Saturday, May 23, 2009

No.29: Penmanship

Learning to write has never been easy. It all began for my generation with having the right supplies. Little fingers have to learn to manipulate a pencil, a skill that is apparently unnatural. First graders were supposed to overcome this unnaturalness with oversized pencils the size of a grown man’s index finger. The other necessary supply item was lined tablet paper. In the first grade, our tablet paper was short and wide, with solid lines about an inch apart and a dotted line in the middle. This tablet paper had a rag content that was roughly the equivalent of a cheap coloring book. The lead in those big pencils was so soft it quickly wore down to a rounded nub that made accuracy even more difficult – not to mention leaving an ugly smear when we dragged our sweaty little hands across the page. Thank goodness I wasn’t left-handed.

They say practice makes perfect, so we practiced our letters over and over, first tracing over the dotted outlines of letters in worksheets, then progressing to filling lines of our tablets with “Aa” then “Bb” and so on. With great effort we reproduced the letters as they appeared on the cards displayed above the blackboard. And when at last we began to conquer the art of writing, we were allowed to use regular pencils and the lines on the tablet paper were closer together. Somewhere along the way, we took up the art of cursive writing with its loops and swirls, all done at just the right angle.

To whatever degree we may have mastered penmanship in the lower grades, it went to pot in high school and college when note-taking put a premium on speed. Nowadays, computer use has completely destroyed the art of penmanship.

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