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Posted: January 22, 2011 9:53 p.m.

Giddens: Writing on the wall for cursive

I have handwriting that can charitably be described as "doctor-like."

My small, cramped letters slouch severely to the left. Some are only hints and suggestions of what’s there. My signature, for example, has reduced itself over the years to a discernible "Th," followed by some mystic runes, and there’s definitely a capital "G" in the last name, but then there’s a valley of indeterminate meaning giving way to two peaks that look like lines charting a double-dip recession.

My script bears little resemblance to the elegant, flowing forms of cursive letters in D’Nealian that once were posted on placards over the blackboards in thousands of elementary school classrooms across Georgia. D’Nealian letters are easy to read and easy to learn.

For most folks, anyway.

Miss Terry at Eastside Elementary in my hometown of Thomasville was well intentioned in instructing me how to make those beautiful letters, and I wanted to please, but I could never quite pull it off.

A D’Nealian cursive "f" flows elegantly upward, loops around and down, then bobs back up and ends with an impish stub. My "f" looks like a drunken letter "t" holding a foot in a stretch before a run.

I blame it on being a lefty. It’s hard when you’re left-handed to learn to do something that requires manual dexterity such as writing or tying a shoe when it’s demonstrated by a right-handed person. It’s exactly opposite.

And there I was at the mercy of Miss Terry, who was making those graceful, flowing arcs on the blackboard with a stick of chalk in her right hand, and expecting us to emulate.

It was not meant to be. That year started my elementary school norm of gentleman C’s in handwriting, which kept me off many an honor roll.

The wonders of the typewriter (a massive manual Royal office model saw me through high school and college) and then a PC keyboard helped me overcome my handwriting shortcomings, and greatly enhanced my ability to communicate with others. I have a profound gratitude for all my teachers and professors who were willing to suffer through my handwriting mess to find meaning in my essays on in-class tests.

Like Dick and Jane readers, learning to write in cursive is a relic of the middle of the previous century.

My children are in their 20s, and while they learned how to write in cursive, they preferred block letters when completing tests or essays that they couldn’t work on with a keyboard. For them, it was just as fast, and certainly easier to read.

Soon, our children and grandchildren may no longer have the pleasures of learning cursive at all. According to an article earlier in the week from the Athens Banner-Herald, new curriculum standards in Georgia don’t include classes on cursive. It’s already been de-emphasized, and teachers told the paper that they had to write in block letters on the whiteboard because their charges couldn’t read cursive.

I can see why that’s happening.

For me, cursive is now something reserved for note-taking and for making out checks. It’s a skill rarely used, and my handwriting has noticeably deteriorated through disuse and carelessness. Sometimes I can’t even make out my notes.

Fortunately, I can type most notes while talking on the phone with someone, I pay most of my bills online and use a debit card in stores, so there’s little need to practice my handwriting.

I’m glad it’s a skill that I acquired, though it’s slipping its way to the back of working knowledge. Soon, it will keep company with such skills as knowing how to roll-start a car with a stick shift and a dead battery, how to tape pennies atop a stylus so a record won’t skip, and how to fill-in the notches on an eight-track tape so you can record over it.

There’s little use for such expertise these days, but if you can’t start your four-on-the-floor Ford Torino, or if you ever need help ripping music from a 33 1/3 to an eight track, you know who to call.

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