I come to the realization that I teach English, not when I have encounters with simple past and past participles, but when I get to read student writing. I look at the stack of journals to be marked and avoid marking because it seems tedious. However, once I begin to read what my students have penned, it is usually a delight for me.
Sometimes what the students say is not as interesting as how they convey it.
One of my students forgot his journal, so at the end of the day he handed me the notebook in which he takes notes. Inside the notebook I found all manner of drawings of dolphins, horses, and stars. This student is one of the most engaged in the class—he offers feedback, participates in discussions, looks at me when I speak. When did I ever talk about dolphins? Never. I recall reading that some students process information better when they doodle. I assume this is the case for my dolphin-sketcher.
Another student is able to turn any kind of opinion writing into a chart, graph, or diagram. When I look at his writing, there is an overwhelming sense of movement on the page. Arrows, boxes, and circles assist his discussion. He always writes in italics. I am not quite sure how he manages to have all of his script at a perfect twenty-three degree angle.
Other students can’t write on a line. Some use circles to dot their i’s. Some have never used a comma, and some abuse the comma like it’s a drug. Some write incredibly small characters, causing me to beg for a magnifying glass as a gift. Others use letters so big that a one-page writing assignment can have only three sentences on it.
I like encounters with the written word, the really, genuinely written word. I get a better sense of a person and of their personality. Typing is great; I like hearing the click-click-click of a machine. There is something melodic about it. But somehow handwriting is magical. It creates a different kind of connection between the reader and the writer. Handwriting conveys another level of understanding to the reader.
A colleague informed me a few weeks ago that cursive handwriting will no longer be taught in schools. In 2011, several U.S. states erased cursive in favour of more practical typing classes. The trend has spread and reached the province where I live. Almost everyone was happy to see this change, except for a few nonsensical romantics like myself. When people do not yet know their own artistic voice, having an artistic way to communicate—with cursive script, for example—assists in the building of an artist.
Individual variation creates artistic distinctiveness. When I think of cursive writing, the first image that comes to mind is the original document of the Declaration of Independence. I could not quote the information contained within the Declaration, but the image is plastered on my mind like wartime propaganda posters on a wall. When I look at the writing in the Declaration, I can see the excitement without even reading the words. The style of writing itself communicates independence. Independence was celebrated three hundred years ago with plume and paper, and now it seems time to move on to something else. Perhaps this is why people are saying good-bye to handwriting. In the words of an Italian art-history student I once knew: “Independence is no more trendy.” Now that artistic style is being erased, let’s hope we don’t all start to say the same things as well.
My students don’t have to write in cursive, but they do have to write with their own hand. Perhaps more than an assertion of independence, it’s an acknowledgement of the incarnate self. The written word is the extension of a hand—a hand to help, support, to extend grace.
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. – 2 Thess 3:17-18