Tuesday Tabs and Takes

Two of the past four presidents have taken office despite losing the popular vote. Senators representing a majority of Americans are often unable to pass bills, partly because of the increasing use of the filibuster. Even the House, intended as the branch of the government that most reflects the popular will, does not always do so, because of the way districts are drawn.

FILED UNDER: Tab Clearing, , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Mu Yixiao says:

    Regarding cursive:

    While I see no real need to teach kids how to write in cursive, I’m fully behind teaching them how to read it. The reason is simple: Hundreds of years of our history is written in cursive. If you can’t read it, you can’t learn that history from the source.

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  2. CSK says:

    AFAIK, most private schools still teach cursive.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao:Where would your average person encounter the original of a cursive document rather than the transcription?

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My mother’s cursive was half printing. I even got in trouble once because a teacher was absolutely certain I was faking her signature. Myself, I just print these days. It’s easier to read, even for me.

    As far as segregation by sex in sports, my eldest granddaughter, 14 yo, is on her Sophomore football team. She’s among the tallest on her team and the only girl on the field that isn’t a cheerleader. This is her 2nd year playing. She plays defensive end most of the time, sometimes nose tackle. Currently on the sidelines with a broken hand after somebody stepped on it while she was making a tackle.

    To say the least, I am very proud of her. It takes a lot of courage to be the one and only.

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  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    A couple of times a month I have to write thank you cards, in cursive, to donors. Two to three sentences a card, nothing hard. The first one usually takes me half an hour just to remember how to make each letter. Half of my capital letters I either make up or just use the print version.

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  6. Franklin says:

    While I only skimmed that article, I might agree that separating sports by sex for younger kids makes little sense. But it gets pretty competitive in high school, and just thinking of the running sports in my area, you’d just end up with most boys ahead of most girls. I’d imagine this would be frustrating.

    Of course, we could separate sports by other criteria. I never once made a basketball team, despite trying out four years in a row with above average skills. My main problem? I was a late bloomer in terms of height. Shortest kid in my whole class. I could dribble circles around one kid, but he was a foot taller and coach chose him.

    /still bitter
    //(not really)
    ///ended up nearly average height, but not until about junior year of college

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  7. Scott says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of family history these last couple of years. One branch were basically businessmen in late 1800s Cleveland and a great great uncle ran a business school. Looking through the Cleveland directories with addresses and ads, I was astounded at how many business schools there were and that a lot focused on handwriting, specifically Spencerian cursive.

    Here’s a quick article on that period of handwriting.

    How That Nineteenth-Century Handwriting Got So Pretty

    In the days before typewriters, people engaging in business correspondence needed to learn how to write legibly. The Spencerian hand was meant to be both easy to read and lovely to regard. In its perfectly slanted, liquid shapes, it was supposed to reflect forms found in nature.

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  8. @Mu Yixiao: I figure it will be a research skill that certain types of scholars need, but I can’t see it as being a skill the general population would need or want.

    Serious question: can you think of a situation in which even an intellectually curious person would be likely to encounter cursive?

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  9. Scott says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Genealogy. Have you ever tried reading German baptism documents?

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: @Steven L. Taylor: If you’re someone who’s into genealogy you’re going to be slogging through a lot of copperplate handwriting. Or not so copperplate.

    And if you’re a historian looking at anything pre-1980s whatsoever, original research will probably expose you to a LOT of handwriting. People’s diaries? handwritten. Letters to relatives? probably handwritten (unless it’s one of those dreadful Xmas card letters chirpily boasting about all the feats of the family over the past year. Then it’s purple Courier.)

    And if you’re reading anything non-official, then godhelpyou deciphering the scrawls of personal handwriting. Secretaries would scribble notes to themselves in what was definitely non-formal manuscript (and whatever the local dialect was.)

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  11. Michael Cain says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Serious question: can you think of a situation in which even an intellectually curious person would be likely to encounter cursive?

    Have in-class essay questions disappeared from college? Non-traditional — that is, older — students?

    How embarrassing would it be for a professor to hand out the exam questions and then remind me, “Mike, don’t use cursive, I can’t read it.”

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  12. Richard Gardner says:

    @Scott Spencerian Cursive was replaced by the Palmer method after 1900, still lots of perfect loops but some of the frills were removed, making it much faster to write. I suspect those older cursives also taught great hand-eye coordination
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmer_Method “To educators, the method’s advocates emphasized regimentation, and that the method would thus be useful in schools to increase discipline and character, and could even reform delinquents” [huh?]

