Penmanship: a necessary art

Studies show that cursive instruction has been declining in U.S. classrooms since the 1970s, according to a recent report from the Washington Post. Common Core Standards, which 45 states have adopted since 2010, don’t require cursive instruction but let states and districts decide whether it should be included.

According to the article, while some districts require teachers to teach cursive, few actually devote the time to do so. They choose to spend more classroom time for technology and standardized test preparation.

While I rarely write in cursive anymore (and the cursive I do use leaves much to be desired), learning it did teach me the importance of having options and slowing down.

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...

The English alphabet, both upper and lower case letters, written in D’Nealian cursive. The grey arrows indicate the starting position for each letter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not entirely sure how old I was when I learned cursive. (Obviously cursive instruction had quite the impact on my life.) But I do remember that my classmates and I felt like we were under pressure trying to learn it. We had to learn one very specific way to write each letter, and for little, impatient hands, perfection is simply too much to ask. (And it’s not just me. Billy Madison thought so, too.)

We were told that we would be expected to use cursive for the rest of our lives because no one would take the time to read our printing. But once I entered the next grade the teachers asked us to never use it because they themselves had trouble reading it. So most of us dropped it and forgot most of our instruction, except for a small number of my peers who perfected the art and used it by their own choice.

Keyboarding, of course, is a different story. My parents forced me to take some kind of keyboarding or technology elective every year in middle school. At the time, keyboarding bored me to death and I hated the pressure of constantly pushing my speed. But as more of my teachers required only typewritten compositions, I thanked my parents for placing me in those computer classes.

Since I’ve learned print, cursive and keyboarding, I have options for note-taking, a huge advantage as a journalism student. When taking notes at a speech or interview, I can choose to type out quotes and notes or take notes by hand with the help of audio recordings. The methods I use depend on the person (or people) I’m interviewing and the type of story I’m writing.

But speed isn’t everything. Though cursive as a script may be dying away, the need for good penmanship (even in block print) never will.

When learning to write, teachers ought to encourage students to slow down and carefully consider each character. This will teach them from a young age to consider each word they write and, later, each idea they construct. That’s why I’m thankful for all the meticulous and varied writing instruction I’ve received. Going slow builds better writers, no matter the script they use.

In defense of Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton. It’s a pretty common opinion that she’s just too much–her clothes a little too gaudy, her hair a little too big, her voice a little too twangy and her physique a little too busty.

On the outside she may look like a ditzy, narcissistic starlet, but her past and present reveal that she is much more than that.

Hers is the quintessential American rags-to-riches story. One of 12 children, her family lived a small cabin in Tennessee, in a rural region of the Great Smokey Mountains which was and still is impoverished. Many of her family members and relatives were illiterate.

Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With an estimated $450 million net worth, Parton launched her Imagination Library in 1996. Children enrolled in the foundation receive one book per month from birth until they enter kindergarten to foster early literacy skills and a love of reading in pre-schoolers.

The program began in Parton’s home county and has since spread all over the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

Instead of simply throwing money at issues such as illiteracy, she took the challenges she faced in her own humble beginnings and created a solution to help others in that situation.

And unlike most other celebrities, her positive, down-to-earth attitude is actually worth imitating. She radiates joy wherever she goes and has impressive energy on stage even at the age of 67.

Her music is a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t write about sex, violence or anything super depressing (with the exception of a couple notable tearjerkers).

Her honest journey from her humble beginnings has motivated her to give back to her fans in her own perky, glitzy way.

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