Only connect

“Only connect!” is the famous thematic incantation of E. M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howard’s End.

I thought of those two sublimely relevant words recently while reading a news story announcing that Georgia schools may eliminate the teaching of cursive writing to their elementary school students.

We start out in our educational lives by learning the letters of the alphabet. Then we learn to connect those letters into words. Words! Our entrance into community. The primary vehicle of communication. Then we learn how to connect the letters that make up the words. Voila! The miracle of cursive!

Connecting the letters in cursive is like connecting the dots on a page to make words or a picture. The geography of ideas begins here. The word, now a single unit, enables our thoughts to hang together rather than to float in mental isolation. At last we can communicate on paper within the connectivity of language. We are, presumably, in the first, second, or third grade. We have pried open the door into the world of adulthood.

Along comes the computer, followed quickly by email, blogs, the social network era, the urgency of text messaging. The race is on to communicate faster, more easily, more directly. All too soon handwriting falls behind. We still need to know the letters of the alphabet. We still need to link those letters into words. But, somehow, speed and efficiency supersede the elegant progression of learning. Cursive writing falls away, irrelevant because largely unused.

Still, for most of us, tucked away in our learning portfolio, there is that supreme rite of passage, that period, early in life, when the learned letters – previously standing alone and upright on the lined notebook paper – were baptized with unity and connection via our mastery of cursive writing. Our focus was on the mechanical skill, but our minds were leaping ahead to the connectivity of thought and language, the ability to pull together words and make them adhere on paper as well as in our minds. The fragmentary upright letter becomes the word, out of which grows all that makes us human.

Even if we are doomed to leave post-apocalyptic generations with only a grocery list, as in A Canticle for Leibowitz, let us leave it in cursive, on a scrap of paper, to show that we once valued that intimate and profound practice of connecting the dots.

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