>> Monday, February 25, 2013

So who knew?  Apparently you can't read a font unless you can write it, too.  So there's some kind of movement afoot to teach elementary school students cursive handwriting lest they--I'm not making this up--lest they lose the ability to read letters from their grandparents or the ability to read the Declaration Of Independence in its original scribble.  So there oughta be a law.

When I saw the piece in The Charlotte Observer, I was amused.  Ah, yes, it figures this is the kind of thing our new legislative overlords would be upset about.  It just struck me as more obnoxious silliness from a governing body that perhaps could be more worried about the state's obscene unemployment rate, let's say.

But then I ran into a piece at The Junto and it links to an article at The Wall Street Journal.  And now I'm saying, "Wait--no... seriously?  This is a thing?  What the--"  Yes, apparently it's a thing.  A big honkin' national thing.  What I'd been prepared to write off (no pun intended) as yet another example of regional stupidity was, in point of fact, a national craze.

Good grief.

The Observer writes:

"Every child should know cursive," said state Rep. Pat Hurley, an Asheboro Republican and a primary sponsor of the bill. "Our children can’t write a simple sentence. They think printing their name is their signature."

Ah, well.  You know, this reminds me of a lawyer I knew who signed his name in block letters, same way he wrote it.  Gentleman served in Korea, I believe in the Marines, and while he was often a genial and genteel fellow, he still had the air of being someone you didn't want to screw around with.  Which has me thinking Representative Hurley ought to look him up and tell him he's been signing his name wrong for nearly three-quarters of a century.  Just give me a chance to get some popcorn, first.

As for myself, I learned to write in cursive thirty years ago and probably could pry the muscle memories out of cold storage if you patiently gave me extra time to work out the inevitable hand cramps.  I'd hate to just leap to the conclusion that learning script in elementary school was an utter waste of time... but it was an utter waste of time.  At some point in high school I very affectedly started trying to ape the bloody handwriting Gerald Scarfe used as a font for Pink Floyd's The Wall as best I could using ballpoints instead of leaky calligraphy pens; this is the kind of pretentious crap you do when you're sixteen or seventeen, like carrying around a threadbare copy of The Fountainhead or trying to grow a scruffy goatee and quoting Kerouac, etc.  Most of the time you grow out of it (once your brains fill in), but sometimes lasting damage is done; in my case, my handwriting never quite regained whatever slim legibility it had ever once had, but it didn't matter anyway because I had a dedicated word processor with a daisy wheel printer before I headed to college and college had computer labs with machines running WordPerfect 5.1, the greatest word processing program ever written.

These days, my handwriting is mostly a deranged mix of all-caps block letters and lapses into quasi-cursive lowercase, with letters sometimes joined and minimal effort made to lift the pen's nib between characters.  As for my signature: when you have a surname with ten letters, let me tell you that you tend to take shortcuts (or at least I have), and my signature is a flattened scrawl that I suspect manages to be completely illegible to the uninitiated but a distinctly personal symbolic signifier for me to anyone who knows me.  I wouldn't have it any other way: if I want to draw something up for a nearsighted king, I think I'll just type it.

Speaking of which, Seth at The Junto does a great job of demolishing the absurd claim that teaching cursive is somehow required for reading the Declaration Of Independence:

Well, yes they will--they will be able to read it in print, just like most Americans read it (to themselves and to others) until the first facsimile reproductions were produced from the engraving by William J. Stone in 1823. The facsimile  turned the image of the artifact into what Michael Warner calls "a national fetish," giving rise to a preoccupation with the image of the manuscript Declaration as the only authentic presentation of the text.  Unless one is standing in front of the actual artifact, though, all versions, script as well as print, are the product of a process of mechanical reproduction. Insisting that something significant is lost if kids are unable to run a Google image search for the Declaration and read from a jpg seems like an oddly-placed concern.  Moreover, the insistence that one be able to read the document in its "original" form is by definition an insistence that it be read in its original language, which has a certain resonance with the English-only debates that surface from time to time. It is not, I would argue, as if the ideas contained in the document are untranslatable, bound by language, needless to say by media. [link omitted]

It doesn't just remind one of the English-only thing; it more readily reminds me of the American cultural conservative shibboleth that the Declaration and Constitution are divinely inspired or ordained documents.  Pretending that it matters whether the Declaration is reproduced in script or reproduced in plaintext calls to mind the apocryphal story of the little old conservative lady going into a bookstore and asking for a copy of the Bible, "In English, just like Jesus wrote it."  If the founding American documents are magical, then I suppose the runes used might matter (along with the composition of the ink and value in gold pieces of the parchment); if they're working documents, all that matters is whether they can be read.  (While I'm certainly capable of struggling through a swarm of ſes if you put a gun to my head, I'd much rather read a printer-friendly plaintext transcription in an standard font; hell, I'd even prefer to be able to read the names of the signatories in a simple font.  Much faster.)

