June 29, 2013

Rachel Jeantel's inability to read cursive leads to articles about why we're even teaching cursive anymore.

Here's one: "Is cursive writing dead?"
A single sentence, uttered in the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, has catapulted an issue into the national spotlight.

When asked if she could read a letter in court, witness Rachel Jeantel, her head bowed, murmured with embarrassment, "I don't read cursive," according to court testimony.
Jeantel was embarrassed, so let's all stop. Let's find everything that some people can't do and feel embarrassed about. And let's ask: Is this really necessary? Is this serving a purpose... other than to make some people feel embarrassed?

Jeantel is an icon not only in the fight to end education in cursive handwriting, but the fight to spare everyone embarrassment. This is the necessary extension of the struggle against bullying, a struggle to control deliberate meanness. But think of all the unintentional things that create emotional burdens for some people. There was a time when sidewalks lacked ramps for wheelchairs, not because anyone was out to make life difficult for wheelchairs, but simply because we failed to notice. Step up — wheel up — and become aware of all the needless barriers out there.

ADDED: When I learned cursive — in the late 1950s in northern Delaware — the word "cursive" was not used. We just called it "writing," "handwriting," or — I think — "manuscript" or "script." Consequently, the word "cursive" has always seemed strange to me.

I hear the ugly words "cur" and "curse," but, looking it up in the (unlinkable) OED, I see the etymology is connected to the Latin for "run" — cursÄ«vus — and the idea is: "Written with a running hand, so that the characters are rapidly formed without raising the pen, and in consequence have their angles rounded, and separate strokes joined, and at length become slanted."

The word "cur" — meaning a low-quality dog — goes back to Middle Dutch, Swedish and Norwegian.
Middle English curre corresponds to... Norwegian (widely-spread) dialect kurre, korre ‘dog’, etc. The latter is generally associated with the onomatopoeic verb Old Norse kurra to murmur, grumble, Swedish kurra to grumble, rumble, snarl, Danish kurre to coo, German obsolete and dialect kurren to growl, grumble, murmur, coo....
So hear the grrrr in "cur."

The word "curse," the OED says, has unknown origin: "Late Old English curs, of unknown origin; no word of similar form and sense is known in Germanic, Romanic, or Celtic."  (Of connection with cross, which has been suggested, there is no trace.)"

Interesting to see that people have imagined that "curse" had to do with "cross," even as I imagined that "cursive" had to do with "cur" and "curse." What words have influenced your understanding of other words? Isn't that something that happened to you a lot when you were a child? Did you ever find it emotionally difficult to learn about something because you made an imaginative connection like this? Would "cursive" be easier to learn if we called it "script"?

119 comments:

Expat(ish) said...

I thought she wrote that letter?

I have been watching the trail over at LegalInsurrection and it's a fascinating train wreck.

-XC

Diego de la Vega said...

The problem isn't so much that cursive isn't taught anymore and that she couldn't read cursive, the problem is that she wasn't able to read a letter that she had purportedly written.

Gabriel Hanna said...

A colleague of mine was annoyed with her university physics class, because they weren't reading the textbook. She made them read aloud, one after another, in class.

She had to stop because it was humiliating them.

Let's lower standards so that no one is ever asked to do anything they can't do and thus suffer embarrassment.

tim maguire said...

Cursive is harder to read and the souce of much confusion and sometimes serious (even lethal) mistakes. But it's easier to write. Except we don't do long-form handwriting anyore. So why waste time teaching cursive?

It's an historical artifact. Establish a webpage and a fanclub and otherwise forget about it.

Ann Althouse said...

"I thought she wrote that letter?"

As many people have done throughout history, she had a scribe. She wanted to the letter to look nice, so she had someone take her words down for her.

She never claimed that it was her handwriting, so don't think she was caught in a lie here. She was not. That's an unfair inference people are making from the fact that she couldn't read the letter.

From the beginning, when that letter came up at trial, it was clear that it was written for her, and the cross-examination was over whether it accurately conveyed her words. It was at that point that her inability to read it came out.

AprilApple said...

All sorts of things are not taught anymore. The bureaucrats and unionists who run the public schools need a bonus, a raise and an early pension.

Ann Althouse said...

When I learned cursive in school, it wasn't called "cursive." It was just called "writing." Writing as compared to "printing."

We would say: We're learning writing. Or: We're learning handwriting. Or even -- if my memory is correct -- manuscript. Later I heard script. Only much later did I hear "cursive." That word has always annoyed me.

AllenS said...

In other words, someone tried to teach her cursive writing and, one would think reading it, but she never learned.

Why teach math any more. We have little computer like devices that can add and subtract for you.

Why teach any history. That stuff won'd happen again.

The most important aspect of this is that she went to school and didn't learn a fucking thing. She is basically illiterate. Not only can she not read or write cursive, but she also cannot say a sentence using verbs.

The scandel is that most blacks in these ghetto neighborhood schools are the same way.

This is one child who has been left behind.

Why teach anyone anything.

Michael said...

By all means lets set this young ladiy's discomfort level as the standard by which we should educate our young and ourselves behave.
I would imagine that if we asked her thoughts on Shakespeare, or Hardy or Chaucer or Hemingway or Rowling for that matter our question would be received with a blank stare, a scowl or a pout. So, out with them.
Grammar has been dealt with in the Black community long ago and we have been reminded by Black writers (mcWorter?) that black "grammar" is a highly structured and complex arrangement of words. The rules of this "grammar" are, of course, not written or published.
So, no embarassing grammar.
Bach? Beethoven? Ditto
Science? Ditto

Writing itself, other than tm and tweeting? Nope

Finally, the defense attorney was gentleman enough not to ask the obvious which was, can you read at all.

