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Penkava: The cursive handwriting is on the wall

Published: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 11:36 p.m. CDT

Oh, dear. We’re about to lose yet another one of life’s staples. Just like telephone booths, encyclopedias and movie rental stores, it appears that now cursive handwriting has lost its way in our modern-day society.

Now, I understand the reasoning why a handwritten flowing style of printed language is no longer a necessity. You don’t have to sell me on the fact that in a world of rapidly changing communication modes, there’s bound to be collateral technological damage. I accept that.

I guess what really irks me is that there’s a new generation of kids who get to escape unscathed from the primordial drudgery of loops and hooks and upstrokes and slants. They get a “Get Out of Cursive Free” card while the rest of us had to do hard time in the state penmanship of Zaner-Bloser.

I recall my early battles between pencil and tablet in the primary grades of parochial school. Sister Mary Terminator informed me that no left-handers would be going to heaven, so I had better switch to the right hand or I’d be riding on the elevator that is going down, if you know what I mean.

As hard as I fought it, the pencil always seemed to drift back to my left hand. It felt so natural, so comfortable. Even when my southpaw knuckles received the painful smacks of my teacher’s yardstick, the right side of my brain still put the pencil back into my left hand. In today’s world I would have been called tenacious, but back then I was just a stubborn kid riding a descending elevator.

The end result was that after a while I was ignored during handwriting lessons and left on my own to figure out my own version of graphonomics. The result was not pretty. Nor legible.

After being summarily invited to experience education in the public sector (i.e. My left hand and I got expelled for having “too much energy”) my new teachers inherited the challenge of reading my handwriting. Somehow I survived until college, where my professors informed me that I must utilize a typewriter or seek higher education elsewhere.

But, thanks to Smith Corona, I graduated and became a teacher. However, if my handwriting was difficult to read on paper, you can imagine what it looked like on a blackboard. However, my sixth-grade students eventually learned how to read my Times New Penkavian Font and we were in business.

Everything was fine until I was transferred to the third grade. If you recall, that’s the grade where you learned cursive script. Now the little boy who could not do cursive handwriting would now have to teach it. Yes, the grasshopper must now become the master.

I decided upon a unique teaching strategy that truly saved me. I simply would have my students teach me cursive. I would freely admit my handwriting shortcomings (which they would perceive from Day 1 anyway) and we would strike a deal: They would guide me through the cursive alphabet and I would guide them through life.

Well, the kids loved switching roles and could not have been more compassionate and understanding. And I must admit that over the years I actually got better and better. By the time I retired, my last class gave me a generous C+ in Handwriting.

And, wouldn’t you know it, now that I’m not teaching anymore, they’re going to eliminate cursive altogether. But I guess I’m no worse for wear. My knuckles have healed. I’m not afraid of elevators anymore. And, best of all, after all these years, a pencil still feels right at home nestled contentedly in my left hand.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He submitted his font of Times New Penkavaian and it is being considered under the category, “Indiscernible Typographic Symbols.” He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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