There's also more than a whiff of cross-generational sadomasochism: the sense some of us get as we grow older that the things we suffered ought to be visited on future generations.  We had to sit down with pen awkwardly held over the lined paper and rewrite a stylized letter "G" over and over again until our hands were as gnarled as pickled rooster's feet, so I'll be damned if these kids today aren't going to go through the torments of the damned like we did back in the day, and the more they whine about it, the better it is for them.  Builds character.  Might come in handy, someday.  Like if Speaker Gingrich's ee-em-pee comes and fries all the pewters and eye-pod-phones.  Anyway, kids today, grah.  Yeah: "get-off-my-yard-ism" at its finest.

No doubt, if civilization collapses and the kids still haven't burned all their notebooks (what good are notebooks?) and somehow can write a letter or send a postcard (oh, and The Mudd Club and CBGB have reopened, natch), they'll have to adapt in order to have something to give Kevin Costner when his horse staggers in.  Meanwhile, I sort of envy the little bastards if they're not doing what I'm doing right now, which is managing a not-bad clip of speed using only two fingers and sometimes my right thumb on a QWERTY keyboard.  And occasionally having to hit the backspace, the backspace, the backspace to salvage a line of text where I started to write something like "salbage" (which I'm pretty sure isn't a word).

Tho' I will  absolutely admit that if the next step is to cut school budgets so they can't afford computers anymore, that might be another reason to teach them a semi-archaic communications technology skill.  I guess.

The whole thing seems inordinately stupid, anyway.  I mean, there's a certain level of stupidity you come to expect from some of the usual suspects involved with this movement, and some of it is even explicable stupidity insofar as some of these people really do, I think, believe in magic, talismans, arcane symbology.  And yet it still manages to be really, really dumb, dumber than what one might be given to expect.


Random Michelle K Monday, February 25, 2013 at 12:50:00 PM EST  

Apropos of the Declaration of Independence, when we were in Philadelphia, I picked up a copy of the Declaration that was printed on a Reproduction Printing Press such as Benjamin Franklin would have used, in Benjamin Franklin's shop.

I actually bought two copies, if you'd like to have one. :)

Eric Monday, February 25, 2013 at 12:52:00 PM EST  

I assume it was made with a movable type flatbed press--in which case it isn't in cursive, and therefore isn't real. Or something.

Random Michelle K Monday, February 25, 2013 at 1:49:00 PM EST  

Except, of course, at the time of the Declaration, we were all about movable type flatbed press, and not having monks write shit out by hand.

Maybe that's what it is! They want to save the economy by recreating the position of SCRIBE!

But wait, did scribes print or write? Where's Black Moon Eyes when you need her?

Eric Monday, February 25, 2013 at 2:38:00 PM EST  

That's basically one of the core points made in the piece at The Junto: the script version we all picture when we think of the Declaration is actually a facsimile that was published in 1823, nearly half a century after the signing. For the four-and-a-half decades up to that point, what did people look at when they wanted to read the Declaration Of Independence?

Yeah. Typeface. Not shit written out by hand. By anyone. Certainly not written out in longhand by Ben Franklin, who was not exactly leading the ascetic lifestyle, let's-just-say.

Random Michelle K Monday, February 25, 2013 at 3:07:00 PM EST  

But more importantly, would you like a copy of the Declaration that looks like one Ben would have printed? (I think I mentioned repeatedly how much I lurved the printing press in Philadelphia. So I bought two copies.)

Eric Monday, February 25, 2013 at 3:41:00 PM EST  

Yes and no: in principle, I would love it; in practice, I think Kat and I still have way more stuff than we have places for, and I have no idea what we'd do with the copy. I'm afraid it would most likely end up stowed away somewhere on the big bookshelf.

But thank you!

Carol Elaine Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 6:49:00 PM EST  

Eric, it's not just the long last names that turn into an illegible scribble. Somewhere along the way my three letter last name turned into the number 8 (with an open top loop).

Once you get to the point in your life where you have to sign a lot of things, legibility just gets lost.

Warner Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 12:12:00 PM EST  

I had an rebuilt Royal Office Standard in 7th grade, my parents having figured I was never going to write legibly.

Now having had over 10 major hand surgeries I probably couldn't do script if I wanted to, can print very fast though.

And FYI:

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