Writing links: on redundant language; on handwriting and typing

While cleaning out my reader last week, I came across a post by Lisa Jackson (Live To Write – Write to Live) entitled Tighten your writing by removing redundancies.  Lisa discusses some common cases of redundancy that we often encounter in what we read and write, and really opened my eyes to mistakes that I have made while blogging and journaling.  Apologies to my readers who have suffered through my possible use of terms such as “completely destroyed” as well as other mistakes I may have made in my posts.  This now goes on my list of ways to improve my writing.

Blogging (and following bloggers) fascinates me, in part, because blogs/posts can be written at any skill level.  I know that for me, blogging has helped me to improve, and I continue to build on those skills whenever I write, publicly or privately.

I follow several writing blogs, which is a fun way to learn new things.  Sometimes I think that if I had known that I would be as interested in certain skills – such as writing – when I was in school, I would have been much more focused on them, and my life might be very different now.  Alas, we can never go back in time to correct these mistakes, but learning is a lifelong process, so I’m thankful for that.

Along those lines:  Katia Hetter, in a special report on CNN.com, caught my eye with her article entitled Nation of adults who will write like children?  Hetter’s general premise in the article is that, as we have become a more technology-based culture, handwriting skills in young people have rapidly declined.

One fact that took me by surprise was that 46 of the 50 states have adopted the Common Core Standards, which do not require that cursive writing be taught.  I remember back in the 1980s, when I was in the second and third grades, being a solid B handwriting student – in other words, while I was competent, I wasn’t great at it, and it was one of the more frustrating subjects for me at the time.  However, it was good enough that I now have what I consider to be, for a male, a better than average signature.

On the other side of the coin, there was typing.  I have absolutely no recollection of my guidance counselor ever recommending that I take a keyboarding course in school.  I know that they existed, because I know that other students took keyboarding, but for some reason it never crossed my mind that this was a necessary skill, and my counselor never suggested otherwise, and I never asked, and… well, as a result, I can’t type as fast as I would like.  I don’t search and peck, thankfully – I’ve become familiar enough that I can type much of what I want to say fairly quickly – but I am certainly not the master of my keyboard.

When I got to college, I began to wish that I had learned this skill, but the relatively small number of papers that I was required to write (I was a math major for much of my college life) wasn’t enough encouragement to push me to learn at that age.  Instead, I developed the method that I use now, which has allowed me to type at a sufficient pace – readers of this blog and my last know that I can write some very long posts, and those would never be possible using just my index fingers, eyes down – but it was about this time that I wondered why touch typing had not been a required part of my curriculum at some point.

The article mentions that some states are beginning to include keyboarding requirements, which I am glad for, since it is a skill that I wish had been required in my day.  However, handwriting has also served me well.  In addition to my signature, I’ve written many notes and letters, and writing in cursive allowed me to finish exams in school and college that would have been made more difficult had I not been able to use a handwriting method where letters flow together.

I read many comments* on the article that generally laughed off the endangered state of cursive writing and reading, including one person who joked that he doesn’t “know how to hand-crank a car, but (he) seem(s) to be fine.”  While most of the comments were derogatory of the article, I found it to be relevant – with thirteen years of a child’s life dedicated to grades K-12, it seems like there should be plenty of time to require both skills.  To my knowledge, they wouldn’t require more than a semester or two of teaching – as with cursive, keyboarding is a skill that can be further developed and refined through usage.

I don’t use cursive nearly as much as I used to, but in an age where typing has largely surpassed it in importance, I still find it to be valuable.

*Several commenters to Hetter’s article noted that poor content and usage are bigger problems than handwriting skills, and that is a valid point.  While cursive writing may not be as important in our world today, communication skills are as important as ever.  I’m not going to comment any more on that right now – complaining about how poorly someone else writes is not the crux of this post.  The cursive/keyboarding topic interests me because it’s something that I’ve thought about many times in my life, so I thought I’d comment about it here.


2 Comments on “Writing links: on redundant language; on handwriting and typing”

  1. Tesh says:

    I’ve never liked cursive. It’s less readable than print and prone to sloppiness which introduces errors, like the “running style” of Japanese kanji writing. I won’t miss it if it dies a long-deserved death in public curriculum. I don’t mind retaining it as a stylistic art form (and a security feature for signatures, perhaps), but letting it pass from common use is a Good Thing in my eyes.

    Then again, I’m clearly biased, as I had a bad experience in elementary school with cursive. I was a great student, and was set to skip the third grade (jump from second to fourth) so I didn’t have to deal with a year of stupid busywork. The principal of the school overrode the teachers’ recommendations purely because third grade was where they taught cursive, and he didn’t want me to miss that. I didn’t like busywork or cursive before that, but that maneuver deeply pissed me off, and to this day, I do not use cursive and I still hate busywork in education. In my mind, that was a clear failure of the education system, and demonstration of its warped priorities.

    I still have great handwriting, though, and I’m very fast. It comes with practice more than anything else, and I’ve written a LOT over the years. I almost always have a sketchbook and a handful of writing tools with me, and not a day goes by that I don’t use them.

    • Russ says:

      Wow, I’m sorry to hear about your third grade experience. I’ve often reflected on all of the waste, the busywork, that was handed out in school. I never had the opportunity to skip a grade, so I can’t personally relate to that, but I totally understand your point.

      My cursive tends to deteriorate during a writing session, and that was always something I had to combat while writing exams in school, because you can’t technically answer the question if the professor can’t read the answer. I would have switched to printing if it would have been any better, but I often have similar issues there – and I can’t print as fast, legibly, as I can write cursive. Furthermore, teachers and professors always discouraged printing for exams (except for math and science) when I was in school…

      Perhaps my opinion on cursive is colored by the fact that school was often easy for me, and so, in my mind, taking a semester to teach each child cursive (or keyboarding) at some point would not be to the detriment of other aspects of a person’s education. However, each person has a different experience during their school years, and I can respect that. Admittedly, I don’t use cursive as much as I did in school, and I encounter it much less now (greeting cards from family consist of the majority of cursive that I have to read).

      In your case, where you had to essentially waste a year of school in order to learn cursive, your principal certainly failed you, putting something of a technicality before the greater good (which is to give an exceptional child the opportunity to be challenged if the status quo isn’t adequate for that). If they felt so strongly about cursive, and you were ready for fourth grade, they should have been able to provide you with an opportunity to learn it anyway.

      School certainly wasn’t perfect, and I CAN relate to that. As I said, I’m still annoyed about the keyboarding thing. 😛

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