Friday, September 25, 2009

white flag

"In the age of computers, I just tell the children, what if we are on an island and don't have electricity? One of the ways we communicate is through writing," she said.

Listen here, if I’m a deserted island then I have greater issues than handwriting. Really? If The Eleven is on the island together we'll just chat – no need to write. What? Am I going to mail her a card? If I’m by myself on the island who exactly am I leaving a sticky note for? That quote is funny on many levels.

The article, hat tip to Dan, does reveal a few things about society and our conservative desire to maintain our days of yore. Do you know why we wrote more when we were in school back in 1972? There wasn’t another option – amazing! Don’t get me wrong, kids need to know how to write, and read writing, in order to get through day-to-day operations but cursive is a joke. This actually came up last fall when G.’s grandmother sent him a very beautifully (hand)-written birthday card. I was standing in the kitchen cooking dinner and pointed out the hand-addressed envelope sitting on the counter (which he didn’t know was for him even though he’d already seen it – you’ll now why in a second). He tore it open reluctantly – can you tear and be reluctant? – threw the savings bond certificate on the floor in disgust (it’s not actual cash or a Pokemon card), looked at the card as if a pig staring at a stopwatch, and said to me, “What is this?” I told him a story about olden folks and how they all have this lovely handwriting skill – my mother has impeccable cursive – and that’s how they write notes to grandchildren. I told him to give it a go and we’d see how far along he could get in her message; this little test began and ended with him uttering “Ddddurrr Ssssssle….I can’t read any of this.” He handed me the card which I read directly to him as if he were blind and I his home aide; “Dear G., wishing you a Happy Birthday….etc.” – all perfectly formed and quite beautiful. Being that he was in fifth grade at the time, and in one of the better school districts in America, I assumed they weren’t teaching cursive anymore. (I actually think they do make the kids learn it but it’s not like my days with Ms. Ferrarini at Rockbrook in Omaha.) I realized at that moment that ‘knowledge’ of cursive in this day and age is only needed so you can read the words, not write them. In fact, I never stuck to cursive much after elementary school and have always done my writing via the man-loved method of printing. As we were wrapping up this little lesson I told him as much, as far as I am concerned: you need to be able to write legibly but whether that’s in cursive or print is up to you. I also told him that he might want to try to remember how to read cursive letters, just in case, but I don’t think either input stuck. There’s nothing left specifically for cursive. I’d like to see schools focus on legibility but even that might be too much to ask for these days.

This also ties into my (former) worry about mapreading skills. I happen to love maps and they’re quite useful for some grand overview needs – don’t even ask us about the geekfest that Dan and I had with maps last weekend. It helps to know where countries or cities are on a map but beyond that, actual map reading is about dead and gone. There won’t be any more trips where my Dad tells me to unfurl the map of the Vancouver city centre and sort out which one-way street northbound is nearest our location. It’s sad, really. I broke down this week and bought a TomTom Go 740 Live GPS for the rig. I’m probably a bit behind the curve on getting a portable for a few reasons: first, I like maps. Second, I felt that all these things were really accomplishing was turning everyone into mouthbreathers. (Oops.) I just feel like I’m pointing the arrow and turning the roundy-wheel thingy and the magic box will take me to my house or the nearest snack. No actual skills involved aside from typing. I know; I shouldn’t make fun of a club I’ve just joined. “I’m hungry, press some letters on the wizard box, find me sandwich, point my car…”

Of course, the problem with the portable GPS and our lack of map reading skills is, “what if we are on an island and don't have electricity?” How will we be able to read the map we happened to have brought along? How will we find the other side of the island?

I’ll stop.


p.s. I’m off to Dallas this evening for a quick weekend visit for my father’s 75th. Do they have the Internets in Texas?

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