Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

April 22, 2013

Tidbits: Handwritten notes a pleasure

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — It's a hurry-up world, and some of the niceties and good manners we learned years ago sometimes fall by the wayside. One of the things that appear to be on the way out is the handwritten thank you note, tossed aside in favor of quicker, cheaper and easier electronic notes, either by email, a thanks on a Facebook wall or, heaven help us, a text message.

Certainly, not every gift rises to the level of a handwritten thank you note. A Christmas gift exchanged with my sister isn't something I feel needs to be acknowledged by a handwritten note, especially when she's turning around and giving me a present, too.

But my sister abides by an Emily Post set of etiquette, and every year, just a few weeks after our family Christmas gathering, a little envelope arrives in the mailbox with my name neatly written on the front. Inside is my sister's personal stationary and a handwritten note thanking me for my thoughtfulness.

Usually, I get her that personal stationary because she is always sending notes — handwritten and with a stamp and everything.

Others still keep this tradition alive, and occassionally I get a handwritten card of thanks for a story or column I've written. I keep my positive emails, too, but these cards are all saved in a keepsake box that I go through from time to time. It's nice to know that people appreciate you and the work you do, especially if you've been having one of "those" weeks where nothing you do seems to make anyone happy.

Handwritten notes remain the standard for giving a sincere thanks. According to emilypost.com, the rule of thumb is to send a written note any time you receive a gift, even a "thank you" gift, when the giver wasn't there to thank in person. Wedding gifts, shower gifts and congratulatory gifts, such as after graduation or a house warming gift, should be acknowledged. Cards of thanks following interviews are also important.

The handwritten note is much more personal than an email note, and can be saved as a memento in personal papers. Expressions of thanks or of condolences for a friend who has experienced a loss show that you took the time to think about what you were saying and to put pen to paper.

I don't do this enough. I think it's because I detest my penmanship. Always the overachiever in school, I actually got a grade of U in cursive writing in second grade. That's a U as in unsatisfactory. I worked harder, but try as I might, I've never been able to get my penmanship to rise above the level of chicken scratch.

My sister, a lefty no less, has beautiful handwriting. It's elegant and neat and legible. I find her writing to be more elegant than calligraphy, in fact. My parents both have neat handwriting. Mine, as my sister has told me on many occasions, resembles the handwriting of a serial killer. I think she likes the barbed comment and the ode to Steel Magnolias.

But there's concern that technology will make those handwritten notes a thing of the past. Kids are learning more about typing and using technology than forming their script letters. New standards that require online testing are pushing the teaching of cursive writing to the side, with classrooms across the nation spending less and less time on learning the skill many of us take for granted.

That shift has educators across the country concerned that not only will there be a generation unable to sign their name in their own script, but they won't be able to read cursive writing, either. That inability to read long-hand writing means kids wouldn't be able to read historic documents in their original form, creating an entirely new type of illiteracy.

Common Core Standards, adopted by 45 states, including Tennessee, require students to be proficient in keyboarding by the fourth grade. I confess, I didn't take typing until high school. I don't think that's stifled my ability to use a keyboard. In fact, I type a healthy word per minute with accuracy, and I'm blindingly fast when I'm not accurate.

Supporters of the switch from penmanship to electronic communication say today's textbooks and other reading material are available in electronic form — through computers, tablest, e-readers and smartphones. The signature, once the gold standard for legal proceedings, such as closing a mortgage, will fall to the wayside, they say, with scanned eyeballs or fingerprints taking their place. Because of that, there's no reason to waste time teaching children how to write in cursive.

What a cold world that will be.

While technology certainly makes my job easier, I still wouldn't be able to do what I do without the ability to put pen or pencil to paper and write — quickly and accurately.

There must be a way to balance the skills needed to use a keyboard to take a standardized test with the skills needed to write a personal note in a birthday card for you grandmother. Frankly, given the choice, I'd rather we keep the ability to write in the card. It's a real-world skill and it's one that makes our world a nicer place to be.

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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Wednesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.