    I never do a cursive “Q”

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  13. @Scott: @grumpy realist: But I don’t think any of that qualifies as sufficiently general enough to justify teaching it as a basic subject.

    I would suppose that if one were really into genealogies one would take the time to learn to read cursive. It would clearly be a skill that a serious historian would need.

    @Michael Cain:

    Have in-class essay questions disappeared from college? Non-traditional — that is, older — students?

    How embarrassing would it be for a professor to hand out the exam questions and then remind me, “Mike, don’t use cursive, I can’t read it.”

    In my experience, most student print those things (and have for years).

    But still, the odds that the older professor would not know cursive and yet the younger student would seems unlikely.

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  14. @grumpy realist:

    And if you’re reading anything non-official, then godhelpyou deciphering the scrawls of personal handwriting. Secretaries would scribble notes to themselves in what was definitely non-formal manuscript (and whatever the local dialect was.)

    But I suppose part of the point is that if it isn’t taught, then it dies out and those scribblings will be printed.

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  15. Scott says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Given all the other things that have to be taught, I would agree. We’re not going to increase the number of grades, the length of the school day, or the length of the school year. It is probably more important to teach more keyboarding and computer skills. Given the increasing voice control of devices, maybe teaching how to speak clearly and precisely is something that needs to be enhanced.

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  16. CSK says:

    In my experience, writing in cursive is a lot quicker than printing by hand.

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  17. Mister Bluster says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:..my eldest granddaughter, 14 yo, is on her Sophomore football team.

    Good for her. I’m assuming that she attends public High School in Missouri. I’m glad that the Show-Me state can show me such an enlightened attitude.

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  18. Mikey says:

    @Scott:

    Have you ever tried reading German baptism documents?

    That’s a special kind of cursive straight from the bowels of Hell.

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    For decades I found that if I took notes by typing, I couldn’t concentrate as well on what was being said, so I took notes by hand, in cursive. This despite the fact that I’ve been able to type since I was 14, and have programmed since I was 16. 10 years ago I switched to a note taking program on an iPad, but still writing cursive with a stylus. But in the last couple of years I find that I type the notes and simply explain that I am pausing to write something down. Probably less efficient but with video meetings it just seemed to be the way to go.

    I can’t imagine kids who have been “keyboarding” since four years old would need to go through any of this.

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  20. @MarkedMan: I agree that writing out notes is better than trying to type them. But I used printing rather than cursive, and have for decades.

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  21. And I use an iPad with an ApplePencil, which I really love.

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  22. Kathy says:

    I didn’t take cursive in elementary school, and I never felt the lack.

    I can do a kind of cursive, and everyone else can too, simply by not lifting the pen between letters.

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  23. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, @MarkedMan, it’s interesting. I can’t take handwritten notes for the same reason. I never have. I think I have some sort of LD. Writing takes up an overpowering amount of my concentration, and does not produce script that is terribly legible – unless I use printing, after learning to do block printing from my work in a civil engineering field office. Fortunately, I have a really good memory for things that are said to me.

    And then, when my wife had the brain tumor that resulted in a melon-ball-sized chunk of her frontal lobe being removed (that was 8 years ago and she’s doing well, thanks) we discovered that her habit of taking handwritten notes with minimum effort had left her entirely. Not cursive, not printed, nothing. She has switched to keyboarding, which works better than handwritten does now, but worse than handwritten used to work for her. (Also, her ability to play Boggle went to crap – I could actually beat her!)

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  24. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    While I see no real need to teach kids how to write in cursive, I’m fully behind teaching them how to read it. The reason is simple: Hundreds of years of our history is written in cursive. If you can’t read it, you can’t learn that history from the source.

    Thousands of years of our history are written in hieroglyphs. Do our children need to know how to read that too?

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    When I was a kid in school in France (2d-4th grade) I had beautiful handwriting. We used actual dip-in-the-inkwell fountain pens and cahiers with four lines, and the whole enterprise was backed up by face slapping. I could have written the Declaration of Independence. Every capital letter was ornate and balanced, every regular letter was, well, regular.

    Now? I am so far gone into keyboard world I can barely (not an exaggeration) make out a check in block print. Useless skills tend to atrophy. Also forgot most of my once-fluent French, although my accent is still passable and for some reason 6×7=42 is still six fois sept quarante-deux in my head.

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  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mister Bluster: Lindbergh School District. It’s one of the better school districts in the STL area.

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  27. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Serious question: can you think of a situation in which even an intellectually curious person would be likely to encounter cursive?

