Smith: To write — and think — in cursive

If it comes to pass that the typical person cannot write in cursive and, beyond that, can't read anyone's cursive handwriting, so what?

Maybe you'll recall that it dismayed a Santa Rosa woman to hand a Barnes & Noble Bookstore clerk a note bearing a title and author, and to be told by the clerk that she doesn't read cursive.

Elaine Amato had a similar experience, and response, at a Safeway deli counter.

She'd written out an order for three sandwiches, intending that they be prepared while she did her other shopping. "I took my time to make sure it was very neat and legible," Amato said.

But when she passed the note to the young man at the sandwich bar, he glanced at it and told her she'd have to read it to him because he can't read cursive.

Amato finds that shocking and sad, as someone who can't read a cursive deli order might also be stumped by the Declaration of Independence or Mom's old love letters.

"I think computers are great," Amato said. "But not all the time."

It seems many thoughtful people are pondering what, if anything, it means to Americans and our culture for cursive writing — well, all handwriting — to be displaced by keyboard and phone-pad composition and communication.

There is evidence that kids' creativity and motor skills suffer as they move away from writing by hand. It seems the brain engages differently when a person performs all of the pen or pencil strokes necessary to write the word "quintessentially" than when he or she simply presses 16 identical keys.

Some voices warn that kids, their education and the republic will lose out if the ability to write and read a hand-drawn word goes the way of the icebox, dress-up Sunday supper and 5-cent Tooth Fairy exchange. Others say it's ridiculous, given today's technology and classroom demands, to even suggest that schools waste valuable time on penmanship.

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