The Times West Virginian

November 28, 2012

Penmanship a lost art in era of electronics

Times West Virginian

— A headline caught our eye the other day that brought back memories of A. James Manchin.

The headline read: “Some states preserving penmanship,” and if West Virginia’s former treasurer were still alive today, he would be rejoicing that some states were indeed preserving penmanship. A. James always thought this was one of the most important skills a person could have: good penmanship. And cursive writing falls into that category.

The story centered around the state of California, as well as Georgia and Massachusetts, that are bucking a growing trend of eliminating cursive from elementary school curriculums or making it an optional subject. California is among the states keeping long-hand as a third-place staple.

A. James Manchin, as those familiar with him knew, was always quick to praise the school teachers who believed in good penmanship. He had a group given the name of Go-Cat that had special honors for a number of old-time teachers. And most everyone on that list had penmanship high on their list of priorities where school subjects were involved.

A. James thought penmanship should be high on the list of subjects that everyone should learn, and stressed that wherever he could.

The trouble now is that the electronic era is upon us. Most students today have probably never written a letter — at least not the type of letters their parents grew up writing. Everything is emailed.

Christina Hoag of The Associated Press wrote that the state’s posture on penmanship is not likely to undercut its place at the leading edge of technology, but it has teachers and students divided over the value of learning following script and looping signatures in an age of touchpads and mobile devices.

If you ever doubted the popularity of such devices, listen for them being turned on when the passengers on your plane get permission to turn on electronic devices. The clicks are almost mind-boggling.

The sad news, for cursive-lovers that is, is that this writing form is fast becoming a lost art. Schools are increasingly replacing pen and paper with classroom computers and instruction is increasingly geared to academic subjects that are tested on standardized exams. And even these standardized tests are on track to be administered via computer within three years.

It sounds as if A. James Manchin would be fighting a losing battle if he were fighting the penmanship battle today.