Shorthand to the Loss of Knowledge and Power

by Susi on March 25, 2014

in AKC, Animal Rights, Biography, Cursive, Dog Fanciers, dog fancy, dog show, HSUS, L Pattern, Most Influential People of the Millennium, Uncategorized

Post image for Shorthand to the Loss of Knowledge and Power

On my first day of school as a seven year old, I made a momentous decision to flunk out of the second grade.  I hadn’t been at my new desk five minutes before I warily surveyed the scary cursive alphabet chart above the chalkboard, knew I’d be expected to learn it, and never would. With tears welling up in my eyes, I plotted out the remainder of my life as a second grade drop out.

it might as well have been sanskrit

it might as well have been sanskrit

My parents had a different view of my decision; no child of theirs was going to be set loose in the world if she couldn’t read and write cursive. Indeed, the more knowledge the nuns could stuff into my little brain, the better, and I had better get used to the idea by the second day of school.  It was the standard with which I grew up, passed on to my own children, and is probably why I reacted poorly when I was told by a new acquaintance a few days ago that his fourteen-year-old son couldn’t read cursive.

I shouldn’t have been unduly surprised, I suppose, since I had a dim awareness that for the past 20 years, public schools have been de-emphasizing, if not abandoning, teaching cursive to students.  To have certain knowledge that there are teenagers within my midst who can’t read handwriting, however, was mind boggling to me. I couldn’t have been more shocked than if the parent had told me his son had a prehensile tail and farted rainbows.

I’ve been thinking about this kid ever since, and with a real sense of pity. He can’t read the letters his grandmother got from her sweetheart, his granddad, while he was stationed in Viet Nam.  He can’t read the journals or diaries his ancestors kept, and he sure can’t read the signatures of Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence. Now days later, I’m still so disturbed by the gap in this kid’s schooling that I feel it’s nothing short of educational malpractice.

This is Chief Justice Earl Warren's handwritten note concerning the Miranda decision, the warning given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody that preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings. Seeing it in the handwriting of the person who wrote it is different than seeing it typewritten, isn't it.

This is Chief Justice Earl Warren’s handwritten note concerning the Miranda decision, the warning given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody that preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings. Seeing it in the handwriting of the person who wrote it is different than seeing it typewritten, isn’t it.

It’s what happens when one group (in this case, parents) abdicates their authority to another group trusted to know what’s best for the rest of us.

The reasons for not teaching cursive are by now well rehearsed: Cursive is labor intensive to teach and to learn; educators need to focus on subjects which are relevant to today’s world (and upon which students will be tested); keyboards have made handwriting obsolete. Following that logic, we should also abandon simple arithmetic because we have calculators. Aside from my disagreement that cursive is useless, I think school boards have missed the point. We should be teaching our kids more, not less.  In dog show parlance, an “L” pattern is rarely requested in a show ring, but handlers should still learn how to perform it. There are good reasons for a dog to learn how to gait on the opposite side of a handler. They include putting distance between the dog and an undesirable situation, an injury to the left hand – even compensating for a handler’s limp (I’ve seen all three happen in the ring).

Zaner-Bloser Inc., one of the nation’s largest handwriting-curriculum publishers, reports that even in schools where handwriting is still taught, the amount spent on the skill amounts to just over an hour a week.  Teachers facing the “common core” curriculum are asking themselves where they can cut back in order to keep up, and it’s usually penmanship.

In my view, this is a mistake. Studies have proved that students are more literate if they can read and write cursive, and magnetic resonance imaging has shown that learning how to write improves idea composition and expression while helping with fine motor-skill development. Cursive writing also teaches perseverance because it’s not easy to learn. It requires focus and determination – something I learned in the second grade when the will of my parents trumped my fear of failure.

I can’t imagine anything as important as people being able to communicate with each other and with previous generations through every available means. Left up to me, kids would be learning American Sign Language and a foreign language from kindergarten, as well, but at a minimum, they have to learn how to read and write to each other.

