My son is about ready to graduate from middle school and his yearbook reflects the camaraderie that he and his friends share for one another. Special notes recount good times enjoyed together overall, or particular special events. Some of the messages are general, just wishing him a good summer, and others are more in depth and personal.
It reminded me of my school journey with the ritual of signing yearbooks in those last few days of school, and grabbing phone numbers of friends, or just seeking to make that connection before everyone parts for their separate ways over the summer months. Some friends we hoped we’d see again because they moved once school was out.
Yet it also triggered another reminder. I told my son I wanted to show him something special.
“What is it Mom?” he asked. “Your yearbook?”
“No,” I replied. “Even better.”
From its special place in my home, I presented to him a small and soft suede book not often found anymore, which on the front it reads in script, “Autographs.” I sat down next to him and explained, “This was my Nana’s autograph book. It’s from when she was also in the eighth grade.”
The year was 1938, and among her favorite things she wrote in a section in the book’s front were: the song “Blue Danube,” the Ruth Fielding book series, and author Louisa May Alcott.
My son never had the pleasure to meet his great-grandmother since she died five years before his birth. She told me shortly before her passing how excited she was to eventually become a great-grandmother. Though they never met, I’ve made it a point for my children to know who she was, through photos and stories handed down. They did have the chance to meet my grandfather, who died when they were both small, but still young enough to know who he was, and both of my kids burst into tears upon hearing the news of his passing.
Autograph books are books rarely seen anymore. They were phasing out slightly when my grandmother was young, in lieu of yearbooks, though during her eighth grade year, she didn’t have a yearbook.
I had an autograph book myself that we purchased at a local card store, with Snoopy, my then favorite cartoon character, on the front. When I look at my autograph book, I see signatures and special messages from people in my life now gone, including my grandparents, great aunts who have now passed, distant cousins, elementary school friends, elementary school teachers and others. This is also a special keepsake that I keep close by in proximity to me in my home, and in my heart.
But opening up my Nana’s autograph book for me is a trip down memory lane for sure for both my son, and myself because of the nostalgia of the generation. My grandmother’s interests were way different than my son’s, though when one looks at the bond between friends, it’s still the same. But there are the “cultural” differences, so to speak, such as her favorite game. She had written on the “favorites” page that she liked Jacks, which I had to explain to him what that was. Some of his game references give a nod to Gen Z activities like Xbox.
Showing him his great-grandmother’s autograph book, however, opened up a whole other topic for discussion, which not only brings up the “cultural” differences between the “Greatest Generation” and the Gen Z’ers, their great-grandchildren.
“Mom,” as he looked at the page, “it’s all written in cursive.”
“Well, of course it is,” I replied.
“We don’t use cursive mom.”
I stopped for a moment. I remember my children both practicing cursive writing as elementary schoolers. But having been drilled in cursive myself to the point my writing skills were especially being micro managed due to being a lefty, which was often a predicament for teachers, I decided to explore this topic more with him. Being a reporter and curious person overall, when it’s time to explore a subject…watch out world.
Several times my children had both been asked to sign forms, such as pledges to properly use the Internet while in school. The funny thing is when I’ve asked them to sign their name, they’ve both balked at the idea.
“Do I have to?”
“Well yes,” I’ve told them, “they want both your name printed and signed.”
For my son, he is able to do it, but it doesn’t appear to come as naturally as it did for me when I was that age, as a kid who practiced my signature often. For my daughter, a lefty like her mom, she literally prints both in the printed name area and signature block.
I gave it casual thought realizing that children in this generation are at a bit of a detriment, because of our signature needed on documents, which is a way to identify us each as individuals, and also a way to prevent identity theft. For example, in signing documents with a company I was a partner in and ending up with a crooked business partner, I was able to determine that my former business partner forged my signature on a document, because the “signature” by my name, looked like nothing I’d ever write…not to mention I learned that this person had previous charges in forgery. So learning that children in the Generation Z group are not writing cursive, brought up concerns for me, especially in the days of identity hijacking, when it’s become such a concern. What a paradox…we are more concerned about identity theft than ever, but one small security measure, which is each person’s unique signature, is not being practiced with verve in our schools?
But even more was my child’s reaction to actually reading an entry out of my grandmother’s autograph book from one of her classmates. My son began reading one of the entries, and I was amazed, suddenly had difficulty reading the penmanship, which was much neater than most penmanship I see today (especially mine, which as a reporter is very rushed).