J2 said...

-To be honest, I had to look up the word "cursive".

Michael said...

"The Missing Ink" byPhilip Hensher, an Englishman, confronts cursive, or linked writing as it is called in England. I myself had trouble reading my own cursive until I went to work on improving it. Little success. I can read any clear cursive although Spenserian is difficult

Spencerian, by the way, is an American invention of the late 19th century. It was a highly successful effort to have a uniform style of writing in allmof our schools and Spencer himself went around the country selling his workbooks. You can buy them today through Althouse's Amazon link. The encouragement of cursive was coupled with the beginning og universal (sorry Rachel) literacy and a needed method to speed up writing for commercial purposes.

Paul Mac said...

I'm not sure whether I think teaching cursive in schools is important or not anymore as a practical matter. But thought I'd note that this discussion immediately made me think of this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lY06dINoo0

AllenS said...

Jeantel is 19 and still in high school. What knowledge has she gathered from this school experience to help her to be gainfully employed.

MisterBuddwing said...

Hell, I've come across old writing of mine in cursive, and I have trouble understanding what I'd written.

bandmeeting said...

What proof is there that she can read at all?

RiverRat said...

The real underlying question is "can she read at all"? Why didn't she just print the letter if cursive in the only limitation?

I'm 68, learned Palmer Method Penmanship as a child but have either printed or typed most of my life.

AllenS said...

I wonder what college she'll attend.

David Hampton said...

One can whitewash Jeantel's failure to read cursive writing. It raises, however, two questions; what was the motive of the person who wrote it? Is this example of the failure to assimilate into the mainstream culture? She is proud of her linguistic skills derived from creole and the street but little of the so-call mainstream (read white) culture that could get release her from the bonds of dependency and reverse racism. She is only kidding herself when she perpetuates her ignorance through the use of the "N" word and "cracker" describing those of us who read and write cursive which also means we know how to put pen to paper expressing ourselves without alienating others. What I witnessed was a young lady who came face to face with her failure to assimilate and bad roll models using her to maintain their power through race baiting. I am cynical enough to believe this is a prelude to riots when Zimmerman is acquitted.

pm317 said...

ADDED: When I learned cursive — in the late 1950s in northern Delaware — the word "cursive" was not used. We just called it "writing," "handwriting," or — I think — "manuscript" or "script." Consequently, the word "cursive" has always seemed strange to me.


Never heard of cursive until now. We called it long hand or just handwriting.

MisterBuddwing said...

Never heard of cursive until now.

Funny. I heard about it in second grade. And at least Ms. Jeantel knew the term, whatever her other supposed sins of omissions were.

Martha said...

Learning to write cursive requires more small motor skill than does printing. My son had a frustrating time in first grade in a private school hell bent on teaching 6 year olds cursive, small motor ability be damned.

My son never mastered cursive writing though he is able to read cursive. And although I am certain his professors at Harvard strained to read his chicken scratch writing in blue book final exams, he graduated Harvard summa, Phi Beta Kappa.

Is cursive really necessary?

Stilton Cheeseright said...

Handwriting styles change like everything else. The style that causes Jeantel difficulty is a skill less called for every day, this is a fact. No cursive is not the same as illiterate. I understand that her roots are Caribbean and she speaks Haitian Creole and Dominican Spanish. From what I heard of her English, her use of that language skirts near to being creole.

As I watched that testimony I wondered whether she was as dim witted as she sounded or whether her way of speaking was just so foreign to me that it sounded like she couldn't think. I wondered what use the world will find for people so dull. Afterward I learned that her language inheritance is more varied than mine so now I'm not sure my first impression was accurate. There's no reason of course that she couldn't be both a dimwit and have inherited a mixed bag language toolbox.

Was she lying? She looked thoroughly coached and I believe the prosecutor was wary and watching to be sure she didn't start improvising helpful new information on the stand that could be shown later to contradict her sworn deposition. I don't know if she's quite as ignorant as she sounds. I hope not. For several reasons.

AReasonableMan said...

My daughter (6) is beginning to learn cursive. I told my wife it was a waste of time. I no longer write in cursive because I write so little. I would much prefer my daughter to spend the time learning to touch type. To not be able to touch type is a form of illiteracy, given that the keyboard is the major way we communicate these days. My wife, who can't touch type, begged to differ.

Zeb Quinn said...

Jeantel was embarrassed, so let's all stop. Let's find everything that some people can't do and feel embarrassed about. And let's ask: Is this really necessary? Is this serving a purpose... other than to make some people feel embarrassed?

The soft bigotry of low expectations once again.

john said...

Conservatives typically think that the way they were taught as children was the only correct way.

I also happen to believe that is true.

Original Mike said...

For some reason, many years ago, I stopped writing cursive. (I, also, did not encounter the term cursive until many years later). Then, at some point many years ago, I spontaneously stopped using it, in favor of printing, with a few cursive elements thrown in. I have no idea why I did this. I can still write cursive if I want to.

Original Mike said...

"Never heard of cursive until now. We called it long hand or just handwriting."

I think "long hand" was the term we used.

Stilton Cheeseright said...

I have the same experience, Original Mike. I rarely write more than a couple of words by hand. This may have something to do with it. I look at my children's keyboarding habits and I'm appalled with myself for not stopping their bad habits early. But they started using keyboards in grade school. I never touched one till I was fifteen and in typing class. This is a bigger problem in education than handwriting.