In the week leading up to the year 2000, the television network, A & E, asked who the 100 Most Influential People of the Millennium were and revealed the answers on an episode of Biography on New Year’s Eve. Below are the top nine people on the list, but I’ve left off number one to see if you can guess who was named the most influential person of the Millennium.  As I saw it, there was only one obvious choice.  See if you agree:

10.      Galileo Galileo

9.        Nicolaus Copernicus (astromony)

8.        Albert Einstein (physicist)

7.        Karl Marx (19th c. political writer)

6.        Christopher Columbus (explorer)

5.        William Shakespeare (Renaissance playwright)

4.        Charles Darwin (evolutionist writer)

3.        Martin Luther (Protestant Reformation)

2.        Isaac Newton (gravity)

Who’s missing?  Who could possibly be more important than Isaac Newton?

Johann Gutenberg, that’s who. Without his movable type for a printing press that made available mass communication, the world wouldn’t have known of the advances made by the other nine people in the list.

Print came before cursive, of course, but it didn’t take long for the special few who knew how to print to realize that connecting letters was faster than printing, and that the fragile quills with which they wrote lasted longer if they didn’t have to pick up the quill each time they started a new letter.  In the Persian, Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic alphabets, many or all letters in a word are connected, sometimes making a word one single complex stroke.  It wasn’t just one man’s idea.

The ultimate point of my rant on the importance of learning cursive, however, is that we got to this point by trusting others to do what is best for us. The father of the 14 year old boy I mentioned earlier is none too pleased that his son can’t read handwriting, but he shrugged his shoulders at the look on my face as if to say, “Well, schools are the experts, I guess they know what they’re doing.”

Really?

His kid can’t read a handwritten grocery list, let alone write one, and that’s a good thing?

There is a lesson to be learned from this for dog owners in general, and dog fanciers in particular, and that lesson is this: We can’t trust others to do what is in our best interest, we have to do it ourselves.  At the heart of the animal rights agenda is a sentiment that would see the end of all pet ownership, and yet animal lovers continue to contribute to the Humane Society of the United States even though the group is working towards the end of pet ownership.  Fanciers trusted the AKC to speak on their behalf, but how’s that working out for us? There are individuals who work hard to attend legislative sessions, monitor the HSUS and speak out against laws and practices that threaten our dogs and our sport, but there aren’t nearly enough of us doing it.  At this rate, the next generation of fourteen year olds will wonder what dog shows were like, and what it felt like to touch a Poodle.

If you doubt me, and you’re of a certain age, did you ever imagine a time when a 14 year old couldn’t read handwriting or write cursive?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy Sutton March 26, 2014 at 8:28 am

I completely agree with you about cursive! When my son, who is now 21, was in 2nd grade they didn’t teach cursive. I was so appalled I bought the small white board and had him do it at home! He was never interested in writing (not like the girls who love to write their names in all sorts of pretty ways!) but I think he can at least read cursive and write it to some extent! And don’t get me started on common core and public schools ……

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Susi March 26, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Good for you, Kathy! I don’t think anyone ever went to their graves saying, “I wish I hadn’t insisted that my kid learn so much.”

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Pi-Quin Row March 26, 2014 at 10:15 am

Couldn’t agree more. Learning things that require memory, learning to read ALL forms of communication – to be literate – is to be in charge of your world and your life. Educators today have sadly missed the point – especially when they’re giving babies iPads. I fear for our future.

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Susi March 26, 2014 at 7:46 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more, Pi-Quin. As hackneyed as the quip is, knowledge really is power. And to be honest with you, I think I’m afraid of the present! We (society) have kids who can’t make change without a cash register telling them what to give back, we’ve given a pass to an education system that won’t teach cursive but distributes condoms (in the time it takes to explain how to use it, I’m pretty sure I could teach how to handwrite a few letters).

