What type of school system does not teach calligraphy?

I called the bank last week to inquire about a check I had written.

When I asked the person on the phone if he could look it up on his system, he read back the exact amount of the check. But I had several checks written out for similar amounts, so I double-checked and asked who the check was made out to.

The young man said he was never taught to read cursive script. So he couldn’t tell me.

I was completely blown away.

I have been writing and reading in cursive since I was 8 years old. I thought maybe that twenties was just an outlier. Then I asked some friends and was told no, it was a common situation.

A friend who teaches high school in LaSalle County says she often has to read aloud her written comments on students’ papers because they can’t read cursive script.

My cousin, Steve, took a test at work and returned it to him because the millennial administering the test could only read capital letters.

In a world increasingly comprised of typed electronic communications, it seems young professionals are seeing fewer loops and loopy clues on their letters.

My three daughters aged 11-16 have learned cursive and can read it well. But a school secretary said sometimes other students bring her lists of spelling words written by a parent and ask her to translate them into capital letters.

I understand that language evolves.

But there is something sad about a young person being unable to read a birthday card from Grandma or the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand.

What kind of school system doesn’t teach basic calligraphy?

Well, in 2017, an Illinois state representative named Chris Welch, D-Hillside, successfully sponsored legislation requiring schools in Illinois to teach cursive. Today, Welch is the Speaker of the House and even his web page bears his name in script.

There is something evocative about seeing someone’s handwriting. After all, each signature is distinctive and says a bit more about the person who wrote it.

I was thinking about this a while ago when I opened a road atlas in my truck and two loose sheets of paper fell out with my dad’s handwriting scribbled on them. Dad’s been gone for seven years now, but seeing his handwriting brings tears to my eyes.

The sheets of paper were just instructions he had written on how to get from one place to another. But for me, they were a roadmap in time.

There was nothing beautiful or neat about my father’s script. It scribbled across the page without any uniformity. It reflected his personality. Always think big, leaving the details to be discovered later. (My mom insisted that my dad and I had nearly identical handwriting.)

However, I came across an envelope in my desk drawer with my name written in my mother’s handwriting. The script is precise, flawless. I imagined that when she was a nurse, the doctors liked to read her files in her always perfect handwriting.

Stuck in the envelope was a $2 bill issued in 1976 on the day the US government authorized the first release of the note. I was 11 at the time. I remember my mom getting the $2 bill from the bank and then putting it in an envelope to keep safe until I was older and could appreciate it.

Today, I cherish the envelope with my name in her hand, much more than the single greenback inside.

Some see cursive as an obsolete form of communication. I see it as a language linking the present to the past.

My middle school teachers wrote in cursive on blackboards. I can still imagine some of the wisdom they shared in their distinctive handwriting.

I love flipping through the family Bibles I inherited from my parents and grandparents and seeing their distinctive handwriting in the margins. They are like unintended messages to future generations about the deep thoughts they pondered while reading the scriptures.

So, is there a future for cursive? I really can’t tell you. But it seems to be considered an anachronism by the younger generations.

If nothing else, one day in the distant future in nursing homes, we’ll be able to pass notes to each other without worrying that the staff have a clue what we’re saying. It will be like reading hieroglyphics from another era.

Scott Reeder, editor for the Illinois Times, can be reached at: [email protected]

Jeremy S. McLain