A Tale of Two Sisters and Hamlet



By Kathy Waller


Do young female college graduates still worry about being consigned to the typing pool?

English: Smith-Premier Typewriter Company of S...
English: Smith-Premier Typewriter Company of Syracuse, New York – Model 2 – December 1905 (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Smith-Premier Typewriter Company (Modern Motor Cars, Volume 5) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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?






Kathy Waller blogs at http://kathywaller1.com and with Austin Mystery Writers at http://austinmysterywriters.com/.

Visit her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/kathy.waller68







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26 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Sisters and Hamlet

  1. Kathy, the cliché “Cutting off your nose to spite your face” comes to mind when reading your post about the two sisters. I remember when Dos was “out” and the “mouse” came on the scene. Talk about frustrated, learning to NOT use the “function keys” and, instead, move and coordinate that stupid mouse in my hand. I suppose the two sisters felt the same way when eventually they, too, had to learn type, which I am sure they eventually had to do. What a pleasure it is to see kids use the computer at such an early age. They’ve “one-upped” us all. To the young, typing is pretty much a normal and basic thing to do. Good and thought-filled post. Enjoyed.


    1. I think young people pick up computer skills easily because they don’t worry about how they work. And typing, as you say, is normal. I envy them never having to learn the calculations I had to learn in typing class. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


  2. Very good post Kathy. If we are not subjected to the basics how on earth can we make the change to new technology? Cursive is not dead, in fact it’s a necessity just like typing or keyboarding. In order to communicate it’s great to use the newest and best information the world has to offer to make our work easier. However, I cannot understand how one can actually grasp solutions without the basics. My favorite subjects were History, English Lit, Music and of course, Typing! Over the years I’ve had to relearn some things but it’s never been hard because I had the basic knowledge to figure things out. Somehow it’s so impersonal to do everything via the computer (i.e. your signature). That signature should mean something and cursive tells a lot about a person, don’t you think? Thanks for this post – I’ve reblogged it on my site.


    1. I hope the powers that be decide that cursive isn’t dead. I miss letters. I like the speed of email, but the delight of finding a letter in the mailbox, opening the envelope, seeing familiar handwriting…a good memory. Thanks for your comment.


  3. Love this, it’s a great thoughtful post. Fun to trip down memory lane. I still love my gel pens and I’m a Calligrapher, so I love fancy writing. I think they teach too much too early and kids don’t maintain what they’ve learned. But I think the first 3 years 4 if you count kindergarten should be mostly the 3 R’s introducing geography and health in the latter 3rd grade and 4th grade and then keep advancing from there. Cher’ley


    1. I love calligraphy and would like to learn it, but I don’t have the touch. Or the patience. But I have a purse full of pens of all kinds and colors. They go with my journals. Thanks for commenting.


  4. Although I type very quickly, I prefer to write in long hand whenever possible. Many in my writers group bring their computers, but for me it is pencil and paper.

    We have compartmentalized learning to the extent that most children have no overall concept- a failure if there was one. Music, drama, English, Math and cursive writing are all important. To cut off a finger to benefit the others, not good. Doris

    PS Just like my post about history, maybe boring, but if you don’t know history you will repeat the mistakes over and over.


    1. A high school student once told me that World War II had nothing to do with people his age. I don’t know what we were going to do that day, but it had to wait for my impromptu lecture. Sometimes I think we should teach history backwards–here’s how it is now, so how did it get this way? Now we seem to look to the future for everything. Thanks for your comment.


    1. Abbie, I read your posts. If your brain is the size of a pea, I would like to see the garden it came from. It must have been grown by a family of giants. Smile right back at you. And thanks for the comment.