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chienblanc4csi March 26, 2014 at 1:13 pm

We’re in the midst of this fallout at the moment. I don’t think anywhere near enough people even bother to think about it, like the father of this 14-year-old boy. What a terrible shame. How this phenomenon affects us today is illustrated by the shocking success of the animal rights movement, pretty much while we were sleeping! Not only cursive writing has been abandoned – it seems as if hands-on science and biology classes have become such hot potatoes in school systems that kids today don’t have a clue about animals and their side-by-side evolution with humans. The cycle of life on earth. My son is 42, and I don’t have any grandchildren in school, so I make assumptions about today’s school systems based on the most disturbingly ignorant comments on every single media article or social media page on animal issues. This is how HSUS and PETA gained so much power over us – they mined that big empty space between keyboard and brain for invisible nuclei to assemble some parallel universe where animals are human slaves chafing in their shackles, and although we make jokes about that, they aren’t very funny.

Here’s an idea. We should get out of our comfort zone, our narrow sphere of existence, put aside petty differences of opinion, and begin, finally, to find some unity with all people who care about the future of animals and humans, and the future of our planet. Learn something new. I recently read a long piece on YouTube by a young person who had been enraged by the movie “Blackfish”, but who had thought that maybe she should actually do some research on SeaWorld. She certainly got out of her comfort zone, where everyone lets everyone else off the hook and takes the easy way out, joining internet lynch mobs, patting each other on the back for doing nothing at all but repeating propaganda, talking with and listening to only those who have the same opinions. It’s an epidemic, this very real and damaging Shorthand. Removes all the effort, doesn’t it.

I’ve been following the controversy in NYC about the proposal to ban the carriage horses from Central Park by an ignorant fool for a mayor who claims it is an “inhumane” industry, in spite of zero evidence of any neglect or mistreatment of the horses in ten or more years of being under a microscope, hounded by PETA protesters with cell phones. There is a significant amount of support for the drivers and horses from the dog fancy, but of course, it isn’t as strong as it could be, we could do more. On the other side, the influence of PETA is astonishing, they are finding fertile ground with young people who clearly know little about any species of animal, their biology, their purpose OR their history. The openly disparage historical knowledge, firing off that “slavery was once a time-honored tradition too, but we are now in the 21st century”, as if history has no meaning! The one thing we can learn from PETA is their ability to work with groups that they don’t even like, for the purpose of promoting their agenda, funding, grants, donations, and priceless publicity for themselves. We could learn something from that kind of focus on the goal, the teamwork. On a canine health and reproduction FB page, someone actually asked if the group were for “ethical” breeders only, or would they allow “BYBs” to participate. I hear attitudes like that all the time when I talk to people about the domino affect we are facing that could wipe us all out before we even know the first domino fell. Heaven forbid that some activity they don’t approve of is hiding in the middle of the row of dominoes . . .

As my friend Dori says, you don’t have to go to bed with any of these people – you just need to be in the same room with them – long enough to help save each other. Susi, your shorthand analogy is wonderful.

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Susi March 27, 2014 at 10:47 am

I hear you, Char, and commiserate with you over the demise of quality education, if not the pursuit of critical thought. Had there not been real abuses in the animal world, I doubt the animal rights movement would have realized as much success has it has, but rather than tackle the issues in a logical, fair-handed manner, an anvil was dropped on the problem when a small hammer would have sufficed. Compounding the problem is the realization that there is power and money to be had in the animal rights movement, and it work on a populace that is high on emotion but short on facts! I don’t know if this pendulum will ever swing back, but we are seriously out of balance right now and it’s maddening to witness, even worse to experience. Your sentence, “Heaven forbid that some activity they don’t approve of is hiding in the middle of the row of dominoes” made me think of the article I wrote about this one – Mike Rowe’s experience with Walmart and the role of cognitive dissonance. Maybe if we start treating the animal rights proponents as if they’re mentally ill with cognitive dissonance, we can reverse things and put the stigma on THEM since they’ve chosen not to seek help for their illness. Sitting here typing at my kitchen counter, it seems like a good idea at the moment.

