Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

Confirming Cursive
David Simmonds

Are you one of those old fossils that think it terrible many primary schools no longer teach cursive handwriting? Do you feel there is undue emphasis put on the need to teach ‘coding’ to children, when the only code they really need is the postal code to put on an envelope? Can I join the club?


The need for cursive writing.

There are long standing arguments in favour of learning cursive writing. Without it, how will our sons and daughters learn to develop indecipherable handwriting and go on to become doctors? How will they develop flashy signatures, which they are bound to need if they are going to become celebrities?

Well, now we have a little more ammunition to play for our side. A recent study, reported in “Scientific American,” found that university students that took lecture notes by hand performed much better on examinations than did students who took notes on their laptops or tablets. The researchers posit that a laptop user tends to type notes verbatim, so that the mind focuses on the transcription function. A hand writer employs the mind, of necessity, to analyze and synthesize while making notes

So there: cursive writing is home free. Not so fast, there is another study. This one compares handwriting and drawing; which helped more with memory. A University of Waterloo PhD student, and colleagues at the Department of Psychology, observed that people who drew a picture of a simple object such as an apple, no matter how crude the drawing, remembered it better than those who relied on a cue of the written word alone. The possible reason was that drawing helps combine “visual, motor and semantic information.”

Art must remain in the curriculum, too; three’s no dropping it to make room for coding or you’d lose that important visual, motor and semantic balance. You certainly can’t drop mathematics, sciences and physical education, which have their own powerful lobbyists. Well, what about English; all that literature stuff is one gigantic waste of precious time, is it not?

Again, “Scientific American” reports on yet another study. This study measured the capacity for empathy, thought to be a good thing, using reading assignments. Some subjects received nothing to read, some received a non-fiction passage and some received a fictional passage.


Readers of literary fiction are more empathetic.

The result was that the readers of fiction, literary fiction, mind you, as opposed to entertainment fiction, scored the highest in the empathy department. The working theory is that literary fiction focuses on the psychology of characters and relationships; it requires readers to fill in the blank spots on their own, thereby building empathy.

Speaking of empathy, I feel some for Danielle Steele. Her work was the example of entertainment fiction. This poor woman has been, up until this study, the world’s bestselling living author. She presumably feels the hurt all the way to the bank. Come think of it, I feel some empathy for her readers too: both their taste and their empathy quotient derided.

Now, thanks to a study, we have to add English to the list of non-droppable subjects. What’s left? How about History, can we cut it from the curriculum? Case in point: a young relative asked me, the other week, “What was it like to grow up in the horse and buggy ear. I attributed the query to ignorance rather than impertinence.

There’s a steep hill to climb. We can’t afford to make it any steeper. Besides, Stephen Harper is history and I like the sound of that. How about Geography, it might be cut, but not on my watch! Example: one of my son’s friends told me he has an invitation to go Austria, but didn’t like the idea of going all the way to the southern Pacific.


Maybe coding class can replace woodworking or cooking.

What does that leave to cut out? Can we cut Music? Can’t do that, as we need it to feel alive, again, when we have dementia. Wait a second, there’s someone whispering in my ear. Oh, it’s already gone. Scratch that last sentence.

I have to conclude there’s no room for coding in the school curriculum, unless we move to a Japanese-style 18 hour a day education model and cram it all into our kids. Then again, advocating for technology education is not exactly my strong suit. For instance, there was a diagram in my newspaper the other day purporting to show how a “bitcoin” digital currency transaction works. I did not understand the technical terms of bitcoin itself, like “block chains,” “nonces,” “miners” and “hash values.” I also didn’t understand the drawing used to simplify the explanation, not a single visual, motor or semantic bit of it.

Show me a little empathy, please. After all, you’ve just been reading fiction; even if it’s entertainment fiction.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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