Rachel Jeantel was a recent witness in the George Zimmerman murder trial in Florida.
Called to the stand to talk about her final conversation with her friend Trayvon Martin, shot by Zimmerman in the latter’s community in Florida, Jeantel said she could not read cursive writing.
That’s the main takeaway from the fourth day of the George Zimmerman trial: Jeantel, the heavyset, snappy prosecution witness who was on the phone with her friend Trayvon Martin minutes before he died, cannot read script handwriting. Defense attorney Don West underlined that fact for the benefit of the jury, the general public, and everyone else looking for an excuse to dismiss her testimony.
A short tangent: The fact that Zimmerman was found not guilty . . . Wow. I don’t for a second think Zimmerman went out there with the intention of murdering someone. I do, however, think that him having a gun is what led to Martin’s death. Because of the idiotic Stand Your Ground and concealed carry laws, Zimmerman felt safe carrying along a gun. Without that gun, Zimmerman wasn’t on trial and Trayvon Martin still is alive. No gun sounds like a win-win situation. It was the stupid laws that enabled Zimmerman to walk around feeling like a Wild West gunfighter that really were to blame. Thanks, Florida Legislature. Back to the post.
The right-wing blogosphere took that as just another example — including her looks, her diction and her perceived lack of education — of how she was only one step above a slug on the social evolution scale. Sadly, I’m not kidding. But I’m also not here to talk about the Martin case, nor Jeantel.
I’m here to talk about the reaction by people around the nation to the idea that Jeantel can’t read cursive. I’m guessing that most of the horrified gentry casting aspersions down on Jeantel are a bit, well, older, to be kind. When they and I grew up, cursive was a necessity. The refined gentleman or lady had an impeccable hand and enjoyed writing letters to friends.
Heck, Twenty years ago, a $300 Montblanc pen was one of the most coveted and costly graduation gifts. But today, few clamor over them, much less an expensive one. It turns out they want MacBooks and iPads — new writing tools of the digital age.
My own three young dudes can’t read cursive either. Most of their age cohort are deficient in the skill as well. Schools, as I found out in my last year or so as a Title 1 Tutor at Awesome Elementary here in Charlotte, don’t put nearly as much effort into teaching handwriting as once they did.
And why should they? Computers are easier to use, faster to get your thoughts down in writing, and the only way your words can’t be read is if you’ve smudged the print out, rather than that your handwriting is terrible. Mine certainly is. Heck, I can barely write cursive myself.
As a youth, I lived in England for a year. The school I attended was going to begin cursive lessons in its equivalent of fourth grade. I was in the equivalent of third. When I returned to America, I found that cursive had been taught the year before. Whoops. I managed to pick it up as the years went along, but never easily and never neatly.
I eagerly made the jump to keyboards the minute it was available. So I completely understand why people don’t see the necessity of learning cursive, I know that Rachel Jeantel is not alone in her ability to read it. She merely was the first person these hoity-toity bloggers had ever “met” who was of that age and was honest about her ability.
Of course, there are those who are not so eager to ditch cursive. And they might have a point.
In fact, a field of research, called “haptics,” focuses on the connection of touch, hand movement and brain function. Studies show that handwriting engages different circuits of the brain than typing simply doesn’t. And those strokes and pressures of the pen actually send messages to the brain, training it in vision and sensation.
In fact, the study of handwriting, called graphology, claims to infer character traits — like laziness, creativity or organization — just by looking at your written words. That repetitive process of writing builds motor pathways into the brain, said Katya Feder, a professor at the University of Ottawa School of Rehabilitation. And the more children write, the more connections they build.
Before anyone gets all crazy about the way the brain lights up differently when people use handwriting compared to typing, we need to realize that there probably are different, but roughly equivalent, light ups in the typing folks.
There’s much more to the dying art of handwriting, a sort of eulogy to the skill, over at Techland, a blog for Time.com. You dudes should definitely go over there and take a look. Lots of interesting stuff.