One “R” Less

Poor Mrs. Hopkins. She tried her best, but she failed. It wasn’t her fault.

Mrs. Hopkins was my First Grade teacher, and I hadn’t thought of her in decades, didn’t even remember her name, until the other day when I was cleaning the basement and came across my Grade 1 report card.


If you thought I was going to open this and show you the marks, sorry. It is interesting to note that the report card cover had a sponsor – commercialism in the schools is nothing new!

I like to remember that I was an exceptional student, that teachers recognized my brilliance from the outset of my education. Sadly, the report card seems to indicate that I was, for the most part decidedly average. That was my final mark for the year in the Skills and Knowledge section, but also for the Attitudes and Habits section. Maybe I was a late bloomer. Or maybe I am still deluding myself.

Where Mrs. Hopkins failed with me was in teaching Handwriting. Cursive writing as it is properly known. By the fourth report card of the year my mark had improved to average, but I think she was just being charitable. Handwriting was the only failure on my record in any of the four terms that year. I wasn’t very good at it then, or now.

More than 50 years later my handwriting is such that people seeing it for the first time probably assume I am a doctor, as doctors are known for their illegible handwriting. (I’m not sure why.) That would actually be a compliment – I can usually read a doctors handwriting though I often can’t read my own. And that is when I am trying to be neat and legible. When I try and puzzle out what I have written I rely on memory and context.

Which is why I have mixed feelings about teaching cursive writing in the public schools. I discovered it was no longer standard when I supervised a student intern on Parliament Hill a couple of years ago. One of his duties was to input survey comments that had been mailed to us into a database. When he came to a form with cursive handwriting, he had to ask me to do it. He could read printing, but couldn’t puzzle out the cursive. He told me it wasn’t taught in school anymore. I hadn’t realized that. It used to be one of the essentials.

Admittedly, cursive isn’t the highest priority for schools these days, when everyone it seems has a smartphone before they are ten years old. Keyboard skills would seem to be more important.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think there is a value in knowing a way to record information that doesn’t rely on technology. You can’t always depend on there being power for whatever device you are using.

It used to be that schools were supposed to instill the “Three Rs” of a balanced education – Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic. I guess that isn’t the case anymore. Seems rather unbalanced to me.

Mrs. Hopkins is probably dead by now. I remember her as being very old, which means she was probably in her early thirties when I was her student – you have a different perception of age when you are young. She spent a lot of time trying to teach me (and many others) to write legibly. I’ll bet she wouldn’t approve of cursive handwriting being dropped from the curriculum.


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