AustinRoth said...

It is not the "soft bigotry of low expectations".

It is simply emblematic of the continuing successful efforts to ensure a permanent, semi-literate underclass that depends on the government and people like Sharpton, et al, to take care of them and tell them how to think (and of course how to vote).

Hagar said...

Fascinating.

Civilization is so screwed.

AReasonableMan said...

RiverRat said...
The real underlying question is "can she read at all"?


I suspect she is dyslexic. There is a poor correlation between between dyslexia and intelligence. There are a lot of famous people with varying degrees of dyslexia who have made significant contributions to society. My sister was dyslexic. My mother figured this out early and busted her butt to help her solve the problem. My sister is otherwise quite smart.

Jeantel obviously has other issues other than dyslexia. She is clearly not well integrated into mainstream US culture. She is hardly alone in this regard.

Expat(ish) said...

@ann, thanks, was not trying to "catch" her in a lie, I was just confused.

I would note that few people in history with 10+ years of schooling required a scribe.

_XC

pm317 said...

Is this why so many people here mix upper and lower case letters when they write by hand? That surprised me when I first came to this country, that people would do that. I don't write long hand much anymore except for writing notes on the side of documents. But it is stupid not to teach children to not write by hand because a piece of paper and a pen are still the most accessible 'equipment' around.

Original Mike said...

I still write by hand all the time, just that it's now more printing than cursive. I think I stopped using cursive because I find it kind of ugly.

On a related note, I wish someone had told me in high school that computers were about to be invented. I would have learned how to type.

paul a'barge said...

Althouse's rant about cursive embarrassment misses the point.

The girl said she could not read cursive. Not that she could not write cursive. That she can not read it.

And she got someone else to write it for her and then perjured herself by saying she had written it.

My guess ... she can hardly read at all.

How black is that?

ooonaughtykitty said...

Am I so 'old skool' to think that your signature, much like a fingerprint, is unique and that's what keeps fraud and forgery at bay.

If we all start printing how do you determine which 'X' is yours?

Fernandinande said...

Why is the fact that some retarded woman can't read of any national significance?

pm317 said...

I never touched one till I was fifteen and in typing class.

Learning to type was seen as lowly when I was growing up -- nobody dreamed of being a typist. But now I regret not learning to touch type. But then again I never was a hardcore programmer type.

acm said...

Huh. I always found printing easier than script. I never could write script without dragging my wrist on the paper and smudging (if I wasn't careful about which pen I used, and forget pencils). We were required to do all our assignments in cursive in third and fourth grade, but after that I never bothered with it again. It seems silly. Forms to be filled out by hand all say "Please Print Neatly" and there's nothing stopping you from printing notes, or letters, if, for whatever reason, you only have paper and pen.

acm said...

naughtykitty, a printed name can still be unique. My dad's signature was B squiggle B squiggle both B's printed) but somehow I never could get that squiggle exactly the same.

pm317 said...

So who taught her to say 'cursive'? was that a ploy by the prosecutors to generate sympathy for her (just like Ann took the bait here)?

roadgeek said...

We called it "cursive", and in Southeast Texas we started learning it in Second Grade. I caught on somewhat slowly, and was a source of frustration for my Third Grade teacher.

Never use it today, except to sign my name.

MisterBuddwing said...

So who taught her to say 'cursive'? was that a ploy by the prosecutors to generate sympathy for her (just like Ann took the bait here)?

Oh, right, I'm sure that's exactly what happened. (See the tons of sympathy here?)

Fr Martin Fox said...

From the linked article:

"It's not calligraphy. It's functional," Suzanne Asherson of Handwriting Without Tears, a handwriting program for teachers, told the Los Angeles Times. "When a child knows the mechanics of forming letters in cursive, they can better focus on their content."

OK, how about learning proper grammar, Ms. Asherson?

"Child" is a singular noun, so it takes a singular pronoun: most properly, "he," but if that's too icky-sexist, then "he or she"; and if you don't like that, then use a plural "children" so you can use "they" properly.

Levi Starks said...

The reason she knew the word "cursive" was because she had been coached before hand, and was told "someone may ask you to read the letter" And when they do, you just tell them you don't know how to read cursive. Cursive? what's that? you don't need to worry about that.
You see it never occured to the college educated assistants who were helping prepare the trail documents that a 19 year old girl wouldn't be able to read and write cursive until after it was too late.

Fr Martin Fox said...

AReasonableMan said...

My daughter (6) is beginning to learn cursive. I told my wife it was a waste of time. I no longer write in cursive because I write so little. I would much prefer my daughter to spend the time learning to touch type. To not be able to touch type is a form of illiteracy, given that the keyboard is the major way we communicate these days. My wife, who can't touch type, begged to differ.

What you and your wife teach your child is your business, of course; but the notion that a child can't be taught both how to write in cursive, and the touch-type system of using a keyboard, is rather silly.

Mark O said...

Excuses. It's always been something of an embarrassment to be stupid. No more embarrassment. Everything is equal. Cue Vonnegut:

"THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General."

pm317 said...

"When a child knows the mechanics of forming letters in cursive, they can better focus on their content."

It is not bad grammar but a newer usage to avoid saying he/she and make it gender neutral.

pm317 said...

Levi Starks said...
----
gets what I said.

Michael said...

Why is this national news? Why are lefty white writers rushing to defend the 19 year old baby? Because Rachel is what came out of their test tube and they want you to know how pretty it is. Inside where you can't see.

Original Mike said...

