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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Cards N Time: Handwriting

  • New Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew’s signature, a series of interlocking loops, was so illegible that President Obama said its appearance on all U.S. currency might cause it to be devalued! I told my close friend in Dallas about this article and his comment was that he was a good penman until he went to medical school.
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  • New Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew’s signature, a series of interlocking loops, was so illegible that President Obama said its appearance on all U.S. currency might cause it to be devalued! I told my close friend in Dallas about this article and his comment was that he was a good penman until he went to medical school.
    Handwriting has been devaluating for over a century. My grandfather and father wrote in Spencerian script and I in and my generation write in Palmer script—both pretty and legible. My son and many of his peers print but don’t write cursive. It’s problematic whether future generations will write with a hand-held instrument! They will probably write only when they are unplugged, uncharged, or their battery dies.
    In the Beginning
    Writing began when that first caveman put twig to clay to alert his friend Bubba that the babe who walks upright just moved into the cave down the hill. The rest of us learned civilized writing in the third grade. One afternoon in 1944, Ms. Parks told our class that tomorrow we would learn how to write with the muscle under our right forearm. It seemed an impossibility, eager to learn when she began her lesson the next day.
    Sure enough, she did as promised — sorta. Muscles can’t write, of course, but by the writer to keep his hand immobile, it leaves only his arm to move the hand, and that pesky muscle under one’s arm is what moves it. Voila, the muscle writes!
    That’s the A.N. Palmer method of handwriting. Each of us was given a wood staff holding a nib (metal pen point) and a bottle of ink which we left uncapped in the hole in the upper right corner of our desks. We felt like Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams, the subcommittee of three who drafted the Declaration of Independence.
    We practiced endlessly rotating that muscle to make circles and see-sawing it up and down to make vertical stems for letters and numbers. Keep in mind that we had to do this while forming our marks at a certain slant and height. The paper was ruled to force our lower-case letters to be two-thirds the height of upper-case letters.
    We had transparency and accountability then for Professor Palmer was watching! Periodically, we had to send samples of our writing to him to be graded. If we passed muster, we were rewarded with the much-coveted membership in his “Good Writer’s Club.” Most girls made it, and few boys did, I’m convinced, because God gave girls better eye-hand coordination and small-muscle movement at ten than He did us boys. More likely, I was preoccupied with the girl seated across the aisle from me. I even cheated by using my fingers and still never made it in the Professor’s Club.
    Page 2 of 2 - Classmates
    Ms. Parks is gone now. As a matter of fact, she was gone by the time we left the summer of ’45. Word is that she went nuts and never taught again. (Seems plausible to me.) I recently emailed some of my classmates. Most still couldn’t write with flowing hand! We guys finally got our coordination and small muscle movements — then lost both of them with age! Ads on TV attribute our inability to write to some guy named “RA.”
    They one and all remember these things as I have described them here. Endless repetition of circles and up-and-down thrusts — all at a precise and uniform slant and height. We are still here so I guess good penmanship was not crucial to survival after all. But, we share a common guilt. We DID buy into the ideal of penmanship somehow reflecting our character and work habits. Our writing isn’t pretty now, but it’s legible, in cursive, and we can use it with more than 140 words. And, we can write even when the battery in our pacemaker is running down.
    Moral Education
    Palmer, like most authors of our texts, paid attention to our morals as he taught his craft. Throughout the pages of his manual were pithy aphorisms like, “Clean your pen every day,” or “Try to do your best always.” My favorites were “Growing boys need play,” and “Illness is wasteful.” It worked. My buddies turned out to be about as moral as they were good penman, and I still cheat by using my fingers rather than my muscle to write. To paraphrase Grantland Rice, “And when the One Great Scorer comes to write beside your name, he writes not who won or lost but how you wrote your name.” I did it with a keyboard.
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