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Posted at 06:11 PM ET, 11/12/2012

Abandon penmanship!


This picture shows a tablet being trained to recognize handwriting. Next it’ll take up the clavichord! Handwriting, like talking to your family, is just another of those things our founders did because none of them had iPhones. (ELAINE THOMPSON - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Tuesday, the Kansas Board of Education is going to contemplate the need for penmanship in the state’s curriculum. It’s a hard case to make. As a writer for Tech Crunch notes, the nationally accepted Common Core Standards for learning include no such explicit requirement.

And why should they?

Never mind that, as Wichita education board member Walt Chappell told the Wichita Eagle, “Technology is great, but it doesn’t always work. There are all kinds of situations where you have to know how to write longhand.”

Nonsense! As an exercise, writing things by hand is up there with cobbling shoes and shoeing horses. If your only justification for the need to teach something in schools is that “if the power goes out, dang, won’t it be useful to have crossbows,” possibly it is obsolete.

The first thought of a nation stranded without power and technology won’t be, “Thank heavens Carl knows cursive.” We will be too busy devouring the weakest and falling upon each other with loud war cries. Carl will fall in the first onslaught.

And in actual life, pensmanship is an active waste of time. Sure, like many techniques of rote learning, there are studies proving that it helps us acquire and retain knowledge, but who wants to do that? We have iPhones now.

As a practical matter, handwriting isn’t.

If that undecipherable squiggle at the back of my credit card could actually be used to trace it to me, I will eat my weight in security codes.

The last time I was called to write something by hand was to sign a payment screen at CVS in an undecipherable squiggle that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the signature on my actual card. Other than that, the uses of handwriting that I can think of run as follows:

● Make notes during meetings, because for some reason they would not let you take your phone in, that are later impossible to decipher,

● Leave passive-aggressive post-its.

● Leave ominous messages in the fog on strangers’ bathroom mirrors.

● Communicate on bathroom walls.

● If you at some point portrayed an X-wing pilot in a Star Wars movie, make a substantial income signing pictures of the frames in which you appeared.

And I think that’s it.

Signatures, as an institution, are deeply bizarre. Every so often, to verify your identity, you are asked to do something you haven’t done since, possibly, third grade, at which you are terrible and rusty, and which looks different every time you do it. It’s like every time you sign a contract being asked to draw a hand-turkey or lose a game of soccer because Ryan pushed you into the wood chips. What security does this possibly offer?

Furthermore, there’s no logic to cursive. Especially in lowercase. To this day, I refuse to believe that those are lowercase R’s. I don’t know what they are. I suspect foul play. Those aren’t lowercase S’s, either. They’re escapees from a secure facility for failed triangles who skinned and ate the little S’s. And yes, that’s kind of a lowercase X, but you’ll never convince me it’s not an N that’s been wounded with an arrow.

I still have no idea how to make a lowercase Z. Instead, I draw an apologetic squiggle on the page. I am never sure how many squiggles are required. Fortunately, you never need to write Z’s anyway.

The argument, floated by one writer over at Tech Crunch, that not learning cursive will make it impossible for us to read the Founding Documents, is flawed. No one reads anyway. And the Founders had all those strange S’s that turn out to be F’s, and vice verfa. None of this is in the normal purview of cursive at all.

Admittedly, I am biased. I was forced to learn both Cursive and Print in something called D’Nealian. The main lesson of D’Nealian, as I remember it, is that you can either write legibly or you can write fast, but you cannot do both. Then, once you leave fifth grade, you never have to turn in anything written by hand again, so it no longer matters that your Q’s look like they were mauled beyond recognition in a carriage accident, in which your G’s perished entirely.

In short, cursive is good for nothing.

Had I written this by hand, here is how it would have looked to you:

SQUIGGLE SQUIGGLE [MAYBE A STORMCLOUD?] [WORD YOU’RE PRETTY SURE IS NOT LEMUR BUT IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE ANYTHING ELSE] MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE [THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT EITHER] [SEVERAL Z SQUIGGLES] [MISSPELLED WORD]

Penmanship, or, frankly, any art that ends in –ship, is at an end. Scholarship? Marksmanship? Craftsmanship? Courtship?

Abandon ship, say I.

By  |  06:11 PM ET, 11/12/2012

 
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