CURSIVE WRITING SIGNING OUT : KEYBOARDS DOWNFALL OF U.S. PENMANSHIP.
For more than a decade, Millie Pryles has spent a half hour each day standing over second-graders at Westminster Elementary School in Atlanta, making them trace and retrace the ovals, loops and humps that will become their cursive handwriting.
It is a discipline she knows is fast becoming a lost art.
``Both feet on the floor,'' she tells her 7- and 8-year-olds. ``Sit up straight and slant your book.''
After she explains how to form a letter, the children get to work. For those who falter, Pryles guides their hands.
In this computer age, such attention to the fine points of writing has been all but erased from the country's classrooms as a revolution has occurred in how penmanship is taught and practiced. The lessons have become sporadic. Cursive writing is giving way to printing.
The effect can be seen from classroom to boardroom, in notes and letters - that is, when people pass up computer keyboards and write by hand at all. When they do, they are far more likely to print, teachers and handwriting experts say.
Consequently, what began as a matter of practicality has resulted in a graphic generation gap that is bending some rules of etiquette and putting its stamp on the marketplace.
Both Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners, and Peggy Post, who updates the etiquette bible of her great grandmother-in-law Emily Post, say that formal invitations, thank-you notes and condolences should still be written by hand, preferably in cursive. But printed writing has become acceptable, and computer printouts, Post said, ``are better than no note at all.''
Miss Manners, on the other hand, insists that ``there are messages like `I can't live without you' or `I've been thinking this over, and it really isn't working' that must be written by hand, so you are in trouble if you can't write them.'' Print or cursive? ``Block print rings that bell that this is a ransom note, so I'd advise cursive.''
In the marketplace, makers of fine stationery, like Crane & Co., now are competing for computer users. Crane's recently began two lines of formal paper that can be used in laser printers.
``There's something really personal about a handwritten note that a computer just doesn't project,'' lamented Judith A. Gowdy, a product manager for Crane's, which is based in Dalton, Mass. ``But we are trying to keep up with the times.''
Throughout the country, students still begin printing, known as manuscript writing, in kindergarten or first grade. But by second or third grade, when it comes time to learn the more formal cursive lettering, far fewer schools are ushering children through this rite of passage.
``It's one of those things you just kind of squeeze in,'' said Pamela M. Stanfield, the principal at Westchester Elementary School in Kirkwood, Mo. ``Our teachers still have high expectations. But the time spent practicing handwriting has definitely decreased from 10 years ago.''
Unlike earlier generations, which used a uniform, graceful cursive, today's students write in a smorgasbord of styles, mostly print.
The change has as much to do with shifts in educational theory as with children's skill levels and computers.
Carole Kennedy, president-elect of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said that although schools still teach handwriting, regular drill work is a thing of the past. ``It's kind of like we've decided there are more important issues,'' she said.
Many teachers now favor ``content-based learning,'' which means that instead of copying rows of Q's, for example, students write journal entries as a way of practicing letters. Teachers also say drills do not work as well in classes that contain children with learning disabilities.
In a growing number of schools, computer training begins in kindergarten. By second or third grade, students are getting once-a-week typing lessons, so that by middle school, a growing number of children are asking to bring laptops to class. And some schools are letting them.
Some teachers, however, still believe distinguished penmanship is not just practical but an art form and a window into character.
``I hate to see us lose the art of the cursive,'' says Pryles, 49, the Atlanta teacher whose own cursive writing draws praise from her colleagues. ``I just think it's so beautiful.''
Milton Moore, a past president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, said, ``I think the Declaration of Independence would have a whole new meaning if you just printed everyone's name at the bottom.''
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 12, 1996|
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