Rogue Ink

March 19, 2008

The War on English: So it Begins

I don’t usually like to say such things about people, particularly those who write for Good Magazine, which is an amazing publication and one I would love to write for someday. And I’m aware that the section of the magazine entitled ‘Provocations‘ is designed to, you know, provoke people. That’s cool. That’s great. But this woman is an idiot.

For those of you who don’t want to click on the link, Ms. Anne Trubek postulates that since her son has trouble forming his letters in third grade, he should not be required to learn how to print. Why? Because handwriting, she argues, is arcane. Caput. Gone the way of Shakespearian grammar and MC Hammer pants.

Now, Ms. Trubek goes on to say that we have romanticized handwriting, which is surely true. My own handwriting is a lovely sort of script that makes people stop and ask questions about what Victorian academy I attended in my tender years. I get some admiration for it, somewhat mitigated by the fact that there are only a half-dozen people capable of reading it.

There is, however, a difference, not mentioned in this article, between handwriting and printing. Printing is the stuff we all learned in grade school. Big A, little a, etc. When you printed in grade school, it looked more or less like the stuff I’m typing now. A little more wobbly, but hey, you were six years old, give yourself a break. Printing is what the federal government asks you to do when you fill out your forms to vote, or do your taxes. Because they don’t want to read your handwriting. Your handwriting probably sucks. But everyone can print. Printing is what the ‘stupid’ kids were at least theoretically capable of doing back when Mark Twain was writing about Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Becky, refined little minx that she was, could write in script. Tom could only print. But he could print. He could print ‘Here There Be Pirates’ (or Robbers, or whatever the boys were playing at that week) anywhere he wanted. Hell, Injun Joe could print, and he was a heathenish murdering sort.

Her arguments about the romanticism of handwriting are moot. Nobody romanticizes printing. When was the last time you filled out a form and went, my god, it looks like a sonnet to my lover. Never happened. Here’s what her article boils down to:

My son is having a hard time with a subject in school.

Ergo, the entire school system should change to accommodate my poor, misunderstood, talented offspring.

Which is idiotic.

I’m sure Ms. Trubek’s son is a lovely, talented, intelligent child who washes his hands and makes his bed. I’m sure he worries about the starving kids in Africa and gets all worked up over endangered species. I’m sure there’s absolutely nothing wrong with him developmentally and that his frustration with handwriting is related more to the way his brain processes things than any defect in his intelligence. I’m not mad at the kid here. The kid’s having a rough time. I’m sorry for that kid. I felt that way about multiplication tables. It was a hard year for me, the multiplication-table year. But nobody told me that I didn’t have to learn them, because calculators existed. I just drilled them, over and over. And if you want to know what 7 x 12 is, I can now tell you. Though you really should know yourself, if you got past, I don’t know, sixth grade.

Now, I think standardized testing is a dumb way to teach kids. That being said, there are some things that it is worthwhile that every child know. Basic math, basic grammar, and yes, how to read and write would be right up there. I know she expects her son to be able to read and write, just in a computerized format, but I’m waiting for the day when they’re out, I don’t know, camping in the redwoods, and the kid is out all night, and she’s going crazy with worry. She gets the forest rangers involved and there’s a full-fledged search going on with dogs and everything and the kid shows up, totally fine.

“Why didn’t you TELL me where you were going?”

“I sent you a text message.”

Which never got there, because they were, you know, in the woods. And the kid, at the ripe old age of seventeen, doesn’t have the basic skills at his disposal to write a note.

It isn’t the romantic situations I’m thinking of here. I don’t care that his girlfriend is going to get his lousy post-pubescent poetry in email form rather than a written piece of paper covered in doodles (though, you know, she might. I suspect this is going to be a good way to get yourself a girlfriend, fifteen years from now. Young Trubek, take note. These are good girl-getting tips I’m giving you here. Or, you know, guys, if grow up and happen to swing that way). I’m thinking of the sadness inherent in an adult who cannot write himself a shopping list without the aid of a several-hundred-dollar device.

Ma’am, I believe you to be an idiot. However, I believe you will see the error of your ways around the fifth e-card you get from your tiny son, while all the other mothers are opening up their poorly scrawled ‘I love you Mom’ cards for Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. It’s not the romanticism. It’s the fact that you won’t be able to tell the difference from your son’s e-card and the one that your sort-of-friend from work sent you.

The act of putting a human hand to the world’s surface is called personality. The way we move, think, talk, and create is a living record of who we are. The way your son interacts with the world may never be best expressed through his handwriting. He may he an amazing mechanic or mathematician or debater (though I hope he never has any last-minute edits he wants to scribble in the margins). I swear, though, by the time your son leaves the house, you will want to see the all the little notes he wrote you over the years. Even if he always wrote his ‘d’s backward.

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