The labels of the letters E, A and S have worn from the keys of my computer. The L is barely sticking around. The wear serves as a physical reminder of the hours I spend each day behind a keyboard or touchscreen, tapping and swiping. But it wasn't always this way.
I learned print letters first and then, in third grade, cursive. Our teacher, Mrs. Townsend, wielded a large wooden contraption that held three evenly spaced metal prongs joined by a strip of wood. Each prong held a piece of chalk. Mrs. Townsend would grab onto the tool and rest the chalk against the blackboard, dragging it across the cool slate to create a template for cursive practice. Her demonstrations were enviable, her handwriting perfectly slanted to the right. She allowed only a bit of poetic license, adding a swirl to the start of "Mrs."
I spent hours perfecting my own signature in Mead notebooks and on the inside covers of my treasured Dell Yearling paperbacks. I got pretty good at forging my dad's signature, too, in which all the letters stood straight at attention. My handwriting eventually became my own, though the process lasted until adulthood, through the endless blue books of college essay exams and in the seemingly thousands of times I had to sign my name on our first home loan. In many ways, I'm still practicing my cursive.
But in one of the few opinions I share with the N.C. General Assembly, I'm dismayed that cursive is being dropped from the curriculum in so many places. With the advent of the standardized Common Core educational plan, cursive is no longer required. That edict has met with backlash in a few states, ours among them.
I'm not a cursive advocate because of some wholesome, anti-technology bent. I believe it provides benefits beyond a really impressive-looking wedding invitation. Maria Montessori, the Italian physician who was the first to develop an educational philosophy based in science, believed children should be taught cursive first. When a young child doesn't pick the pencil up from the paper and writes in a continuous motion, Montessori suggested, the errors diminish and the critical connection between the hand and the brain flourishes. Steve Jobs famously studied calligraphy—a seemingly useless course—at Reed College. During a commencement speech decades later at Stanford, he credited it with making the Mac the "first computer with beautiful typography."
When I moved to New York after college, my father sent me a postcard each week. He'd offer a bit of news, a weather update or a joke; they made me feel closer to home, linked by a long thread of ink. I can still imagine Dad at his desk with a pen held low in his hand, pausing to consider his words (there's no delete key on a postcard) and then affix a stamp. I've kept every card, but I can recall his handwriting without looking at them. Cursive isn't about shunning technology: It's understanding that the recipient will recognize your handwriting as readily as they do your smiling face and, in it, find the same comfort.
Memsy Price lives in Durham.