  5. I enjoyed reading your post. As an artist, I use skills to create my wares that many people would consider “lost”. I search for tools that were made 100 or more years ago because in my case they work better for what I do or are simply no longer made in our modern age. I still use paper and a fountain pen to draw my designs or handwrite the outlines of my stories because I feel it taps into a place within me that is more creative than what a keyboard offers. There is value in understanding how things worked in the past and maintaining knowledge of the techniques as a skill set. Modern tech is fine and dandy, yes I do use it as well, but it is merely a part of things, not the entire enchilada. In the modern rush to move on to the next and newest thing, I feel we lose something important.


  6. I agree with you and feel cursive writing is important, not only for a feeling of connection to what you write to others, for the others feeling more of a personal connection to you as they read it, but also for brain development. Many years ago, when I was growing up, without all the government studies re increasing autism, learning disabilities etc, school provided a rounded out education with music, listening to someone reading, art, and the basics. All important for development of different parts of the brain, including recess! In this world of decreasing personal connection to others, I am sad for our progress! Why can’t we have it all? It was such a thrill to find a hand-written letter from my daughter tucked into my Bible the other night, the letter written ten years ago while she was in college. It was like being near her.


    1. I know what you mean about finding the letter from your daughter. I once found a letter from my great-grandmother, whom I never knew. She wrote that she and her oldest daughter had driven to Austin to buy a croquet set for my father and his brothers, who lived with her after their mother’s death. It gave me a glimpse into my father’s childhood that I’d never had. Thanks for your comment.


  7. Excellent post, Kathy. I knew about the move to stop teaching cursive, but I did not know that learning cursive affects brain development in the ways you mention. How interesting! I do remember practicing letters and playing with them. Hand-writing definitely can be a means of self-expression. I’ve wondered what kids who don’t learn cursive will do for signatures. But then I have a sister-in-law, who is older than me, who prints everything, including her signature, so maybe that’s what they’ll do. Of all my early classes, English, math, and typing have probably proven to be the most useful–I turn to them pretty much daily.


    1. Perhaps children who’ve never used cursive won’t miss it–they’ll type and print and go on with life, like the people who can’t read an analog clock. And electronic signatures seem to be the thing now. If typing replaces cursive, I wonder what will replace typing. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.


  8. Great post, Kathy. I think of cursive the same way as music – it engages all parts of the brain and it effects memory, test scores, etc., too, yet schools are doing away with it to focus on the core curriculum. The link between cursive writing and music to test scores is well documented but largely ignored. We’re going to keep cutting out the things that ultimately lead to greatness then wonder why it’s gone. Sigh…. Great post.


  9. Wonderful post, Kathy — I was appalled when I learned schools were getting rid of cursive writing — people have to sign their names to documents still for goodness sakes! And, hand-written notes are delightful to receive to this day, I believe, and encourages engagement with people. We need both, cursive and keyboarding, and so do kids! Thanks for a great post! I chuckled about the sisters and the typing — thanks for sharing this post!


  10. Kathy- As an ex-teacher I will lament if they remove cursive writing from our curriculum. I have to say in all honesty, though, that my handwriting is appalling now that I’m hardly ever handwriting. I used to do a fine blackboard lesson with chalk but now I type almost everything. Both are still needed.


  11. Hey, Kathy, this is one of the better columns I’ve read on Writing Wranglers & Warriors. It dovetails nicely with another post I read a few minutes ago — the one about the difference between being a reader, a skimmer and a bottom feeder. I sometimes think we are going for bottom feeders. I know we don’t write letters or diaries anymore, but if we stop teaching cursive writing, I do think we need to make sure we find teaching methods that develop youngsters’ brains. I learned to type my senior year of H.S., and got my first typewriter as a Christmas gift, also my senior year. I was going to be a journalist and needed typing skills.


  12. I gotta thank Kate Shrewsday for tweeting this post. I agree 100% and it has long been my assertion that my daughter will learn to write by hand if I have to teach her myself. As a child of the eighties, I believe that all the subjects I learned in school are important and should be taught in a relevant context, especially physical education and cursive handwriting; when I went to take my Praxis I exam several years ago, I had to re-teach myself on the spot how to write in cursive and thus discovered how much I had missed it.


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