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Tom Purcell: Comeback of Cursive May Bring Handwriting Off the Wall

Get this: After many schools have phased out cursive writing lessons across America, more schools are bringing the lessons back.

As it goes, technology was such just a few short years ago that the emergence of electronic documents — completed on computer keypads — no longer required a handwritten signature.

However, according to The Economist, technology innovations in handwriting recognition are reversing the trend. As more people forgo “clunky” desktop computers in favor of mobile devices, handwriting is now a faster way to input data than keyboards.

“As a result,” reports The Economist, “a number of school boards in America have instigated a return to basics — especially time spent learning longhand.”

Which is great news.

Look, cursive isn’t just a way to put words down on paper or an electronic pad. It helps young people develop fine motor skills.

Second, kids who write in print, rather than cursive, open themselves to the risk of forgery, argued Katie Zezima, a former New York Times reporter now with The Washington Post.

Third, Zezima said, kids who can’t read cursive cannot comprehend historical documents, such as the U.S. Constitution — much like half of our politicians.

I have nostalgic reasons for continuing the art of cursive.

Up into my 30s, I sent, and received, letters to lots of friends all over the country — I still have a box in my attic that contains every single one of them.

The last time I sorted through the box, I stumbled upon a letter I had received in 1985. It was from a fellow I’d gone to Penn State with, who went on to become a newspaper editor in Maine. It was written on a light-blue final-exam booklet with great wit and humor.

As I read it, I was transported back several years to the age of 23. I laughed out loud as I read it. As soon as I finished, I began fishing around the box for more letters.

I found a stack of pink envelopes sent to me by two girls, Bonnie and Tracey, who attended the same college as my friend, Griff. He had them send me an anonymous letter once during our freshman year. A robust correspondence resulted between 1980 and 1984 (and I dated Bonnie in 1985). As I reread those letters, I laughed so hard tears tumbled down my face.

I spent hours that day rereading the dozens of letters I’d received over the years. It was amazing to me how much living I’d done and forgotten about. And I hope the many letters I have sent to many friends brings them similar unexpected pleasure now and again as they root through their own boxes of letters.

One of my most prized possessions is a letter written in 1924 by my father’s father, consoling a woman whose mother had just died. He wrote the letter when he was 21 (he died at 34 when my father was only 3).

I was given his letter in 1997 by the son of the woman my grandfather wrote the letter to. I was struck by how similar my grandfather’s style is to my father’s — how similar his tone and style are to mine — and moved by the beauty and artfulness of his signature.

In any event, I understand that the world has changed. I communicate by email and text these days, just as most people do.

Still, the least we can do is to pass on our powerful cursive tradition to our kids. Maybe they’ll take the time to handwrite a few letters to their friends.

And have something to cherish the rest of their lives.

Tom Purcell, author of Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood and Wicked Is the Whiskey: A Sean McClanahan Mystery, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist​ syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @PurcellTom. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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