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Visiting author supports teaching of cursive handwriting

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By Amber Coulter

There is more benefit to learning cursive than keeping the skill alive.

Michael Ray Smith is afraid a day might come when many people can’t read original copies of the Declaration of Independence and other vital documents.

The increasing trend in the nation of schools teaching children typing and neglecting cursive instruction can leave something important out of their cognitive development.

Smith, an author who teaches at Campbellsville University, began his research into the impact of learning cursive when he was studying and writing a book about John McLean Harrington.

“He got me interested in handwriting and what it means when a few of us still take notes and use cursive,” he said. “A whole lot of people have abandoned it, and a lot of public schools no longer teach it. If you look at his handwriting, to me, it’s attractive. It’s almost like calligraphy.”

A postmaster and journalist in Hartnett County, N.C., McLean published 302 handwritten newspapers between 1858 and 1869. The collection makes up the most handwritten newspapers ever copied by one person in the United States.

Smith, who visited Elizabethtown this past weekend for the Kentucky Christian Writers’ Conference, has preserved examples of McLean’s work on his website, www.afreepressinfreehand.com.

His research has taught him about how different styles of handwriting were used for men and women.

Features such as pressure on the paper and the shape and size of letters still can tell a reader more about the writer’s state of mind, whether they were angry or in a rush, than any typed page can, Smith said.

There also is an emotional component. There is a reason people enjoy writing in journals by hand and why they treasure handwritten notes and letters when they routinely delete emails, he said.

Students have a lot to gain from learning the skill because it encourages continuation and connections that can extend to more areas of life than pen strokes on paper, Smith said.

“It’s about making connections, how each letter connects to the next,” he said.

Smith said his research and personal feelings have a lot to say about the increasing loss of cursive and the backlash that could come of it in the future.

“As we embrace the new wave, we’ve sometimes abandoned the old,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com. Stories from the Heartland appears Mondays in The News-Enterprise.