(that's a euphemism for "signature", by the way, and please tell me you Generation Whatevers knew that)
I was in a third grade class the other day, and saw that the teacher had started the year by having the kids list their classroom goals. At least a third of the kids noted that they wanted to learn cursive writing this year. First I smiled at the memories of those Palmer Method primers we used back when phones had coiled cords attached to the wall. There's a conversation going on in schools lately as to why kids need to learn to write cursive.
And then I remembered why: everything from family communication to the very status of contract law is at stake.
I developed fairly "adult" looking handwriting early in high school. In fact, because of this skill, a friend of mine who consistently "came late" (read: skipped first period) had me write excuses "from her mother" because my signature looked like a parent's signature. Over our high school careers, when she actually had a note from her mom, she would rip it up and have me re-write it, because mine was the handwriting on file at the office. To my knowledge, this is the only extended act of disobedience in which I have ever engaged.
Yet, the last time my son had to sign his name for something, I was astounded. He couldn't do it. At the same age I was forging excuse notes, his signature still looks like those third graders' attempts. I started thinking about signatures. When do our signatures become "set"? When had my daughters' signatures settled into their adult forms? Actually, when had I even last seen my daughters' signatures? College applications? It certainly wasn't check-signing, because they hardly ever use a check. I broke my arm in college and actually had to go to the bank and sign a piece of paper for them that would show them what my short term, left-handed signature would look like, so they'd accept my checks. There has been a lot written about our new Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's completely illegible signature; when did he settle on that? (And why didn't anyone stop him?) Is it because he never really learned to write cursive well? Or is it because he did it as a joke once, and then had to keep it so his official signatures all looked the same?
Which brings us to contracts and the whole legal system as we know it. Hyperbole? I think not.
Buying a house, signing a marriage certificate, starting a business, opening a bank account…all those "adult" things one needs to document will soon be enshrined all over our country with the signatures of 9 year olds. There will be no distinction between what's written on the line "Print name here" and "Sign name here." For heaven's sake, there's no personality to your name in print.
It's more than just being able to write your signature; there's a decreasing ability in those young'uns to read handwriting, too. When I have to leave a note for my family, I first have to think of who is supposed to be reading it. Ok, really, the first thing is to find a piece of scratch paper, because why use a whole new sheet of printer paper, when the back of an envelope would do, and where did I put that nice pad of note paper someone gave me last year, and…but I digress). If the teenager has to read the note, I have to print it, and it isn't only because my handwriting has deteriorated over too many years of computer use. I've had several high schoolers tell me they simply can't read cursive.
So, third graders, I say learn that cursive. Develop your own style and let it shine through your signatures as you grow up. Protect the precious few ways we still have to express our individuality with our own hands, every single day.