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julie March 26, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Your remark about the ‘L’ pattern took me back. Many years ago (the crust of the earth was still cooling) when I was first beginning to show, I had not paid attention to the classes that preceded me. Not only that, I compounded my error by not listening to the judges instructions. I was first in the ring in a large open class. I did a down and back for my individual and when I returned, the judge said reproachfully, ‘young lady, I believe I asked for an ‘L’. rather than apologize, I replied, “I’m assuming then you meant an upper case L rather than the lower case “l” pattern that I went for?” he paused for a moment, gave me a quizzical look and then laughed out loud. I ended up taking a major that day………

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Susi March 26, 2014 at 7:48 pm

I BURST out laughing, Julie, just like your judge did. I admire how quick on your feet you were – AND, I LOVED your reference to the earth cooling. I kind of think that might have been you I saw standing amidst the steam as I was learning to get off my knuckles.

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Kate Gladstone March 26, 2014 at 11:11 pm

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.)
Further research demonstrates that the fastest, clearest handwriters are neither the print-writers nor the cursive writers. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all of them – making only the simplest of joins, omitting the rest, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, now there’s even an iPad app to teach how: named “Read Cursive,” of course — http://appstore.com/readcursive .) So why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, including some handwriting style that’s actually typical of effective handwriters?

Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why mandate it?

Cursive’s cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you stunningly graceful, adds brain cells, instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently 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 when others examine the claimed support:

/1/ either the claim provides no traceable source,

or

/2/ if a source is cited, it is misquoted or is incorrectly described (e.g., an Indiana University research study comparing print-writing with keyboarding is perennially misrepresented by cursive’s defenders as a study “comparing print-writing with cursive”),

or

/3/ the claimant _correctly_ quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

What about signatures? 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, then 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 all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
The individuality of print-style (or other non-cursive style) writings is further shown by this: six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the writing on an unsigned assignment) which of her 25 or 30 students wrote it.
All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student 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=ED056015

/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

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
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
handwritingrepair@gmail.com • HandwritingThatWorks.com

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Susi March 27, 2014 at 10:36 am

Thanks for writing (ha! a pun), Kate. I suspect that we can throw sources at each other all day long to support our respective points of view and not persuade each other. You make your living off of the diminishment of writing cursive, so it’s in your best interest to pooh-pooh its importance and I “get” that. I have less invested in the matter other than having a deep concern that people be able to communicate with each other across generations. You write that reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes to where even six-year-olds (once they read ordinary print) can read cursive. So why isn’t it being done? Why are there fourteen year old kids out there who are essentially illiterate in all things cursive? What possible good could come out of a person being unable to read another form of communication?

I appreciate the time you’ve put into sharing your view point with me, and of the sources you’ve cited to back it up. I’m afraid I’m unpersuaded.

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Leslie Fish March 28, 2014 at 4:58 am

Actually, Susi, Kate makes her living *repairing* the handwriting of people raised on Cursive. What we call “Cursive” (technically, Palmer-Method Cursive) is ONLY ONE FORM of longhand script writing, and very far from the best of them. The Constitution, et al, was written in a form called Copperplate. The Mayflower Compact was written in Italic. Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were written in English Secretary. All those documents are perfectly readable today, and all those forms are far more legible, easier to learn and quicker to teach than Cursive.

Cursive was invented at the same time as the public school system, and created deliberately to be taught to “poor” children so that one could tell the social class of a writer by his/her handwriting. Cursive has a nasty tendency to degenerate into that illegible scribble for which doctors are notorious (but unfortunately not alone), which has caused *thousands of deaths* from “medical error”, as any nurse or pharmacist can tell you. Yes, we should teach penmanship in the schools, but for heaven’s sake, let’s teach a better form than this! If only for all the lives it has cost us, Cursive deserves to die.

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Susi March 28, 2014 at 10:58 am

You have my interest, Leslie. Might you be able to direct me to the source for the assertion that cursive was created to recognize the socio-economic class of the writer?

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