BEZAWADA: Cursive is our door to past, present, future
Opinions Column: Traipse the Fine Line
I learned cursive more than a decade ago, back in third grade when we still mixed up the days of the week, accidentally called our teachers “mom” and found the concept of negative numbers outrageous and far away. For a once relatively reserved and shy bookworm, I had never appreciated the rowdy, enthusiastic behavior of other children. It was nerve-wracking to collaborate with kids who would shove each other around for a handful of Legos and extremely embarrassing to be paraded in front of jeering kids for forgetting a homework assignment.
Cursive was different. Long, curled strokes like an ancient art, like a kind of calligraphy. It required patience and effort spanning long periods of time. It was a skill to be honed. But most of all, it was endless. You could write the word “incomprehensibilities” (which, by the way, scored a record in 1999 as the longest English word “in common usage”) without lifting your pen off the paper once. As much as I loved books, they were still stories. Stories always end. But cursive seemed to amble on forever in a series of ballet-like, complex, overlapping spirals and loops. I had control over it. It did not have to end if I did not want it to. The process was therapeutic and calming, and I frequently found myself eager to finish recess so I could practice the next letters.
So, imagine my utter shock when cursive was removed from the nationwide curriculum four years ago.
Then imagine my guilt when I realized the main cause was technology.
Nowadays, the demand for speed is sky-high. Companies invest millions of dollars in research to develop faster, more reliable networks to achieve customers’ rapidly increasing standards. I am no less demanding. I get frustrated when a webpage takes more than 2 seconds to open. As technology becomes more and more rooted in our daily functioning, the probability of scrapping old, time-tested ways of doing things soars. There is a reason GMO’s and Kindles are more widespread than ever. They are cheaper, quicker and more efficient to produce.
It is unfortunate, but the only reason we pay attention with so much alarm now is precisely because of the extraordinary pace at which life is moving. Delving deeper reveals that this process has occurred for millions of years. Hunter-gatherers abandoned their nomadic lifestyle in favor of cultivating crops on fertile land, jumpstarting the Agricultural Revolution. Sometimes, you may even come across amusing little tidbits like these:
“Students today can’t prepare bark to calculate their problems. … What will they do when the slate … breaks? They will be unable to write!” — Teachers’ Conference, 1703
And more than a century later:
“Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?” — Principals Association, 1815
What if today world leaders decreed that paper was to be banned and we had to revert back to scratching chalk on slates? We would laugh, sneer, call it ridiculous and outdated. Slow. To be honest, it is true. It is undeniably funny.
And yet all the while, we forget just how long it has taken us to get here.
We are forgetting the value of time, of taking our time, of stopping and smelling the roses. It is as if slowing down, even a little, is regarded with disdain these days, like the ability to react sharply and immediately to things is somehow far more valued. The Constitution of the United States of America, which was written in fine, elegant cursive, took 116 days to write. The concept of the computer was slowly and laboriously crafted since the 19th century, beginning with Ada Lovelace in 1815. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby" was once considered a failure until it was deemed a classic years later. Charles Bukowski did not publish a novel until he was 54 years old. All of humanity’s greatest accomplishments resulted from individuals working long and hard at subjects they thought were greater than themselves, whether their progress would garner attention. Oftentimes, they were scorned: people like Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and Nelson Mandela endured torment for their opinions. But now, everyone knows their names and the revolutions they represent.
Sometimes, I like to write my name in cursive on my assignments. I knew a student had reached mine when he or she would frown and squint at the top of the stack. At first, this upset me since it happened often. But then, I remember how NASA had to consult astronomers fluent in languages nearly 60 years old to control the Voyager spacecraft. Because no matter how fast time flies, although the future may open doors to the past, people will always need the past to access the future.
Sruti Bezawada is a Rutgers Business School first-year hoping to transfer into the School of Arts and Sciences and double major in computer science and communications. Her column, “Traipse the Fine Line,” runs on alternate Thursdays.
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