"The reason she knew the word "cursive" was because she had been coached before hand,..."

Ahhh! Thank you. Given how inarticulate she was, I found it strange she knew the word.

Writ Small said...

Even though I barely passed, high school typing was one of my most valuable classes.

Cursive writing is useful only for quick signatures. Time to stop clinging.

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Original Mike said...

Mark O: That story should be required reading, starting with the affirmative action bullies.

n.n said...

The logical conclusion is that we should also stop teaching math, science, and other "hard" topics because self-esteem takes priority over achievement and positive progress. Perhaps even sports is outside of American's capability because it requires above average physical coordination.

Besides, there are billions of Chinese to do math, science, and other challenging subjects. And Mexicans to do other things that Americans discover are inconvenient to realizing their dreams of material, physical, and ego gratification.

Anyway, the progress which is evident in America is notably directed to lowered expectations. We should probably enjoy the fruits of yesterday's labor until they are completely consumed or rotten.

Anglelyne said...

There are reasonable arguments to be made for the obsolescence of cursive writing, but that little technical debate is utter trivia relative to the real social pathologies that this unfortunate young woman represents. The rise of a permanent, third-world style underclass in this country can hardly be addressed by "sparing embarrassment" - as if literacy were a class shibboleth, merely - or "eradicating bullying" (i.e., empowering bullies), or whatever else it is that oblivious people obsess about to avoid thinking about reality.

Nothing wrong with honest trivia by itself, though. Interesting that the use of "cursive" appears to have a regional distribution. We said "cursive", as opposed to "printing". "Long hand" implied handwritten, as opposed to type-written. "Script" or "manuscript" was the beautiful, non-cursive hand acquired by the kids at the swish Anglican school.

glenn said...

Three of us got it. Rachel can't read. She's not alone. Bad parenting has consequences.

Fr Martin Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fr Martin Fox said...

pm317 said:

"When a child knows the mechanics of forming letters in cursive, they can better focus on their content."

It is not bad grammar but a newer usage to avoid saying he/she and make it gender neutral.


Who says, other than you? I'm not trying to be contentious, but exactly who determines these things?

The rules of grammar on this subject are fairly well established: they is a plural pronoun.

Yes, of course I'm aware that it is often used as a singular--but I think if you check, you will find this is not new. I had thought so myself, until--some time back--I came upon an article documenting usage of a singular they as far back as (if memory serves) Shakespeare's time. Of course, showing that someone said something a certain way 400 years ago doesn't make it correct, it just makes it older than one supposed.

In any case, it seems silly to defend this usage of they, when the noun and pronoun can so easily be made to agree: "children...they."

And part of my point--lest it be lost--was that the person whose grammar I was correcting was someone opining on the sorts of things students ought to know; it seems fair to me to reply, and how about what the teachers ought to know?

Original Mike said...

"That is my name; and it is rude not to care to get it right."

I'm compelled to get "everything" right. Other people, I've noticed, don't seem to care so much.

Fr Martin Fox said...



The notion that knowledge must be measured predominantly--if not solely--by it's imminent utility strikes me as weird and pernicious.

Where does this idea come from? It has a certain appeal, because it justifies lessening the workload of both student and teacher. It cuts costs; it's seemingly efficient and sensible.

But, it is a sin against the student and society. Knowledge is power, and it is also communion. As indicated, knowing how write, and read, cursive opens up a larger world. And saying it's "too hard!" is risible.

My handwriting is terrible, but I know how to do it properly. If nothing else, I am able to sign my name. Anyone can print my name--but my signature is my own.

If I can offer a digression to illustrate this (if only to share a telling story). Yesterday I visited my doctor for a routine matter. Before being summoned to see him, I had to make my co-payment, and then the receptionist handed me a receipt. On the receipt, it said, exactly like this: "marin fox" -- i.e., no capitals, and my first name was misspelled.

I pointed it out, and asked something like, that's not how it is on your records? And she checked, and said, no it's not. But something in her answer--I can't recall what she said now--wasn't reassuring; I wanted to know that I wasn't going to see that again.
*And with each answer, it seemed that she thought it was no big deal.*

When I finally got her to understand that I didn't want to get another statement like that (to be clear, it was a polite conversation), I sat down, and while waiting, I thought about what had bothered me: That is my name; and it is rude not to care to get it right. I'm paying this office my money--I think I'm entitled to get documents from this office that properly spell--and capitalize--my name. And it seemed this perfectly pleasant lady didn't figure that out on her own.

There's an example, perhaps, of how the "communion," the sense of community, which shared knowledge, shared education, fosters--and which I fear is being shredded recklessly in our time.

That vignette is a small thing, perhaps not very meaningful--unless, as I am coming to believe, it is part of a larger phenomenon: many of the things that glue our civilization together are being dissolved. This will not end well.

* Since I was making a point about exactitude, I caught a poorly written sentence in this comment, and fixed it, deleting the prior comment. This is the sentence I fixed. Mea culpa.

FWBuff said...

I'm very surprised that the self-esteem community hasn't seen the value in teaching cursive (or as we called it in West Texas in the 1970's "cursy"). Those with the best handwriting weren't necessarily those who were did well in other subjects. Many kids who got A's and praise in cursive were C students in math or English. But the students who were good at cursive also seemed to do well in art class (which has also been dropped from the standard curriculum).

edutcher said...

A nice little indictment of public school curriculum. Whose idea, one wonders.

The Blonde and I were stunned several years ago to find out this wasn't taught.

Problem is, these kids can't print, either. Her favorite nephew, an AP student, prints like a second grader.

