By Kathy Waller
Do young female college graduates still worry about being consigned to the typing pool?
That was a big issue when I was in college in the 1970s: It was well known that educated, qualified women often had to settle for clerical work while their male counterparts filled professional positions.
At a women’s conference I attended in the early 1980s, a college junior announced her plan to prevent such gender discrimination: Both she and her sister had decided they would never learn to type.
Her tone hinted that they looked at typing as royalty once looked at writing by hand: a variety of manual labor reserved for lesser folk. It occurred to me they might regret skipping that skill: after all, because Prince Hamlet could write, he was able to ensure the treacherous Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would be put to death as soon as they arrived in England, thus saving himself (for a few more days). As an English major, I had acquired the skill of relating Great Literature to Real Life.
Anyway, I’ve thought about those sisters often over past thirty years. I thought about them as I banged away on my electric Smith-Corona, trying to produce a readable draft of my master’s thesis. I thought about them at every computer workshop the school district where I worked sent me to. I thought about them when the library I served as director installed a network, automated the catalog, and began subscribing to online databases. I thought about them when I became so comfortable with the computer keyboard that I stopped composing with pen and paper.
(I thought about them the day I was too lazy to pick up a marker and dash off Out to Lunch/Back at 1:00 on a sticky note, but the memory embarrasses me, so I don’t like to talk about it.)
Not long after that conference, typewriters moved out of the secretary’s office and super-typewriters–Apples and PCs–moved in. From there, they moved in with the boss. And with the doctor, the lawyer, the nurse, and the mechanic.
So I’ve wondered how the sisters got along.
Well, actually, I think I know how they got along. I’ve wondered where they took their typing class and how easy it was to catch up with their former high school classmates.
Now there’s a move in education to remove the teaching of cursive writing from the curriculum. Learning cursive takes time and practice, and the school day is packed with so many other subjects–including keyboarding (the new and improved term for typing). By the third grade, some children type thirty or forty words a minute. Fourth-graders do reports in MS Word and post them to their own websites. It just makes sense to toss out cursive and embrace the new technology.
Except that it doesn’t.
Studies show that writing in cursive affects brain development in ways that keyboarding does not. It engages multiple areas of the brain. It improves thinking and memory. It promotes reading readiness. It supports higher SAT scores. When a keyboard isn’t available, cursive is faster than printing.
(Ever try to scrawl a quick note by printing?)
And, says Dr. William Klemm, Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, cursive is “more likely to engage students by providing a better sense of personal style and ownership.”
Remember, once you’d mastered the basics, playing with cursive? Writing your name over and over, decorating your textbook covers with it, imitating your left-handed teacher’s elegant backhand even though she told you not to, trying out different ways to form capital letters until you hit upon one that was you?
And the pens. Getting to use your father’s Papermate fountain pen, filling it with ink from a bottle and ending up with dark blue smudges on your fingers and your face. Discovering cartridge pens in sixth grade and blowing your allowance on replacement cartridges. Discovering that Bic pens cost less and last longer. Investing in gel pens, felt tips, roller-balls . . . in a variety of colors.
The men reading this might not remember, but I’ll bet the women do.
I didn’t plan to write a paean to cursive writing, but I suppose that’s how it’s turned out. My own emotions aside, however, I believe removing cursive from the curriculum does a disservice to children, and, possibly, to our collective future.
After the young woman at the conference said she would not learn to type, another panelist, a retired nurse active in the Gray Panthers, said she believed in acquiring every skill she could. Perhaps the sisters took note.
Times have changed and will continue to do so. Technology in the form of operating systems, apps, social media, tablets, smart phones, blog platforms–if I weren’t so far behind, I could name others–have us scrambling to keep up.
But cursive writing, too, is a technology, one that has served us well and that has value we can’t see with the naked eye. Before educators toss it out, I hope they’ll consider what else they’ll be tossing out with it.
What part of your early education do you consider most valuable? Are there subjects being taught that you think are no longer necessary? Or anything you’d like to see instituted or brought back?
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