Charles Osgood (1933- ) was a CBS commentator whose opinions became much respected in weekly Sunday morning features. Osgood predicted “The USA will bring the death of English.” Fortunately, millions of others in many nations are striving to learn, speak and write English by printing or even reading/writing in “cursive.”
A Lafayette parent was disheartened by the fact his son could not read or write cursive English after graduating from a prominent private high school in the city. He was not offended when I bluntly said, “Your son is illiterate. He cannot read the Declaration of Independence, recognize John Hancock’s swirling signature, nor read grandparents’ diaries.”
I reflected on my presence in a 3rd grade Hong Kong classroom during the 1970’s as I tried to write Chinese. Children longed for writing skills in both Chinese and English. I remain illiterate in written Chinese after years of study. Illiteracy is my humbling state as I admit not being able to read newspapers or simple messages from Chinese friends. Illiteracy in the digital age is a given because I grew up with the Palmer writing technique, not “smart phones” carried by billions of people in our century. Children of five years can communicate with the latest electronic widgets, but cannot read a message left on the kitchen table by parents or a sitter who might even know basic English in cursive:
A child would not be able to decipher “Your lunch is in the refrigerator.”
The cursive debate drags on in 2015. California, Idaho, Kansas, Tennessee Massachusetts, North and South Carolina have not rejected teaching of cursive. In 1913 a professor from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana gave me one of his books and declared a degree from his institution would not be granted unless the student passed a test requiring knowledge in reading, writing of cursive English.
Illiteracy is not a recent burden. Dr. Lucien Miller, a professor of Comparative literature in the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts told me in 1975 students were unable to write a paragraph of acceptable English. The UMass faculty hastily set up a mobile classroom with a large sign on the door: RHETORIC 101. Has the grasp of English improved? A phone conversation with Dr. Miller on September 1, 2015 indicated very little progress, if any, had been made among UM students in 40 years.
An investigation of reading/writing requirements in Britain did not indicate the literacy debate is occurring there.
As we follow spelling bees among young students, the winners are often foreign students, home schooled by traditional parents who do not appreciate illiteracy. Immigrant parents worked hard to learn English. They cling to the hope their children will also be able to read and write simple English.
THE NEW YORK TIMES (September 18, 2007) reported a language is dying off every two weeks. Since English is the “dollar language” also used in airport control towers and on the high seas. Those who strive for survival in a competitive world will continue to learn the language, but not for the purpose of pure poetic literacy. Osgood may be currect. DEW U KARE?