Michael said...

Father Fox. Well said. The illustration you give is classic. Our civilization erodes in these little bits, these examples of carelessness passed off as insignificant. Rude to even point them out in most bureaucratic circumstances, a moment when you have to decide if the returns will diminish if you mention them. Here, of course, you might find the wrong leg sawn off or the wrong organ removed because of this"minor" error that would embarass the person who made it if you brought it up.

Gahrie said...

Kids aren't learning cursive because it requires practice and effort. They also fail to see the need, the only time they write on paper anymore is at school.

I see their point. The people in favor of cursive however claim that it has cognitive benefits, including hand/eye coordination.

By the way, there are a significant number of kids who can not read an analog clock or tie their shoes.

Drago said...

Cursive out!

Ebonics in!

Forward!

Cedarford said...

I think the cursive thing is a dodge for a young woman that happens to be quite stupid, lazy, and in poossession of a real bad black "attitude".
Dodge in a sense that she likely has a hard time speaking or writing outside an "ebonics" context.
I also think the Spanish and Creole stuff - it being her 'native tongue' and all that was another lame apology for her being a born in the USA worthless product of the educational system unable to articulate herself well in English, not to mention Creole or Spanish.
The prosecution could have "sheltered" her some by having a Creole or Spanish translator - but didn't - because that creature likely has no real ability to communicatein those tongues.

I thought writing in cursive was "penmanship". I agree that it is a thing in our educational system that is in need of great de-emphasis. But it is nice to have the ability to at least read it. I go a chance to read my grandfathers WWII letters to not just my grandmother, but to my dad and 2 aunts as very young children. Even with a pencil, he was elegant.
It is a cultural richness , an art of calligraphy that should always be retained as part of our heritage.
I'm fine with dropping it from the education of low IQ 3rd World offal like Jeantel - with her education being the most rudimentary, "lets get this slug functional enough to hold a menial job" sort of focus.

Gahrie said...

Jeantel is 19 and still in high school. What knowledge has she gathered from this school experience to help her to be gainfully employed.

I'm betting that she has an IEP, and thus permission to stay in school until 22, if needed, to finish.

Original Mike said...

"By the way, there are a significant number of kids who can not ... or tie their shoes."

That explains something I've been wondering about.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Learning to type was seen as lowly when I was growing up -- nobody dreamed of being a typist.

My parents were both professional printers by occupation when I was growing up. My mother in particular was a whiz on the Linotype machine and later when computers were being brought into the trade was a pioneer on the teletype machine. Typing and computer keyboarding were the most common things in our family. From my earliest memories in the mid 1950's we always had one or more typewriters in our home and when home computers (Vic20) came out had a couple of those as well.

Cursive, or long hand, is gradually being phased out. I don't think they teach it in school anymore???

My general handwriting comprises print and cursive, sometimes in the same word. I can print almost as fast as I can type and it is very legible since I use the drafting style of printing that I learned when taking a class in architectural drafting. My cursive. Not so much and I have to really slow down to make it 'pretty' and legible. It is just too tedious to use cursive.

Nevertheless.....Jeantel probably can't read or write in any style. Thank you public school system.

Jeantel is 19 and still in high school. What knowledge has she gathered from this school experience to help her to be gainfully employed.

Not to worry. She never planned to be gainfully employed. We will be supporting her pathetic, parasitic existence for the rest of OUR lives. Work hard Lem, so you can chip in and support Shamu and her half dozen spawn.

CWJ said...

Just out of curiosity, if you don't know cursive, how do you sign your name?

Yes many signatures be com illegible over time, but at root they're still based on handwriting.

CWJ said...

Become not be com. What sort of strange autocomplete was that?

James said...

Handwriting styles change like everything else. The style that causes Jeantel difficulty is a skill less called for every day, this is a fact. No cursive is not the same as illiterate. I understand that her roots are Caribbean and she speaks Haitian Creole and Dominican Spanish. From what I heard of her English, her use of that language skirts near to being creole.

Wasn't Rachel Jeantel born in the US? While her mother might have spoken Haitian Creole at home I doubt that she would have learned "Dominican Spanish" as her second language as you and her other defenders claim. Its even less likely that she would have learned "Dominican Spanish" in Miami. I wish the defense had challenged her language competency claims but they probably did not want to embarrass her further.

The fact that's she is 19 years old and now entering 12th grade is all you need to know in figuring out she is functionally illiterate. Several times she was offered copies of transcripts (not written in cursive) to refresh her memory and she barely glanced at them.

ooonaughtykitty said...

>>Kids aren't learning cursive because it requires practice and effort. They also fail to see the need, the only time they write on paper anymore is at school.

What about Tax Returns? or Checks? or Legal Documents? or that pink slip the USPS needs a signature on AND print your name?

Why must our society embrace the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR? I think the King's Language needs saving.

Otherwise.... 'Idiocracy' ... the Documentary.

Sorun said...

"Jeantel is 19 and still in high school. What knowledge has she gathered from this school experience to help her to be gainfully employed."

Black unemployment is still shamefully high. Who will step up and hire this charming, intelligent young lady.

David53 said...

Is this why so many people here mix upper and lower case letters when they write by hand?

I usually start my cursive sentences with a printed capital letter. Dunno why, it just feels more comfortable.

Fr Martin Fox said...

DBQ:

About typing...

I took a typing class in high school, by Mrs. Compton.

As I recall, by the professional standards of the day, I was terribly slow. But by the standards of my friends, coworkers, and housemates over the years, I am quite fast.