It was when I looked in his yearbook after he told me they don’t write in script that I saw none of the entries were in cursive writing from his friends.
His difficulty reading cursive opened the can of worms for me, and the reporter juices started brewing. It was when I learned that there has been a great debate to keep cursive writing or toss it. “Let Cursive Handwriting Die,” was one cold opinion that I found from an “educator” (I use that term lightly upon reading his insights) from California who praised the controversial Common Core standards in 2013 in The New York Times. To me, the man who wrote the opinion (and I’m allowed to have an opinion of his opinion and opinion of him) is a typical “book smart, common sense stupid” individual.
There are many parents like myself who find the Common Core filled with flaws, and if I was to do my own New York Times opinion piece to counter this guy I’d pen (literally, I would pen it just to rub it in, and scan my penned reply as an image copy along with the printed version) “Let the Common Core Die.” The over 400 comments mostly countering his ridiculous opinion noted everything from signing checks to signing SAT’s with the honor code were required in cursive. In other words, our kids are being shortchanged in life by not learning cursive.
There are many counterpoint articles lauding the importance of cursive writing. In Arizona, a 2014 USA Today article showed that students there, in spite of the Common Core standards were still writing cursive in some communities. And the article iterated that parents also wanted to see its return.
TIME magazine noted that cursive should still be taught in the classroom because of all of the reasons that I’ve already mentioned, combined with the need to be able to read old documents. For me as a genealogist and reporter who pores over old documents, including some from the 1700s and earlier, I understand this need. Even some of those are difficult for me to read, but I am still able to decipher them. But as TIME aptly pointed out, the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, some of our founding documents, kids won’t be able to decipher the originals when asked, since they have difficulty recognizing the cursive script.
New Jersey did make a run for the including instruction of cursive handwriting in the curriculum in 2014, with Assemblyman Ronald S. Dancer (R-12) seeking to make it an act for the State of New Jersey. This noble and practical piece of legislation was referred to the Assembly Education Committee but shows no other traction on the bill A3190.
This bill was reintroduced in 2016 thankfully, with A3042, with Assemblyman Dancer and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-21), having been co-sponsors. There is now an identical bill in the Senate, S2183 that Senator Brian Stack (D-33) has reached across the aisle and has sponsored. I applaud him for doing so.
To me, this sadly shows the politicking involved in our school systems, and I’m not referring negatively to Assemblyman Dancer, since I saw this simple piece of legislation as something to protect the children of New Jersey. Instead, I see the politicking from the other side that something as valuable as this would die, while Democratic Politicians, including Bill Clinton, would hop onto the Taylor Ham versus Pork Roll debate while campaigning for Hillary, a silly piece of legislation that President Barack Obama also jumped onto recently while visiting New Jersey and made national headlines.
While something that is vital to the education of our children with Assemblyman Dancer’s bill is still in limbo though it expresses the importance of teaching penmanship, Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-38) proposed not just designating the pork roll, egg and cheese as New Jersey’s State Sandwich, but Assemblyman Eustace also suggested designating Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese as the New Jersey State Sandwich.
Wow. How much time and money did our legislature waste on a bill about a breakfast sandwich versus a bill that could better our children between the drawing up of these two bills, the discussion tied up with it following, and all the time it received in the press?
An editorial without a byline popped up in the Asbury Park Press, slamming the idea of cursive writing in the schools, but the publication was all over the Taylor Ham versus Pork Roll name debate. In fact, here’s another story on this topic.
Assemblyman Eustace, also a Democrat by the way. See a connection here?
It’s Billary and Barry who are three of the Common Core’s biggest supporters. The Common Core that wishes to quash handwriting…a move that has upset not just parents, but students and teachers.
The Common Core, which prepares children for a battery of test taking, rather than practical life skills, such as signing their names…while tying the hands of our dedicated educators, and keeping them busy with more mandates. Our teachers are maxed out, trying to squeeze all that they must into each school day, just to satisfy the gazillion mandates. Sure, you might argue that cursive writing would be another, but are many of the others that teachers need to be bothered with even useful to our kids?
The Common Core that “dumbs down” our education system to the point reading cursive is now like reading a foreign language to many children. Will my children’s children be able to comprehend my grandmother’s autograph book entries, or will it be like deciphering an ancient language?
The Common Core, which is preventing our children of being able to read the original words of our Founding Fathers. This document contains words that they type and read on a daily basis but in a scripted form is becoming hard to understand. Losing the art of writing and reading cursive not only buries our history, but our important political principles that our Republic was founded on.
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