Friday, March 8, 2013

i write by hand

not too long ago, at a small dinner party, i had the opportunity to articulate my position vis-a-vis teaching kids cursive handwriting.

the setting was this: in the high-tech saturated seattle corridor, most of my friends' husbands work for microsoft, google, or adobe. good at mathematics and robotics, not so good at arts and letters, humanities and social sciences. so we find ourselves in the seattle freeze, where they - the husbands - fit in quite perfectly, demographically, and the arts-and-letters, humanities-and-social-sciences wives organize coffee klatches and compare notes on the kind and amount of technological devices found in their homes due to their husbands' professions and interests. this technology, goes without saying, right?, is the milieu in which their children grow up. 4 open laptops and 7 cell phones permanently on the "dining room" table, pantries transformed into media & cable lockers, myriad connectors shoved into former catch-all drawers in kitchen. common setting.

and so, the dinner party. psychotherapist - female - at table, munching roasted almonds, alongside 2 or 3 informatics professionals, all male. school shopping for first grader, psychotherapist announces, with pronounced incredulity, "can you believe public schools now wait until 3rd grade to teach kids cursive? why do you suppose this is so?" question averted, IT guy poses question in retort, "why do kids need to learn cursive now when everything is digital?" i don't think i choked on the bit of almond, but did sit back in my chair, stumped, as though the man was speaking pig latin. slowly and thoughtfully regaining composure, i began articulating my position referred to above: "why do kids need to learn cursive?"

because the opposing argument was utilitiarian - what's the utility of learning cursive when everything is or will be done on a keypad or with a swipe of finger across a screen - the argument i constructed (for myself) that night was that cursive is not primarily or solely about usefulness.

it is about ... being human.

returning to a few posts back, where i inquired "what makes us human?" and which seems to be an au courant theme posed by social scientists (sherry turkle, jefferson singer, dan siegel, etc.), it's painfully obvious to me that subjectivity, finesse, the "correlates of consciousness," picasso, chopin, post-modernism, the existentialists, the lascaux cave paintings, gathering information through the senses (and the 3 brains) and processing, storing, interpreting, analyzing, cataloging, retrieving, and using that information are an oh-so-small portion of what makes us human.

decades ago, the precursor to this argument was this: a mathematician friend in NYC - one of my favorite places in the world because of its jumble of (perhaps you've guessed what i'm going to say) humanity - was intent on explaining to me why and how computer art can also be cataloged as art. paint-by-numbers, if you will, using a computer program. an art student at the time, but with burgeoning interests in the social sciences, my gut lurched even though my reasoning was inchoate: computer art cannot be art because art - Art, in the platonic sense of idea - is unprogrammable. art is intuitive and spontaneous and requires complexity of thought and feeling. computer programs cannot mimic human sensibility.

why learn cursive? well, the answer is, why learn to play the piano? why develop your own film, manipulating the chemical bath to obtain a suspected and desired result? why make art, for God's sake? this is why we should teach our children to write cursive! so that they have precursors for appreciating beauty. so that they can become complex, interesting and interested human beings. so that they can commune with other human beings about things which have no market value but which make life and the world rich, profound, and painfully beautiful. so that, being able to do these things, they stave off anxiety and depression, go toward meaningfulness and meaning-making, seek solace and plenitude in priceless gifts all around. stop and look at a stone; turn it over. pick up another one and compare it. act like a little scientist-artist. because you can. because you were born a human, not a robot or a dog.

during this recent dinner-party conversation, i also intuited that cursive has its utilitarian value, stimulating and strengthening neuronal networks that only the exercise of recognizing, reading, and writing cursive would activate and carve. brain architecture: every drop of knowledge or information finds a corresponding neuronal network in which to lodge itself, to deepen the brain's convolutions and add complexity to its structure.

but this strand of thought was for myself only, because that night i wanted to champion the idea that we teach our children to write cursive because it is part of the human endowment thus far and merits to be carried forward. like picasso and chopin, sartre and de beauvoir, kristeva and mahler, nirvana and the posies, frankenthaler and giacometti.

we teach our children to write cursive because we are beautiful and complex human beings.

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