By Joe Rector
The chasm between baby-boomers and younger generations grows with each passing day. Our lives are influenced by different things, and we have a different take on what’s important for daily communications. I’m not sure what strikes younger folks fancies, but I can vouch for a couple of areas that we oldsters think are worthwhile.
We seniors still think that handwriting is an important thing for individuals. We toiled for days to perfect our block letters; writing on wide-lined paper that had a third line in the middle to indicate the height of lower case letters was hard work. We used index fingers to set the space between words.
Just as we finally perfected that kind of writing, the time came to learn how to write in cursive. It was a real pain for some students, especially those of us who were left-handed. Heck, we had enough difficulty understanding which way to slant the paper, and many lefties failed to do so as is evident by watching how they curled their wrist in awkward ways or slanted their words in the opposite direction. A few unlucky students learned the proper way to do these things as a teacher watched with a ruler ready to slap hands that curled or slanted words incorrectly.
At some point, cursive writing no longer was an important skill to learn. Some “experts” in education said that demanding students to learn and use the style crushed their individual creative abilities. Then computers became the predominant method of writing, a fact that further lessened the importance of handwriting. I used to make my seniors write out the alphabet in cursive five times each day before we began class, and I refused to grade papers that weren’t written in cursive. Today, I’d be suspended with pay until the school board could fire me for such an egregious act.
My handwriting has taken a turn for the worse, partially because I don’t practice it as much and partially because my arthritic hands find little comfort as I put pen to paper. Still, I can make those letters, and someone observed that cursive writing could be used as a code for old folks who want to keep secrets from younger people.
In our time, spelling was an important skill that teachers emphasized each year. We had spelling books and used them every day. Lists of words increased in difficulty throughout the year, and Fridays always began with a spelling test. Most of us enjoyed the challenge and studied hard enough to make 100’s on the exams. A poor grade on a spelling test upset all of us. In grammar, we also learned rules of spelling that eased the problems of putting letters in the correct order. Most often remembered was the rule “I” before “e” except after “c” or when it sounds like an “a” in such words as “neighbor” and “sleigh.”
I noticed the weakness in students’ spelling abilities throughout my teaching career. The curriculum placed more emphasis on other things. Subtracting 5 points for every misspelled word in an essay made students a bit more aware of correct spelling, but it didn’t end the problem.
Folks today confront spelling in a couple of ways. Sometimes they take the time to consult Spell Checker. Doing so alleviates many of the errors, but not all of them. I am guilty of sometimes using homophones but usually catch them during proof reading. That brings up the other approach. In it, people simply ignore any misspellings. They don’t see them as being important. Ignorance accounts for some of this attitude. So many modern-day folks text until their fingers ache, and they abbreviate and misspell on purpose to the point that they can’t tell the difference. Before long, communication in writing will be impossible without a standard of spelling.
All of this sounds too much like an old curmudgeon who once again laments the state of the world and how it’s going to hell in a handbasket with the ways of the young people. That’s certainly not my intent. However, I will continue to complain about a generation that all too often turns its back on some of the most important ways that we’ve communicated effectively for years. Maybe an outcry will rise for a return to cursive writing and correct spelling. Then again, I doubt that too many people care; just type stuff on a keyboard and let a computer program do the rest.