The writing on the wall

ColumnistMarch 17, 2017 

Engaging in interesting conversation is always a high point of my week. A good friend stopped by the office and we talked about, among other things, my favorite subject—grandchildren. Specifically, we talked about how intelligent young people are today, compared to the knowledge that we had at their age and especially compared to their parents.

Education has changed since my days in a one-room school house. Children today learn more in preschool than I was exposed to in my first two to three years of elementary school. While I learned to type as a sophomore in high school, keyboarding is taught prior to middle school.

I watched a news report last week in which a school was attempting to adapt to the use of smart phones as a part of the curriculum. Rather than fighting the prevalent usage of phones during school hours, the aim is to take advantage of the students’ abilities. Homework assignments were to be sent and returned via the phones and an app was being created to allow parents the ability to check in. It sounded like a rather novel approach.

I understand the need for our youngsters to learn keyboarding and using a computer and a smart phone at an early age. That makes sense to me. However, I do not understand why our school systems today do not see the need to teach cursive writing.

To the dismay of my parents, my handwriting skills did not come even close to measuring up to theirs. Of course, when they were in school, they spent hours practicing their penmanship. All I can say is that I did learn cursive and I had bad handwriting until I went to the university where it only got worse.

The only saving grace for me was a drafting class that I took in junior high, where I learned to neatly create block letters. That skill has not left me, and my printing is still quite legible. In fact, most of my handwriting today is printed, save my signature.

And this brings me back to the subject of our young people learning to write. Our oldest grandson is 15 and will be soon applying for his driver’s permit. I asked him if he was ready for the test, and received the obligatory grunt and shrug. However, I think I stumped him when I asked him how in the world he intended to sign his application.

If you can’t write cursive, how can you be expected to sign your name, what would your signature look like? I can image now an entire generation of people who are going to be blankly staring at the last few lines of legal documents and not knowing what to do. After all, there will be two lines to complete: signature, and immediately under that a printed name.

What if the proper response to both lines is the same? Is a printed name a signature? Are we going to have to redraft all our legal forms in order to accommodate this next wave of consumers that will not have the ability to sign a document? Perhaps they could make an “X” and print their names under that.

There is yet one more concern to consider. Imagine writing a nice card or hand written letter to a grandchild, only to learn later that the grandchild had to have it read to them because they can’t make out those unfamiliar curvy words.

If this is the case, our young people will never be able to read copies of the original Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution or Gettysburg Address. For them, trying to read any of these ancient handwritten documents will be as difficult as attempting to interpret a foreign language.

My friends, I fear that they may not be able to read the writing on the wall.

David Coffelt is a Harrisonville area resident and his email address is

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