Google+ Badge

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Old School

If we hadn't needed to go the supermarket this afternoon, I would have found it a challenge to get going with writing today. It's all very simple. My husband got me a book yesterday. He saw me look at it longingly at the warehouse club, and said that we needed to buy it because he knew that I would enjoy it a great deal. I began to read it just before bedtime last night, just dipping my toes in the water, so to speak. I picked it up again this afternoon, this time diving right into the water. And it's a real book, too! Don't think for a moment that I am against electronic books, because I am not. When they first came out, I didn't much go for the idea, it's true. But now I realize that one can carry an entire and varied library in a device that weighs only a few ounces. For me, though, there will always be something special about a time like this afternoon, when I have a new book to read. Not a hardcover this time; that is an indulgence I seldom allow myself. But it is, as I said, a real book, with paper pages and ink and a cover and such. It's very Old School, and I love it.

It amused me, when I was getting ready to go to the store, having the thought that reading an actual book was old school. You see, I had already typed in a title for a new blog post a couple of days ago and saved it for later writing. You guessed it, the title was Old School. The fact that I jokingly thought of my book as being old school was just a happy coincidence, and impetus for me to sit down and write after I got home. You see, I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the term old school more in terms of actual schooling.

Education of kids up through their High School years has changed a lot from the days when I was there. Oh, yes, and walking ten miles each way, uphill and barefoot, in the snow. Okay, it wasn't that long ago, but it has been a while. Much of the basic curriculum remains the same, but there have been some changes in recent years that have some of us a bit confused.

I read a news story online a while back that addressed a mother's concerns about her daughter's education. The gist of the story was that some forms needed to filled out, I can't remember for what reason. When the forms were more or less complete, they required the signature of the parent and the student. The mother told her daughter that her signature was needed on the form by the X, and her thirteen-year-old daughter just stared at her. She had no idea what her mother was talking about. That's when she realized that her daughter was in eighth grade, and had no idea how to sign her name. 

Well, mom was pretty worried that her daughter was slipping through the cracks of the public school system. I imagine she may also have wondered why she didn't realize that her daughter had this problem. When she met with the school, Mom got an even bigger surprise. The school district was no longer teaching the students cursive writing. It was deemed an unnecessary waste of time because of all of the work that was being done on computers. Time that had previously been spent on learning to write was spent on keyboard skills. Her daughter and her schoolmates could use a computer, but they couldn't sign a check or a loan contract. In an odd and very specialized way, they were functionally illiterate.

Many of us went through drills, starting in second grade for me, where we built the skills that we needed to learn cursive writing and develop our penmanship skills. By the way, I have always thought that the word cursive sounded sort of ugly for something that can be such a lovely form of writing. I prefer saying longhand, but I doubt that it will catch on. I usually scored very well on my penmanship. Well enough, in fact, that on many occasions when my fellow students forgot to bring their signed permission slips from their mothers, the teachers encouraged them to ask me to write one out for them. I'm serious. They would do it in front of the whole class!

So those of us who went to the old school schools learned to print and then to write in cursive. We were taught basic math skills like addition and subtraction, and memorized our multiplication tables. We added, divided, computed percentages, and several other things, using only papers, pencils, and our wee wonderful brains to get the answers. Yes, I use calculators. But I have sheets of paper on which I compute various numbers for our budget and financial planning, such that it is. On the other hand, I haven't kept a checkbook register in years, and can barely recall the last time I even wrote a check. But if paying bills online went away tomorrow, I wouldn't have any problems (other than not having checks with my current address).

Many of the old school skills that we learned might be scoffed at by lots of folks who see them as no longer necessary. But if there was no internet, and there were no calculators, and the e-readers all disappeared, I'd be okay. I could figure out my accounts and bills, and if I needed some information or some reading material, I could find plenty of reference books, and leisure reading, at the local library. I can still tell time very well with a traditional watch rather than relying on my computer or cell phone to tell me that it is 6:06 p.m. 

There's more to it than that, though. I can write checks and address envelopes in decent cursive script, but I can also pen love letters or notes of sympathy or advice or motivation. I can read things written by the hands of Kings, Queens, Presidents, Inventors, Philosophers, Artists, and Poets, to name just a few. I can look at the beautiful flowing lines of ink that connect me to them directly and feel their words even more powerfully. Yes, we have access to many pieces of literature and lots of important historical documents right at our fingertips, and I find that to be almost miraculous. I love the fact that technology has made so many things so readily available, and that information is there for one and all to see and use and learn from and enjoy. But I still love the smell of a new book and the feel of the pages under my fingertips. I love to see the beautiful script and signatures of a document like the Declaration of Independence. I guess that for me, life will always be a combination of both modern and old school.