Girl, 21, is Handwriting Illiterate: or, The Cursive Double-Cross

Turns out you really do need cursive later on in life.  Sorry for ever doubting you, Mrs. B.

Well.  That is, if you’re in class with gumshoe historians and pick a collection in the Bentley Library from back when typewriters weren’t invented.  My historical guy liked to write 400-page scientifically racist books on the Origin of Adam and the Progression of History.  And apparently he really liked to get the ideas flowing.  He’s got things crossed out, written on top of, then crossed out again.  Then sometimes, there’s a paper stapled on top of the whole mess and that’s mostly crossed out, too.*

It’s not actually all that bad, deciphering my historical guy’s cursive (when it’s not triply crossed out, that is).  It’s a bit like re-learning to read.  I noticed I’ve been relying on a lot of the same strategies that this second grader I work with uses.  Context is a big thing – most of the time, a squiggle of a word on the first run-through of a sentence becomes clearer by the second.  Failing that, I concentrate on the first and ending sounds of the word.  And after that, my recourse is to humbly whisper across the desk for help from a certain generous classmate.  But by God, I wish there were pictures to refer to!

       Seriously, though, this whole experience has made me realize how utterly discouraging learning to read in a classroom of readers must be.  I feel a bit like an albatross.  Most of my classmates are in fact historians-in-training –  and there they are, skimming through typewritten material!  Oh, the luxury, oh the envy!  Is this what my second grader (who is proudly learning to read!) feels like when I poke my head around the door of his classroom and he’s sitting there with a glazed look on his face?  Today, he whispered to me that it took him as long to read one Jack Prelutsky poem as it took the kid across from him to read three.**  And I gotta say, it also takes me about three times longer than my classmates to get through a file folder in History.  Javi, I feel your pain.

So.  This all has something to do with writing, I swear.  Well, a couple things.   First, a nod to glass houses: I can’t deny that my own handwriting and drafting processes are absolute messes, too.  But hey, that’s what computers are for!  And that brings me to my next point (no, not that historian dinner-conversation-starter about the problems of archiving the internet, although there is this):

I am, to my mild discomfort, developing a certain fondness for my historical guy and his horrible cliff-leaps of logic.  So, living in the era of computers and standardized typeface, I asked the internet to explain my feelings.  Apparently readers perceive a difference between handwriting something and typing that same something.  Most of this online musing reads as somewhat of an old-man diatribe on why we should write more letters, g-dd—it.  But there does appear to be a sort of connection handwriting gives to the reader that is absent in text.  This part, too, is up for debate.  I have a pet theory about my irrational fondness and it’s this: my brain is so excited that I can actually understand this guy’s handwriting that I sort of feel obligated to like him.  Parts of this study could be interpreted to support my theory, but at the end of the day I’m just glad the research portion of my History class is over!  Now to write that twenty-page paper …


* Sorry, no pictures to prove it – I signed something agreeing “not to quote, publish, reproduce, or display the blahdeblahdeblah” and I don’t want to deal with AW’s estate or whatever.

**To which I responded, “Yeah, but he didn’t even laugh!”

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