Ma­jes­tic cur­sive makes a come­back

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

FRANCESCA Cu­ratilo at­tended three camps this sum­mer: wilder­ness, mar­tial arts and – cur­sive. Yes, cur­sive.

On a sunny morn­ing, Francesca sat in a room prac­tis­ing the ma­jes­tic swoop of an F. “I love how, at the end of the day, you see all the amaz­ing stuff we can do with let­ters,” said Francesca, 6.

At home, she prac­tised her favourites: cap­i­tal R, P, Z, Y, G and A. “When I’m older, I can sign my name on con­tracts in cur­sive.”

Cur­sive in all its flow­ing per­mu­ta­tions – the opal-shaped cal­lig­ra­phy of Spence­rian, the sim­pli­fied and pre­cise Palmer Method; the spare D’Nealian, dis­tin­guished by its saucy “mon­key tails”; the stolid and re­li­able Zaner- Bloser – was once a sta­ple of Amer­i­can el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion. In the class­room pan­theon of read­ing, writ­ing and arith­metic, cur­sive was the writ­ing.

In re­cent decades, cur­sive was de­clared mori­bund, if not dead, af­ter it was shred­ded from the Com­mon Core in most US states. Typewrit­ers, copiers, com­put­ers, phones, a ver­i­ta­ble Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press of culprits, had con­spired to kill it. To­day, many adults utilise a mash-up of cur­sive and print that of­ten can be de­ci­phered only by the au­thor.

Brigid Guertin, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Dan­bury Mu­seum & a cur­sive camp. Sur­pris­ingly, chil­dren and par­ents flocked to it.

The campers, aged 6 to 14, spent their days un­der the guid­ance of teacher Kath­leen John­son cre­at­ing their own ink, scratch­ing their names on pa­per with quills, or with Q-Tips on paint-filled bags, or with their fingers in gen­er­ous shmears of shav­ing cream.

They cre­ated hat ads in cur­sive (Dan­bury is “The Hat City”, hav­ing pro­duced a quar­ter of the nation’s top­pers a cen­tury ago) and pored over post­cards from that era penned in script. Sim­i­lar camps are pop­ping up across the coun­try and in Great Bri­tain.

In the early 20th cen­tury, cur­sive was some­times taught for an hour each day, and all the way through high school. Cur­sive was “all about con­form­ing to rules, other peo­ple’s rules”, said Ta­mara Thorn­ton, a Univer­sity of Buf­falo his­tory pro­fes­sor and au­thor of Hand­writ­ing in Amer­ica: A Cul­tural His­tory. “Your sig­na­ture was the one place where peo­ple could ex­press them­selves.”

The Palmer Method dom­i­nated much of the cen­tury’s teach­ing, said Thorn­ton, though “it wasn’t so much a par­tic­u­lar script as a method of teach­ing” that de­ployed “your whole arm in pen­man­ship cal­is­then­ics”. It wasn’t art; it was ex­er­cise.

Back then, the pre­ferred hand-

Be­cause cur­sive re­quired a level of fine mo­tor skills not typ­i­cally ac­ces­si­ble be­fore third grade, print­ing was em­braced as a way to get younger chil­dren to ex­press them­selves through writ­ing.

Now that tech­nol­ogy has routed chil­dren to com­mu­ni­cate via typ­ing or emo­jis, ex­perts are find­ing more to rec­om­mend about pen­cil and ink. Hand­writ­ing – print or cur­sive – in­creases de­vel­op­ment in three ar­eas of the brain, ac­cord­ing to a 2012 study.

Any kind of writ­ing “is go­ing to have mas­sive ben­e­fits for the brain”, said In­di­ana Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and co-au­thor Karin James.

Other stud­ies demon­strate that stu­dents re­tain more in­for­ma­tion if they write their notes, in­stead of typ­ing them. For all the chal­lenges of cur­sive, young chil­dren ac­quire the skill “very fast, as soon as they get ex­po­sure”, she said.

John­son said: “Now that we have email, no one writes let­ters any more.” In camp, though: “I can teach it my own way. We can have fun and be messy the way you can’t be in school.”

Cur­sive’s resur­gence, Thorn­ton ar­gues, is tied to pol­i­tics. “So­ci­ety has (be­come) ner­vous about de­vi­at­ing from what is the norm,” she said, and cur­sive “tends to make a come­back when con­form­ity is threat­ened”.

Thorn­ton said: “Hand­writ­ing is about nos­tal­gia. It’s about the past, and how we feel about our present and the fu­ture.”

To chil­dren, “cur­sive is an un­known, a se­cret lan­guage”, Guertin said.

“If we don’t build a con­nec­tion to his­tory, and the study of his­tory, how will we know where we came from?” – Washington Post

Pupils prac­tise writ­ing cur­sive on paint-filled bags.PIC­TURES: THE WASHINGTON POST

Pupils write cur­sive in smears of shav­ing cream.

His­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments at the Dan­bury His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, hand­writ­ten in script.

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