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Yolanda Reid Chassiakos

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Zaner Bloser, We Hardly Knew Ye

Posted: 07/08/11 12:18 PM ET

I remember my pudgy fingers tightly gripping the pencil as I struggled to make the loops and whorls on my lined paper look like the flowery letters our third grade teacher had drawn on the dusty blackboard. We'd be graded on not only on our words, but their appearance -- did our letters stay within the lines, or cross them, as the ornate Zaner Bloser Handwriting System required. Our capital letters had to start with a small loop, our terminal letters had to end with an extended flourish. Good handwriting had become just as important as good spelling on our upcoming report cards.

I was able to eventually master the artistic demands of cursive writing, and managed to handwrite in a rather exemplary style until medical school, where the demands of rapid and comprehensive note-taking overwhelmed my delicate graphic training and led to the rapid deterioration of my handwriting towards the unreadable. (So, no, we didn't all have to take Bad Handwriting 101 before they'd let us into the clinic.) Fortunately, the advent of the PC and then laptops, notebooks, and tablets allowed more and more of my tasks to be done with a keyboard. Today, most doctors -- and patients -- benefit from the implementation of electronic health records and e-prescribing, where handwriting is no longer used.

But I still felt a twinge of regret when I heard that students in Indiana will no longer be taught cursive writing this fall. Keyboarding -- wisely -- will take its place as the skill taught to students who will be doing their homework and writing their essays on iPad 5's by middle school. But, I can't help but miss the disappearing artistry of student calligraphy (Calligraphy actually means "beautiful writing" in Greek), even as I haven't finished mourning for the terminal injury of proper spelling (CU2nite) by texting and the "real fast" disappearance of adverbs in our written discourse.

Time marches on and, alas, handwriting will one day be seen as being ancient hieroglyphics to our technologically superior pupils. But keyboarding should not rest comfortably on its laurels. New tablet technology, interactive programs that use alternate inputs, and even voice-activated commands may someday replace modern teachers' mantra of "a-s-d-f-j-k-l-sem."

Actually, if we do continue teaching "typing" (call me old-fashioned), shouldn't we consider converting our curricula to the Dvorak simplified keyboard that reduces finger strain? (The QWERTY keyboard had been developed with an intent to slow down the fingers in the days when typewriters would jam if two keys were hit too close together.)

In any case, or any language, there are now multiple methods to input and communicate information. I would not be surprised to see some of our students guiding their less experienced teachers in navigating the churning waters of technology. Their memories of school days will be far different than ours. Instead of Mrs. Appleby slowly drawing beautiful letters on the chalkboard for us all to copy, little Johnny or Janie will be showing Ms. Appleby how to the advanced functions of the classroom's giant electronic SmartBoard. Perhaps, in the future, as they ponder their own children's lessons in virtual reality arenas, they will look back fondly at the QWERTY days as we do of dear olde Zaner Bloser.