    I encounter it every Thursday going through the old notes for our business. For about a year, I encountered it every week as I transcribed my grandmother’s recipes for publishing online. I encounter it every Wednesday when Mom gives me her shopping list. I encountered it for about a week going trough my Dad’s things after he died. I’ve encountered it hundreds of times reading the notes on the backs of photos that my dad took during WWII, and during his outlaw biker days after the end of the war.

    Shall I go on?

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  28. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Thousands of years of our history are written in hieroglyphs. Do our children need to know how to read that too?

    Nice strawman.

    “History” isn’t all ancient. As stated above: A grandmother’s recipes, family photos, letters from relatives 50 years ago. All of which are history, and don’t involve getting a master’s degree.

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  29. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Which hieroglyphs, Mayan or Egyptian?

    And what about Cuneiform, Linear A, Linear B (I forget which one hasn’t been deciphered), Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Cyrillic, and all those others I don’t even know the names of?

    BTW, deciphering cursive isn’t hard, at least with the Latin alphabet.

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  30. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    “History” isn’t all ancient. As stated above: A grandmother’s recipes, family photos, letters from relatives 50 years ago. All of which are history, and don’t involve getting a master’s degree.

    Yes, but what about my mummy’s recipes? ;P

    A Bread Recipe Discovered in Ancient Hieroglyphics

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  31. JohnSF says:

    Of course cursive should be taught in school!
    “The innocent must suffer, in order that the guilty may laugh.”
    😉
    And get off my lawn.

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  32. Jen says:

    I find printing to be laborious and inefficient. Cursive is far easier for me.

    For whatever reason, the idea that many Americans couldn’t read an original Constitution–that it would be to them as indecipherable as hieroglyphics–is a bit sad (and weird).

    Whatever, I suppose. Time marches on.

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  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes, but what about my mummy’s recipes?

    I appreciated that. Lord knows, no one else might, but I did.

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  34. Mister Bluster says:

    Gov. Reeves tells Hattiesburg audience it’s ‘great day to not be in Jackson’

    Reeves is trying to keep up with another mature adult Republican male in the continuing competition to see who can be the biggest jerk.

    I know, I know. To the MAGA crowd being a jerk is a feature not a bug.

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  35. @Mu Yixiao: All fair enough–but is that enough to continue to have it taught in the schools? (Especially since if it isn’t taught, the incidences you are mentioning will fade from significance over time–as I suspect is already happening).

    And to @Kathy‘s point, if you know the alphabet, it isn’t impossible to decipher cursive.

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  36. Gustopher says:

    Why are we viewing the loss of cursive as a problem? It’s our own secret code that Gen Z cannot understand. What if we need to hide something from the kids? Something horrible that we are doing, that they wouldn’t understand?

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  37. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    All fair enough–but is that enough to continue to have it taught in the schools?

    Enough so that kids can read it? Yes. I’m not saying stress it like it was when we were in grade school, but a week or two of learning how to read it? Absolutely.

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  38. CSK says:

    We took penmanship classes every week, if not every day, in elementary school. When I got old enough to be a smartass, I’d protest to the teachers that they were pushing conformity on us and that handwriting was meant to be an expression of individual personality.

    P.S. I always had good handwriting.

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  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Ah yes. Another of Mu’s outlier examples that mysteriously represent the conditions in the rest of the world with a stunning visionary quality.

    Teach it, don’t teach it. Pick one and stay with that. The problems educating school children come more from reinventing the wheel every 5 years than from the tiny flat spot at one point on the roll.

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  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: I find printing difficult and cursive impossible but mostly because the tremor in my hand has finally gotten to the point where I simply cannot muster the fine motor control to keep the tip of the pen/pencil on the paper long enough to form a letter.

    WE SHOULD OUTLAW HANDWRITING ALTOGETHER! MY SITUATION PROVES IT!

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  41. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Teach it, don’t teach it. Pick one and stay with that.

    You mean… repeat what I said in my very first response?

    While I see no real need to teach kids how to write in cursive, I’m fully behind teaching them how to read it.

    There are plenty of things that we give cursory instruction in so that students are able to recognize and understand the basics of them. Every student in our high school was required to learn the basics of reading music–but didn’t need to learn how to compose it (or even the basics of theory). At least half the school learned how to read a recipe without learning how to develop or modify one, and the other half learned how to read a blue print without having to learn how to design anything.

    We (at least used to) teach kids how to read news articles and understand how to think critically about sources and how things are stated without them having to know how to write in a journalistic manner. We teach them to recognize various art styles without them ever picking up a paint brush.