In the seminary, we all had a boat-load of papers to write, week after week. Those who were in the seminary with me still marvel as hearing my fingers on the keyboard echoing down the halls.

Of all the things I've been taught over the decades, this has been one skill whose benefits I can appreciate and describe in very tangible ways. Being able to use the "touch type" system has saved me immense amounts of time.

And this skill does something else: it gives me a voice. A lot of my writing would simply never have happened, if I had to labor just to put words on paper, or on a computer screen. The more I think about it, it occurs to me that the value of being able to type quickly and fairly effortlessly approaches the value of knowing grammar, spelling and words and their derivation.

Sorun said...

"The style that causes Jeantel difficulty is a skill less called for every day, this is a fact. No cursive is not the same as illiterate. I understand that her roots are Caribbean and she speaks Haitian Creole and Dominican Spanish."

The children of Indian immigrants win spelling bees. The children of Haitian immigrants don't read cursive.

edutcher said...

Padre, I learned to type (really) with one of the computer-driven courses when I was learning programming.

Of course, I also learned, "If you're programming, never type faster than you're thinking".

Stephen A. Meigs said...

I was about seven before I could say the "-er" sound. Until then, all the previous speech therapists had tried to teach me the "r" sound, i.e., as in "are". Finally a speech therapist put on a sheet of paper "-ar", "-er", "-ir", "or", "-oor", and it was clear that my actual problem was just the "-er" sound. Once I saw that, it was just a short while before I could speak properly. I also was terrible in cursive, but I don't think an aversion to the "cur" sound explains it because my print looked horrible, too.

In second grade the teacher tried to teach us a pronunciation respelling system using diacritics. This would be a good idea, but they aren't (weren't) done right. My second-grade self couldn't get, for example, why pen and pin are supposed to have different vowel sounds, while pet and pen (according to Merriam-Webster, etc.) have the same. I get it now, it's because conformist pedants control the system.

David53 said...

Gahrie...

The people in favor of cursive however claim that it has cognitive benefits, including hand/eye coordination.

By the way, there are a significant number of kids who can not read an analog clock or tie their shoes.


Yes.

I taught 4th grade a few years back, mostly in low socioeconomic communities. We practiced cursive everyday. Some kids got it, some didn't. Everyone got at least an "S". I wanted evidence of focus and effort.

And yes, I tied a lot of shoe laces. Velcro shoes were a godsend to teachers.

pm317 said...

David53 said...
-----------

ThIS IS WhAt I Am tAlking AboUT..

madAsHell said...

I must be the outlier.

I love putting pen to paper. I enjoy cursive handwriting. I've been told I write like a girl. My handwriting is pretty, although I have no artistic ability.

At work, I keep a notebook. I write my thoughts to paper. It's valuable to go back and look at what I was thinking when I made a decision.

Do I use a computer?? Yes, I write software for a living. Half of writing software is comments.

My notebook is NSA meta-data.

Clyde said...

Cursive: Not needed any more. Typing skills are much more important.

Can Ms. Jeantal read? Well, enuf 2 read and rite txt msgs, prbly. Further deponent sayeth not.

AllenS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ooonaughtykitty said...

>> bandmeeting said...
What proof is there that she can read at all?


Agreed. BTW, love your Meyers Parrot. :)

ooonaughtykitty said...

oops... Senegal.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I recently purchased an old typewriter in a case at a second hand store. 1965 Royal/a> Like this one. except mine is turquoise.

My young nephew (10 yrs old) was amazed!! He had never seen a working manual typewriter, maybe not any typewriter. Now all I need it find a source for some ribbons.

:-)

Michael said...

Father Martin. Me too. Typing is the one thing that I can point to with certainty that I learned in high school. With the help of Wheelock I am brushing up on my Latin. I can recite much of the Larin Mass. There is no reason why students cannot learn to type as well as to write in cursive.

Michael said...

Father Martin. Me too. Typing is the one thing that I can point to with certainty that I learned in high school. With the help of Wheelock I am brushing up on my Latin. I can recite much of the Larin Mass. There is no reason why students cannot learn to type as well as to write in cursive.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I grew up with cursive (and, yes, it was called "cursive" when I was taught it) and used it for most things until high school or so, when I switched to printing. I find printing clearer to read and easier on the eye, but I can certainly write cursive if I want to.

The scary thing here is that it's entirely possible that Jeantal, like an awful lot of current high schoolers, can't print at all legibly either. They really can't, you know, any more than they can add and subtract and multiply and divide in their heads. Anything they need to write they type, and anything they need to do of an arithmetic nature they use a calculator for. We're reaching the point where people have to break out a smartphone with a calculator app on it to figure out a tip at a restaurant. I use "divide the total by six," and my husband uses the (slightly stingier) "10% plus 5%," but the point is that both of us are middle-aged, and grew up when basic arithmetic was something everyone was expected to be able to do rapidly in their heads. Now, not so much.

Somewhere in that testimony, the defense attorney recounted that Jeantal got her friend to help her write the letter because she wanted it to look nice, or words to that effect. Jeantal agreed that that was so. This suggests to me that she was worried that her printing was unsightly, or that she was concerned about grammar and spelling, or both. Also, as several here have suggested, the possibility that she is functionally illiterate, period.

None of which has anything whatsoever to do with her reliability as a witness, though her multiple lies under oath don't exactly help her there.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

DBQ, I typed all my papers the first year of grad school on a manual typewriter. After that, my boyfriend (now husband) moved in with me and I got to share his, um, 286.

I have now dated myself irretrievably.

Unknown said...

