The other day my kids revealed a disturbing fact about their fellow students: most of them can’t read or write cursive. This isn’t news from my eight-year-old, but it is from my kids in grades seven and eight. My oldest said her teacher had to stop writing notes on the board and had to print them because most of the students couldn’t read the writing. Because my daughter could read the notes, students asked her to ‘decipher’ it.
This began the wheels spinning in my ancient brain: If the generation of today and those which follow are not properly taught to read and write cursive in the public school system, does this mean in thirty years everything will be typed or printed? Does it mean my children will have a special skill: the ability to read and write cursive? Is cursive going the way of hieroglyphics?
If cursive falls out of fashion, future researchers will need to either learn to untangle the letters or pay to have them translated. This sounds impossible and silly, but how many people can pick up a piece of writing created three hundred years ago and easily read the words and understand them? This is made more difficult when scribes practised their elaborate handwriting skills.
Just a dozen decades ago, many settlers in Canada only dreamt of the ability to read and write. They gathered around oil lamps at night after a hard day’s work to learn the names of letters and put them together to form words in their struggle to become literate. Some paid hard-earned money to have their children educated in a skill they believed unattainable for themselves.
Becoming literate opened doors that were once locked-solid. People could read the newspaper, make informed decisions and record their history in diaries and journals. Their lives the way they saw them was being documented. Many went to great lengths to perfect their ability to write cursive and filled pages with writing. A century later, this basic skill may end up with VHS tapes in the discarded pile.
The loss of cursive writing might be a canary in the coal mine. Statistics reveal four out of ten high school students have insufficient reading skills. Overall, 42 % of Canadians are semi-illiterate. The numbers indicate older adults are more literate than young adults.
The education system is trying to stop the downhill slide of literacy, but I doubt they’ll be able to do anything about the disappearing skill of cursive writing. This means my grandchildren probably won’t be able to read the journals I created for their parents, my genealogy notes or the letters my father sent to his mother while he was overseas during the Second World War.
One option available to us to prepare for this future missing skill is to transcribe what we have. I’ve already transcribed my father’s letters and inserted them into my family tree. Perhaps I’ll tackle my journals and those I created for my children. Then the generations to follow will have easy access to our family history.