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ArlingtonOpinion‘Old School’ column: The write stuff

‘Old School’ column: The write stuff

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by CAROL McEWEN, for the Sun Gazette

My sister-in-law and I were talking recently when she mentioned a high-school student who had received a hand-written note from her and said, “I can’t read cursive.”

We tsk-tsked a while about the truncated curriculum our current students get.

“What?” we cried. “No penmanship being taught? How can that be?”

That brought back memories of my school training when first learning to print, in second grade. The tablet of paper, attached at the top, had a pair of black lines widely spaced, with a dotted line between them.

First we worked on lower case letters and were told to make the letters “stay at home” so their tops only touched the dotted line and their bottoms touched the solid line.

With a frown of concentration and my tongue sticking out between my teeth, I struggled to make nice round letters with my fat pencil. After a mistake, I’d erase and tear the paper.

It was a big deal for me, too, to remember where the stick belonged on the circle when making b’s and d’s. I get sweaty just remembering it.
After mastering the little letters, we moved on to capitals, above and below the dotted line. Somehow they seemed easier, since we had more space to use.

During third grade, the really hard stuff began with cursive, difficult for a dexterity-challenged kid like me. Luckily, I was a “rightie.” The teachers often discouraged “lefties” since they had to contort their arms into pretzels when writing. I remember thinking they looked like they were writing upside down.

We graduated to ink in fifth grade. I loved my pink Esterbrook pen with its changeable ink cartridge. (Despite what my grandkids think, I did not use a quill pen and dip it in my desk inkwell, although there was a hole for one.) But ink meant no more erasures. Oh, the pressure!

The training we got as kids couldn’t hold a candle to the penmanship taught to the generations before us, however. I remember being in awe of my dad’s signature on my report card. The capital C in his first name and the E starting our last name looked like small clefs on a musical scale – truly gorgeous.

Instead of penmanship, kids now are taught computer skills: researching topics, basiccoding and storing data. I’m thinking of working out a deal with my granddaughter. This Old School type will write her thank-you notes in cursive, if she’ll transfer these extra photos on my phone to “the cloud.”

A resident of Arlington for 40+ years, Carol McEwen sells real estate when she’s not imparting deep insights or sparkling wit in this column. Reach her at carolwrites4fun@gmail.com.

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