Monday, February 11, 2013

Cursive writing under attack by technological change AGAIN,

CTV announced yesterday that cursive writing (writing done with joined letters, usually hand-writing) is under threat of no longer being taught in schools. With the universal use of computers, iPads and other similar devices, is there any real need to teach cursive writing? Would teacher time be better devoted to teaching key-board skills?

I wrote about this on my Facebook page, and received responses from a number of friends decrying the abysmal  hand-writing skills of young and old. As Yogi Barra (?) said, "It's deja vue all over again." In my transition years from elementary school to high school, in the early 1950s the same comments about poor hand-writing skills were being raised as technological changes swept through the writing world.

At that time I was a ten-year old student in an elementary school in England. Occasionally, as a reward for good marks or good behaviour, I would be appointed "ink monitor" for the class room. As ink monitor it was your job to use the can filled with ink to fill the individual ink pots in ink wells located in a rounded out hollow in each classroom desk. It was into these ink pots that students dipped their steel pen nibs and wrote. Some students also had that more modern innovation in writing technology, the fountain pen that had its own reservoir of ink within its body.

It was at this time that another innovation, the "Bic" ball-point pen came into wider and wider use. Adoption of this pen for writing, it was said, would lead to a massive deterioration in writing skills. The ball point produced a uniform thickness in its transfer of ink to the page while the nib pen or the fountain pen produced a beautiful variety in thickness of stroke, varying from the thinness of the up-stroke to the thickness of the downstroke. The majesty and glory of cursive writing was in danger of being lost!

Two or three years later, in my early high school years, ink was rarely being dispensed in the classrooms as the ball-point pen was universally adopted. This change was so rapid that the ceramic ink pots in each desk had become redundant. In my home form room, on the second floor of Leek Boys Secondary Grammar School, we collectively decided on a more exciting use for these ceramic pots. We would practice "bombs away" with them. (This time period was just a few years after the end of WW11.)  A handful of the boys would stand at the window of the second floor while another handful would stand at ground level below those windows. The second story boys would then drop "bombs", the ceramic ink pots, from the windows. These pots would, or would not, be filled with ink. The ground level boys would then attempt to catch them in their school caps or beanies. Sometimes a catch was made but often the ceramic pot hit the tarmac and broke apart in a satisfying crash.

One morning after several days of this game our home form teacher said that the janitor had noticed an unusual paucity of ink pots in our class room. What were we going to do about this? During recess we arranged raids on adjoining class rooms and the ceramic pot shortage was no more.

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