    There’s zero conflict in the statement “teach them to read it, but don’t spend an entire year making sure they get the little curl on the G just right”

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  42. Kathy says:

    Speaking of cursive, how many learned Roman numerals in school?

    We also learned Maya numerals, in math class, and in algebra we learned different base number systems, like binary and hexadecimal.

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  43. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Well, I learned Roman numerals early on in school. Not Mayan, though. Wish I had. That would’ve been fascinating.

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  44. DK says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    There are plenty of things that we give cursory instruction in so that students are able to recognize and understand the basics of them.

    Very good point. I’d posit this describes the majority of our schooling. The mathematics necessary to get by in life could probably be taught in a couple of years. But usage alone is not the only reason to teach math.

    Much of education is not utilitarian but about skill building: critical thinking, analysis, information synthesis, manipulating data, overcoming difficulties, fulfilling responsibilities etc. I don’t remember most of my general education courses from college, but I do remember those courses increased my ability to tackle difficult information and — despite boredom and fatigue and competing priorities — put in the necessary effort to excel anyway.

    At USC, we called the walk back to dorms after pulling an all-nighter to turn in a term paper or final exam “The Triumph Walk.” You knew the intracacies of Anciet Chinese History weren’t going to serve you much in life, but you pushed through to get to your triumph walk, and in doing so picked up skills that would serve you.

    A famous writer, I think it was Stephen King, once claimed to still write first drafts in longhand, because he found that typing stunted his creativity. Writing in cursive slows him down and activates a different part of his brain, he said. Maybe a worthy research subject for linguists, graphologists, and psychologists.

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  45. Jen says:

    @DK: Back when I was writing more fiction–short stories–I preferred writing in longhand simply because I was less able to edit as I wrote. Using the computer I would stop, revise, tinker, use the built-in thesaurus, change things around…and never really get any writing done. Longhand forced me to get it down first, then edit.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I’m sure you realize this but I’ll reiterate just in case–my statement about cursive was literally just about what I prefer and was not in any way, shape, or form prescriptive of what others should do.

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  46. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    We were taught Roman numerals in grade school*, and binary in middle school (?). I don’t think we did more than touch on base 8 and hexidecimal (computers really weren’t a thing then, so hex wasn’t as relevant). It was, all in all, a couple hours, tops. But enough to get us to understand the basics.

    I even had a class where we learned some basic Egyptian hieroglyphs. And Greek letters came in at some point (before we got to physics/advanced maths).

    ========
    * Whenever someone asks why we need to know Roman numerals, I point to either the copyright notices on movies, or the current Superbowl logo. 🙂

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  47. DK says:

    @Jen:

    I preferred writing in longhand simply because I was less able to edit as I wrote.

    Makes sense.

    So, yeah, I don’t know enough to argue that schools should or shouldn’t teach cursive. But I don’t necessarily think whether or not kids will use it as adults is the only metric educators should consider when making that decision.

    I don’t remember the last time I used calculus, but I appreciate being forced, kicking and screaming, to take the class in high school. For all sorts of reasons.

    Then again, maybe the time spent cursive and calculus would have been less wasted on serious foreign language study, something I could use now. So who knows? Lots to consider.

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  48. Scott says:

    @DK: I do think that your thinking process from writing long hand is different than using word processing. Way back in college I could write up (or type up) a paper from an outline and still end up with complete thoughts, rational progression of words, etc. Today, I word process. I throw a bunch of thoughts on a page and then proceed to rearrange them. I go back and look at some of the papers I saved and just marvel at how good they were. As if I were a different person then.

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  49. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Speaking of cursive, how many learned Roman numerals in school?

    Slowly raises hand while sitting on the Group W bench at the very back of the class.

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  50. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mu Yixiao: * Whenever someone asks why we need to know Roman numerals, I point to either the copyright notices on movies, or the current Superbowl logo.

    I’d hate to say that both of those are prime examples of why it was a complete waste of time teaching that shit, but then I suspect that is exactly why you used them.

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  51. Jen says:

    I learned Roman numerals, and for me the real value was the realization that even numbers could be represented in a different way. I learned about the Maya numeric system in an episode of NOVA, I think. Very interesting.

    Different alphabets, different languages, different numbers, different ways of writing–IMHO, much of the value of learning about these could be in the understanding that there are different ways of conveying information.

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  52. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I would say that timing of the teaching to read cursive might be the most important element in teaching it but only because I’ve studied about unlearning/extinction curves while I went to teacher college. My basic variation would be to teach cursive reading skills to students who are going to use the skill long enough to imbed the learning. Your suggestion sounds like more of a “one and done” prophylactic than a real teaching endeavor.

