Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can You Read This?

A few weeks ago, The Young One and I visited The Strange Life of Objects: The Art of Annette Lemieux  currently on exhibit at WAM. One of the pieces was a large installation of words from Holocaust survivors. The piece was printed on a deep red canvas in beige and black. The words and colors create a visceral impact.

I turned to see how The Young One interpreted this piece. I could see her taking it in, but realized she was struggling to read it since it was printed in a script font.  She admitted it takes her much longer to read script than print. That fact shocked me as I take the ability to read script for granted.

Not long after, I had a spirited discussion with a group of young people whether penmanship should be taught in school. These were all teens and twenty-somethings. My take, of course, was penmanship should be taught in schools, and not just during third grade and then forgotten. How can one attain skill if the skill is not practiced? My real concern was how would historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence be read and interpreted if one couldn't read script? There was a who cares attitude from many of these young people, and many were math majors and claimed they had no use to read script. They could print just fine and they were convinced printing was faster than writing script.

It saddened me to hear their remarks. They wouldn't be able to read historical documents like the Declaration or even mathematical treatises like Isaac Newton's work (ok, they would have to be able to understand Latin, too) and interpret for themselves the meaning of the word? I suppose it falls into the same category as many of us having to rely on someone else's translation of Egyptian or Mayan glyphs.

But worse, they wouldn't be able to read letters or diaries written by their parents and grandparents. Their own family histories would be lost. I'm beginning to feel like one of the book people from Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451. I'm the keeper of lost arts, and worried I won't be able to find a young person to hand down the legacy before I'm gone.

So, of course, I'm curious. Do you think penmanship should be taught in schools? Do you think it should be given as much time in the curriculum as math or language arts for elementary and middle school students? Is it important or am I worried over nothing?


  1. I have no children, so of course that makes me an expert ;-) I've been appalled that children aren't taught handwriting in school all along just on principle. I hadn't even thought of all the brilliant things you brought up about all the lost history from the Declaration of Independence to the handwritten notes in my treasured cookbook that belonged to my grandmother. Now I'm moving up to "outrage."

  2. I'm all with you on this, CJ.

    My boys' arguments against the whole cursive thing is that computers are taking over, there's very little need to actually write at all. And cursive takes longer. And it's harder to read other people's handwriting. To which I say (obviously) that is one reason you (as in all of you) should practice it more.

    About the only thing they use cursive on is their signature for banking. And they still hand write thank you notes, so far.

  3. Technology is taking over, I agree we should teach it but I think we will be fighting a steadily losing fight.