As I look back on the value of my public school education, one of my most worthwhile courses was typing. Not “keyboarding,” as it is often called today, but just plain, old “typing.”
The seventh grade “Typing Lab,” as it was known, had four pairs of long tables, each table with three standard typewriters (not even electric ones). Purposefully uncomfortable wood chairs were strategically placed behind each typewriter. The letters and numbers on the typewriter keys had been removed, so we were required to commit to memory the layout of a QWERTY keyboard as we learned the proper placement of our fingers in the “resting” position. Our left fingers hovered over the unmarked A, S, D, and F keys; our right fingers over the J, K, L, and ; keys, our thumbs over the spacebar.
Learning to type was challenging for me, as I'm not widely known for my manual dexterity. But having successfully completed that course, I am now able to create this entire blog posting without even glancing down at the keyboard as I type. And since I spend the vast majority of my workday sitting at my desk typing away on my computer’s keyboard, I am ever grateful for having taken that typing class.
I don't often write things in longhand on paper anymore, primarily because my handwriting is not very legible...even to me. When I review the notes I jotted down during a business meeting, for example, I often can’t read what I wrote and have to struggle to recall the context in order to transcribe my handwritten chicken-scratch into searchable and retrievable text on my computer.
Even my shopping lists demonstrate how cursively challenged I am. While I sit at the kitchen table, a piece of paper placed down in front of me and pen in hand, my wife takes inventory of what’s in the refrigerator and the pantry. She calls out the names of items that we need to replenish and I diligently write them down onto the list that we’ll take with us to the grocery store.
Upon arriving at the grocery store, I turn the list over to my wife while I dutifully follow her with the cart up one aisle and down another as she examines, squeezes, shakes, measures, and places into the cart all those grocery items that she has deemed necessary for our continued survival.
Invariably, at some point during this process, she will stick the list in my face, point to something I have written on the list, and with more than a slight hint of irritability, say, “What the fuck is this?” I grab the shopping list from her, gaze at the particular item in question, and then sheepishly admit that I have no clue what I wrote down.
With this as a backdrop, I have to say that I’m upset by what appears to be a growing trend to no longer teach cursive handwriting in schools. Recently, the Indiana Department of Education recommended that schools stop teaching cursive. Seriously? My cursive may not be very legible, but it’s my cursive. My signature looks like a couple of humps followed by a squiggly line with a trailing tail and it bears little to no resemblance to my actual name, but it’s my signature...unique to me.
Sure, people today don’t bother to write and mail handwritten letters. Instead, they sit behind their computers, at their laptops or netbooks, on their iPhones, BlackBerries, or Android devices and type e-mails, send text messages, or post all kinds of, um, fascinating tidbits on Facebook or Twitter. But does this mean we should abandon teaching cursive handwriting?
What will tomorrow’s kids do if they’ve never been taught cursive when they have to affix their signatures to some official document, like a driver’s license, a passport, a mortgage application? Will they print their names in block letters? Put an X-mark on the signature line?
Some, like Time magazine’s Kayla Webley, think that eliminating cursive is a smart move. Being able to type efficiently, she says, is “a vital skill in today’s world.” Writing cursive, she believes, is about as useful as “being able to churn butter and knowing how to hitch a horse to a wagon.”
If teaching cursive in school is a waste of time because people no longer write in longhand, perhaps schools should stop teaching math, as well. After all, doesn’t just about everyone use calculators to add, subtract, divide, and multiply? Even smartphones these days have built-in calculators. And since everyone is so adept at using keyboards and computers, can’t we just teach students how to use Excel to perform a wide variety of sophisticated mathematical functions? Who needs to learn math?
In fact, perhaps schools and teachers are obsolete. All anyone needs to know is how to Google. From there they can get answers to virtually any question, information about any topic, and even self-help, do-it-yourself instructions for just about any project.
And if they can’t find what they’re looking for on Google, they can always text someone.