Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Los Angeles Times on the Lost Art of Cursive Handwriting

The Los Angeles Times had a really neat story yesterday on Andre Cataluna, a local boy from neighboring Carson, California, who recently won a national handwriting contest. For a closer look at the photo of his masterful writing click here. As the story indicates, good handwriting is not only a lost art, but penmanship is a gateway to academic performance:
Andre previously was named a national handwriting champion in his grade level and a California contest winner. He and other students like him represent a conundrum in American education: They love writing in script, even as many forces push formal penmanship out of schools and daily life. The emphasis on standardized testing and such basic skills as math and reading has diminished classroom time spent on penmanship. At the same time, the dominance of computers has focused attention on the use of keyboards for e-mailing, text messaging and other forms of communication. But there is also strong evidence that links good handwriting with improved grammar, composition and reading. More practically, many state and national tests, including the SAT, require handwritten essays, and legibility of papers vastly eases the job of reading and scoring. And there are kids like Andre, who believes that handwriting is a reflection of his character and personality:" If you're neat in life, your handwriting is going to be neat," he said after a recent class. "If you're sloppy in life, your handwriting will be too." By all accounts, Andre has always been a bit of a perfectionist and partial to neatness."Since Day 1, he was very meticulous and everything had to be just so," said his grandmother, Marie Bermudez. " He collects watches, and they're lined up just so, ever since he was young." But Andre points to his mother, Maria Cataluna, as the catalyst of his award-winning writing." When I was little," he said, "if the handwriting on my school papers was sloppy, she'd tear it up and make me do it again." When it comes to technique, he says, look to the instrument." To me, the pen matters the most," Andre said. " Especially the weight and whether the ink is thinner or thicker. Thinner ink makes my writing flow better." But the elegant stylist who likes to draw cartoons and one day wants to play professional volleyball admitted being seduced by the dark side: "I like using computers," he said. That is the trend for much of Andre's generation: Schools often teach students to use a keyboard in third grade, the same time they teach cursive writing. Some schools have dropped penmanship as a class or insist on instruction that can be accomplished in 10 or 15 minutes a day.
Andre's cursive is beautiful. The reason I appreciate it so is because of my Dad, who had the best handwriting of anyone's I've ever seen. Dad used the Palmer method, which was taught in school when he was a child. My own handwriting wasn't that great until my late-twenties or so. Dad had once said he was appalled with my cursive, and he wrote out each letter of the alphabet for me, upper and lower case, on a piece of legal paper. I keep that paper tucked inside my copy of "The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States" (1992). My writing continues to improve. Interestingly, one of the main times when I write longhand is when I'm grading papers; this is the one moment in the semester when I'm really able to comment on each student's work. My plain cursive lacks the big looping flourishes some of the kids in this article mention, but occasionally I'll get an e-mail back from a student after the return of grades thanking me for the feedback I've provided. I try to take pride in my penmanship now, for myself, and my Dad, who passed away in December 2004. I would have loved to have mailed Dad a copy of this article, with a little handwritten note, noting how the type of penmanship he championed was alive and well.


M1 said...

I do not mean to be ad hominem in any way, shape, or seditious form so please keep that in gracious mind when I ask:

Have ye perhaps, and only perhaps, some fear of realms beyond those defined by the forms of power's conventions?

And to emphasize the coversational nature of this question and my non-patronizing will to empathize with positions and theses oft mine divergent, I regress to paraphrasing the Mykonos-loving Leonard Cohen who I believe said something to the effect of,

We all have our cracks but it's through those cracks that our light doth shine.

Donald Douglas said...


I think we're past the ad hominems. Now, what about too much power, or what's beyond the cracks? Power's the currency of international politics. Realpolitik puts power above all else, and at times the pursuit of power becomes an end in itself. Look at U.S.-Soviet arms races during the Cold War. Talk about obscene weapons procurement programs. But justified in the name of power politics, right? When Bush took office he was blown away when the Chiefs of Staff briefed him on our nuclear SIOP vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, whereby the generals told him tens of millions could be killed in a strike on Moscow, and hundreds of millions could be killed in an all-out nuclear exchange using the full arsenal of land-sea-air weapons. Overkill? Probably, right? On the other hand, what if we didn't have the capabilities. We'd be at our enemy's mercy, liable to conquer and enslavement. History says it's so. We'd be on our knees before the great rising powers of the day. Germany in the 1930s? The Soviets during the Cold War? What happens to countries that are beaten? Vichy France? East Bloc Poland? So yeah, too much power's not good? But without it? Who defends the United States? Who're ya gonna' call? The U.N.? That horribly weak and corrupted intergovernmental body? The international realm's anarchic -- Hobbesian, you might say. We need power to manage that state of affairs, indeed to survive within it.

M1 said...
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M1 said...

M1 ain't be denyin' power and its place though the exercise of power per se falls under no deterministic regime that I have chanced upon under my errant journies among both the very potent (and I do mean potent as in the pinnacle of potency) and the potentate of our Occidental world.

I do however, to revert, detect a marked deterministic streak in your posts at large as I do per example in this post and this doth intrigue me.

Nothing necessarily wrong with streaks pointing here or there if anywhere at all but it does once again lead me back to my original query pertaining to your personal ontology of circumstance cum perspective.

Perhaps, just perhaps and at that only in some vague shape or form, certain tangible aspects of your unique life have played a formative roll in the evolution of the tendencies I perceive to be expressed in your postings. I would like to know of such life events that you surmise to have contributed to shaping your foundational assumptions upon which your theoretical constructs are plausible related.

With fear of unduly restricting the scope of my question or your room to maneuver in responding, perhaps I perceive deterministic in this particular post to be related to a tendency to reserve critical thought and unquiry for that which is not the staus quo if now we say that Power defines what is the status quo..

(If this all is unpenetrable per idiosyncratic formulations then forget it. I can buy that. God knows that's why I don't proofread my own stuff)

Donald Douglas said...

You're reading too much into it. I'm trained in international relations theory, and I grew up fascinated by America's role in the world, especially WWII. Realist theory, at least at the systemic level, which doesn't really take into account differences between states (democracy or autocracy), domestic politics, or the leadership or personalities of statesmen, is largely deterministic: Balance of power will form, systemic wars will erupt, and so forth. There's nothing wrong with it up to a point. We all know that domestic politics and the personalities of leaders matter though. So explanation gets more complicated as you move down from the top (structural) level of analysis to the state and individual levels. It's more complicated than that, but you get the picture.

M1 said...

I do, at times like this at least.

Anonymous said...

I showed what snippet was to be had of the kid's handwriting to a shrink trained and specializing in grafology. She's involved in the vetting process for part of the community's recruitment process. I asked her to imagine something similar coming from an adult applicant, ie a beautiful and flowing cursive rendered with perfect stylistic control. She got back to me yesterday and laughed.

For a kid? Very nice.

For an adult? She had another less flattering story to tell.

M1 said...

I liked the post

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks a.r. and Meatball.