    As to when the instruction should take place? I dunno. For a lot of kids, “next year” will always be as good as “right now.”

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  53. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK: Speaking as a person who has taken instruction in linguistics, graphology, and psychology (as it relates to learning), I can assure you that such studies are done with great frequency. From what I understand, what we’ve learned is that Stephen King’s advice is good for people who approach the writing task with his work ethic and attitude and not as good for people for whom a “messy” page is a sign of failure. To use myself as an example–though not for the purpose of creating a hard and fast one-size-fits-all ruler–my writing improved in content. length, tone, and style from switching from hand drafted rough drafts to handwritten notes used to create a word processed first draft. I’m still not “a writer” by any measure, but that’s because I don’t care for the recursive process that extremely long forms and fiction require. I don’t have the patience for it.

    I did become pretty good at teaching students to produce 500-2000 words by the end of business and made a decent, though not stable, career out of being able to teach it.

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  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: Of course I understand that. And moreover, I wish it had worked the same way for me when as a student one of my teachers suggested that I shift to printscript because my cursive was almost entirely illegible. (Which started a hostile relationship with other teachers who insisted that I “write cursive like grownups do” but is a story for another day, 🙁 )

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  55. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK: NO! NO!! NO!!! There is exactly one right, salutary, and perfect way to teach EVERYONE! We just haven’t discovered yet–despite looking for 5000 or so years. 😉

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  56. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I was trying to figure out why I needed to know which SuperBowl it is considering that I don’t even watch the game. I’m really falling behind.

    (And I won’t even start on how if I need to know the year a movie was made, I look on Wikipedia.)

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  57. grumpy realist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It could be worse–we could be insisting that everyone use Gothic Blackhand and use the contractions so prevalent in legal Latin.

    Russian is another language which is quite different between the handwritten form and the printed form, to the point that you bet your buns you’re going to have to study to learn how to read the stuff.

    And let’s not get into Japanese “grass hand”….

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  58. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So many bytes used up arguing over cursive v. print. We need to get a life.

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  59. CSK says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Well, you must admit it’s more interesting than those two self-infatuated twits Harry and Meghan.

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  60. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @CSK:
    Or we could be the idjits the FDA is having to warn about the following:

    The warning comes months after a popular TikTok trend in which users cooked chicken in a mixture of ingredients used in NyQuil and other similar cold medicine products.

    Although speaking only on behalf of this particular Luddite, if you’re dumb enough to try (a) cooking chicken in a mixture of Nyquil (and other stuff) and (b) actually eating it, my position is that you’re too stupid to be allowed to share communal oxygen. But then again, I’m not the nice person some people say I am. (I only play one on television)

    https://www.iheart.com/content/2022-09-20-fda-issues-warning-over-deadly-social-media-challenge/?mid=944409&rid=104919679&sc=email&pname=newsletter&cid=NATIONAL&keyid=National%20iHeart%20Daily%20NewsTalk&campid=headline3_readmore

    *OTOH, I’ve really enjoyed today’s TED talk, apparently titled “Cursive, tool of the debil or savior of mankind?” Seriously, everyone, thanks for this one!

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  61. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen: My Roman numeral revelation was when someone pointed out that there was no “zero”. That the Arab’s introduction of zero and (I think) decimal notation was a tectonic shift. There are some that argue that opening up the ability to easily handle truly large numbers broke a barrier to all kinds of things.

    Can you imagine doing bookkeeping with interest and allocation in Roman numerals?

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  62. Slugger says:

    I think that cursive has little day to day utility, but good calligraphy really lights up a document. My Katubah is pedestrian (I regret trying to save money then), but my sister went for a master calligrapher, and a very impressive and beautiful one was created. Similarly, John Hancock’s signature is truly iconic. Even Button Gwinnett’s is a lot better than typeface.

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  63. JohnMc says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite: Cursive was fun but doesn’t hold a candle to the great maple syrup fight.

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  64. MarkedMan says:

    @Slugger: In China, calligraphers are celebrities and can command the equivalent of a million dollars to do a company logo.

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  65. de stijl says:

    Can anyone tell me why learning cursive is salient or important?

    It was forced upon me in late grade school. I have not done it in decades. No need. Block printing. Everybody can read it. Certainly easier. More widely recognized and understood. No negotiation of idiosyncratic swoopy tendencies required. Straightforward. Democratic.

    What is the point of cursive? Does it improve communication?

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