Today I Typed “D’Nealian” for the First Time

My dad and I had an email exchange recently on the subject of handwriting, and I was taken back to second grade when I was first learning to write in D’Nealian, the intermediate handwriting technique between print and cursive.

As I typed the email, I realized I didn’t know how to spell “D’Nealian.” And then I realized I’ve never actually written the word. That is probably because it’s never come up. Nobody ever talks about it, even in the age of CSS and font-obsession. “Look at that beautiful D’Nealian on that billboard.” No, it was taught in schools when I was young, and I don’t think we’ve needed it since then.

I remember thinking at the time it was a lot of fuss to go through. I spent hours practicing making cursive-like letters, yet still lifting the pen to space them out. I was seven, and, understandably, I was still developing my sense of pedagogy, but I think I understood the point: after writing in print, moving to cursive was so difficult, jarring and unpleasant, that it was worth the effort to learn a third skill that got you half way there. It was the penmanship equivalent of training wheels.

From where I sat, it appeared that cursive was not only harder to master than print, but also harder to read, making it wildly impractical in all regards. And I have to say that no part of my life since then has contradicted this assessment.

My dad told me that his parents both had beautiful handwriting, probably because when they were in school, penmanship was taught very strictly. My head was filled with visions of young Agnes and Glenn, their schoolmasters looming with ruler in hand, squinting at the margins and waiting for a mistake. These days, that seems totally unnecessary.

Even though they were probably aware of the technological revolution that was dawning, the teachers in 1988 clung to a vestige of golden age handwriting ideals. Maybe the lesson here is that today’s curriculum structure doesn’t always reflect the world of tomorrow. I suppose we all knew that. I wish I had understood it better when I was seven.

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