Out of Print

Brass Tacks

Parental indifference is a schoolteacher's traditional complaint, but Brookline educators cannot claim that the townspeople ignore them. Throughout the fall the Brookline schools have faced attacks for teaching children hand-printing instead of handwriting. The controversy has filled the P.T.A. agenda, rated banner headlines in the Brookline Chronicle, and inspired the Boston Globe to print a picture of three little girls whom it quoted saying wistfully: "We can read writing, but we can't write it."

Many parents declare that the children don't even learn to read handwriting. Mrs. Marion Wilkens, after making the "shocking" discovery that her son could not read a postcard she had sent from Hawaii, founded the "Parents Research Committee" to investigate. The Committee learned that a high school boy had nearly lost his job in a grocery store because he could not read a customer's written order. A mother stated that she sent her little girls to parochial school because "they weren't learning handwriting in public school's." And another parent admitted she was mortified that her 10-year-old could not even read a letter written in English by a Parisian youngster.

"It's not funny," shouted Bernard Hollman in Committee meeting; "it's a tragedy. I bought my son a book on cursive writing so he might learn to write it. But I feel it is an injustice to take his playtime for something he should learn in school."

The committee investigated handwriting in the 221 school districts of the Commonwealth, and found that Brookline alone was "out of step with the state, the country, and the world." Resolving that handwriting "is the common denominator of the social community," it circulated petitions for resoration of handwriting and presented the School Administrator with over 1200 signatures.

School Administrator Ernest J. Claverly, warming in defense of the non-cursive status quo, cited no less than ten reasons why printing was superior to handwriting for schoolchildren: "It takes less time to teach. It fosters skill in language by allowing easier language expression. It is more legible, and does not become sloppy as the writer becomes senile. It is less awkward for left-handed children. Most job application forms, in fact, say "please print clearly." Claverly maintained that unless some schools had been willing to violate tradition, the tyrannical master would still be holding forth in his red brick schoolhouse.

Ultra-modern Brookliners supported Claverly. "It is the mark of an educated man to be able to write as well as read printing," declared one man; a high school girl, admitting that the might not be the best hand-printer in the world, challenged any cursive writer to beat her record of 175 letters a minute.

Claverly agreed to offer seventh graders an optional course in handwriting, and truce has been called. Now each side, penwiper in hand, eyes the other for signs of undue influence over the calligraphy of Brookline students.