Rachel Jeantel's inability to read cursive leads to articles about why we're even teaching cursive anymore.

Rachel Jeantel makes me wonder why we pretend to teach anything anymore.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Michael:

This thread prompts me to propose the following as either a plot for a short story or a screenplay--or else a real-world scenario.

Some years ago, a group opposing deficit spending created an ad, set in a dystopian near-future, with politicians being hauled before a mob of people interrogating him. The setting suggests everyone is suffering from a financial--and perhaps civilizational--collapse.

The question, if I recall correctly, was something like, how could you allow it to happen? The politician doesn't have much of an answer.

I can imagine re-working this scene, except somehow representing the fact that a great portion of--if not almost all--the people in the room are hobbled by their lack of real education--and they know it. And they have become aware of what it has cost them.

That cost could itself be illustrated in many powerful ways. But back to the mob scene:

Perhaps they hold documents or books in their hands, which almost no one can read. Someone who can read, reads from either a letter, or a book, or some other document, and recounts the subjects of study from a public school of our past; and expresses uncomprehending wonder at even the names of subjects that, once, ordinary Americans were believed capable of mastering.

Especially poignant is the halting attempt to read a hand-written letter, from an ordinary American.

There is a stunning contrast between the stilted, barbarous English the reader himself is capable of, and the orderly, elegant, and even occasionally soaring written words, which the subject matter of the letter reveals to be a skill the letter-writer had easy command of.

Am I wrong in thinking that a sizeable portion of our nation's population is already at this point? That part of this drama is not futuristic fiction?

Fr Martin Fox said...

By the way, in my proposed dramatic sketch, the one being held accountable need not be a politician. Perhaps it would be better not to make it a politician. It might be interesting to consider further just who should be "in the dock" in that scene.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Fr. Martin Fox,

Agreed with you about the value of typing skill. I haven't got it myself; I'm still a two-finger typist, though admittedly a really fast one, as we go. But I type massively faster than I print; my hand cramps up when I try to write rapidly for any length of time. It was an actual physical barrier in timed written exams -- I could assemble what I wanted to say in my head way faster than I could get it onto paper, which was what ultimately mattered.

I find that I don't actually know how this is handled now. Surely you couldn't let students take a non-"open-book" exam on their own laptops. But a supply of cheap school computers, outfitted with word-processing software and nothing else, might work. Write your exam, save the file under your name, and turn the computer in to the TA to print the file out and grade it? It would seem a cheap one-time expense for a school, if the computers need do nothing more complicated than record, save, and print text.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

typed all my papers the first year of grad school on a manual typewriter

@ Michelle: My college papers were all typed as well. My left pinkie finger hurts to just think about it. Unlike today where we have cut paste and spell check you couldn't make any mistakes when typing. Or ....very little. Remember Correcto-type tape? Onion skin paper? It took forever to put together a clean thesis paper.

My first job working at a bank had the extreme luxury of an IBM Selectric with the interchangeable balls of type (fonts). WOW!!!! what a HUGE advancement.

LOL. Those were the days.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Fr Fox

Re: Your book idea.

I highly recommend you read A Canticle for Lebowitz, if you have not already.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

DBQ,

Yeah, my pinkies didn't suffer much; I'm an index-fingers-only typist. But, man, typing when you can't go back and rewrite a sentence afterwards "concentrates the mind wonderfully." I think it actually sped up writing; you didn't have the luxury of endless dithering. I remember my first paper in grad school, on Beethoven's Op. 18/4 quartet. I sat consulting secondary sources, including my professor's own celebrated book on the Beethoven quartets, and started typing around 9 p.m. the day before I had to present it. Finished at 3 a.m. next morning. The seminar, fortunately for me, was in late afternoon, so I managed to get some sleep. The more so as I wasn't particularly gentle with the professor's own (not at all nice) opinion of the work :-)

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Fr. Martin Fox,

Consider DBQ's reading suggestion heartily seconded.

Marc said...

Father Fox: "Some years ago, a group opposing deficit spending created an ad, set in a dystopian near-future, with politicians being hauled before a mob of people interrogating him." Bonus Homerus dormitat.

kimsch said...

Fr. Fox, I second DBQ's Canticle for Leibowitz recommendation. Most excellent read.

john said...

Michelle Dulak Thomson -

If what you say is correct, and don't doubt it, then why is the court apparently unconcerned about the provenance of this document? If a scribe wrote - in longhand - what this girl dictated, how can anyone be sure that it was correctly dictated?

It should have been thrown out as unreliable during a pretrial motion.

john said...

A Canticle for Liebowitz is a killer in Charades.

Michael said...

Fr Fox. We are almost there.

ken in sc said...

Back in the 60s, I used to print my signature. It was not accepted in some places. One of them was the draft board. I had to invent a new signature for them. I am still using a modified version of that one today.

Chip Ahoy said...

I too was a thick little f'er who resisted cursive writing. It was carefully explained, an advanced way to slip along and connect everything together so I did.

I was sounding everything out phonetically so every word was separate words already.

A boy on YouTube assembling a project explained the kit is, "alter native" energy with no sense at all of the meaning of the word, no idea that it means "another way" that it probably has something to do with native. It is the sort of thing you want to correct, but will ruin the cuteness by correcting, but keep a kid back by not correcting, and it is also exactly the sort of thing that I am corrected myself by nice people in any language I try using. They graciously slip in the right way to say things. (I'm a mess in Spanish and make the mistakes that children make. This does relate to cursive.)

Back there in first grade the girl next to me said, "you leave a space between the separate words."

