and translators as a way to get more on a page (paper was expensive), and cursive was faster. (I dare ANYONE to beat a teenager on a phone these days...haha).
    "Lay people learned a style of cursive equal to their stature; handwriting became a way to mark one's profession or social status"
    So,,, it became a "social status" tool eventually. The wealthy "trained" their offspring in fancy cursive as a way to set them apart. We never stop with that,,,do we.
    The Declaration of Independence is beautiful and Mr Hancock's famous signature got the point across,,,"We Are Capable and We Mean Business"!! Very Nice.

    I would say all the reasons cursive was invented and developed are either invalid or no longer good reasons.

    We're fine using the old fashioned method of "Printing".
    I would say.

  22. Let's go back to using the abacus or better yet piles of stones or sticks to count or do our numbering problems. Maybe the same result, takes a bit longer though, and all that stuff to lug around with you, but it is the "old fashioned way." Good enough then it ought to be now.

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