Oh.

And then you discover it does not slip from letter to letter as advertised, there are all kinds of traps in there preventing smooth slippage, where one letter ends on the bottom or top and another picks up at the opposite is a mark in itself on the page sometimes taken for a letter or part of a letter and sometimes causing confusion, and that happens in sign language too. I kept asking about the in between movements and not getting answers, and other problems like hanging down letters overlapping upright letters on lined paper. What do you do, scooch over the bottom line?

But I totally relate with this woman, apart from her apparent absence of curiosity. My best copy of Coming Forth by Day is in cursive hieratic and not standard middle Egyptian hieroglyphics as you'd expect and although it is a fantastic copy for the life of me I cannot make anything out. If I didn't know the spells already and were it not for the art I'd have no idea what was going on, or which spells were chosen. And worse, I too am tired of the original tedious way of writing them but have no idea how to abbreviate without being 100% idiomatic about it. I cannot read or write its script.

And that's a bummer!

Fr Martin Fox said...

DBQ, Michelle:

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm trying to read more fiction, but this is complicated by the admission--which it discourages me to make--that I assume the rows of contemporary fiction to be a vast desert contaminated with much pollution, and only an occasional life-giving oasis which is terribly hard to find.

I realize that's a prejudice, but darn it, it seems to bear out all too often.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

FR Fox

One last post before we go out of town for an overnight stay.

Lebowitz is right up your alley (I think). It is about the Catholic Church, religion's place in maintaining civilization, man's relationship to God, sin, redemption and salvation, the collapse and rise of society, the issue you raised of people losing touch with the past and with the achievements of the past, the denigration of those who have retained skills of science, learning etc.

Probably one of the best sci-fi type book that I have read and one of the most memorable for me, in that the lessons of the book tend to stick with you and maintain relevance even 50 years after the book was written.

I hope you have the time to read it.

Dustin said...

I don't mean to be ugly, but it shouldn't take more than a few days to learn how to read cursive. Learning how to write clearly in cursive is more difficult, and I honestly can no longer do so unless I do so very slowly. For those who can write cursive, it's easy, fast, and frankly I think it's pretty.

We do not need to dumb down our society to avoid embarrassing folks. The reason this harmed the witness's testimony is that this is her prepared statement, intended to condemn a man to prison for murder, and she hadn't even read it. She claimed she couldn't read it after a long passive aggressive display where she barely bothered to speak coherently to the defense attorney, so I question her honesty about being able to read the letter. I suspect she didn't want to answer for any more contradictions in her comments.

Railroading an innocent man is a lot more embarrassing than illiteracy, but both are symptoms of a societal complacency about ... everything.

KateGladstone said...

Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. (Sources below.)

Reading cursive matters — immensely, as the Trayvon Martin trial is showing! — but eve children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. Why not teach children to read cursive, along with teaching other vital skills, including a handwriting style typical of effective handwriters?

Adults increasingly abandon cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When most handwriting teachers shun cursive, why mandate it?

Cursive's cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you graceful, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)

All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, six months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from print-writing on unsigned work) which student produced it.

Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.


SOURCES:

Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

/1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May - June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September - October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf


Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

[AUTHOR BIO: Kate Gladstone is the founder of Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works and the director of the World Handwriting Contest]


Yours for better letters,


Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
and the World Handwriting Contest
http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
6-B Weis Road, Albany, NY 12208-1942 USA

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Fr. Martin Fox,

A Canticle for Lebowitz isn't exactly "contemporary." My other recommendation would be Orson Scott Card. Start with Speaker For the Dead and keep going. Card himself is LDS, but I have never seen anyone write as sensitively about other faiths than his own as he does. In that series, he invents a Catholic religious order that I wish actually existed.

rcocean said...

Me too. I couldn't understand what the hell she was talking about - "cursive" what is that?

Than Little Ms. Rc explained that it was handwriting. But I wouldn't too hard on the witness. Kids don't write anything. They use their computers and I-pads. Even the teachers don't write - they use in-focus and power-point.

LTMG said...

Tangential to the topic, but on the subject of ignorance, I very recently met two salespeople at different companies who are in their mid to late 50s. Both are of an age that Geography was likely a part of their elementary school curriculum. Both were of the opinion that Shanghai is in Japan.

Similarly, a few months ago I gave a guest lecture to a class of undergraduate business school students. In answering a question, I mentioned the importance of knowing geography, which a few students doubted. The country of Mali was in the news earlier this year. None knew where Mali is on the map. I pointed out that the field of logistics and transportation is an area in which a new graduate might reasonably find work, and that a knowledge of geography helps to ensure that shipments get to the right place and on time. Dead silence.

EMD said...

Life is much easier without learning.

David Baker said...

In handwriting analysis, cursive, or long-hand, contain the [connective] strokes necessary to accurately determine one's sociability, imagination, and spirituality (and/or philosophical tendencies). As a handwriting analyst, I've encountered many individuals who do not write cursive, most often men. Nonetheless, I'll ask the person to write two or three words in cursive, in addition to their "printed" samples. This completes the picture even if the "cursive" is completely illegible.

Currently, the art of cursive handwriting seems most prevalent amongst the Spanish cultures.

Nichevo said...

My understanding is that French HR relies extensively on analysis of copious application forms written in longhand.

Nichevo said...

And if we are to relinquish every part if our culture not mastered by that I will not say beast, that astonishing person Jeantel, well then...what is left? Eating? Lying? Haircare?

Hank Roberts said...

> SOURCES:
> Handwriting research

Thank you Kate Gladstone.