Recently I was given a copy of the Teacher’s Manual to The Bailey Writing Course, published by The Educational Book Company Limited in 1930 and sold by W. J. Gage and Co. Ltd. Typical of textbooks at the time, the cover is grey. No colourful designs to perk up a class.
The course outline that followed included teaching cursive writing, and would have been used in probably every classroom across Canada when teachers still taught cursive.
My siblings and I have a cursive style almost identical though we were taught by different Saskatchewan teachers. My dad and his sister Mildred, schooled in Manitoba, wrote an even more flowing cursive style.
By grade nine my writing had taken on such a sprawl that even I couldn’t read what I’d written. That was driven home when the teacher gave me a low mark for an essay I had slaved over, researching Webster’s for the names of different coloured rocks with which I built a fictional fireplace in a fictional wilderness cabin. The teacher couldn’t decipher my scrawl so was unable to appreciate my hard work. Right then I set about improving my writing and still do.
The Bailey text offers 25 general topics, interesting in themselves.
“Next to speech, writing is the most important medium of communication. In earliest times writing was considered as much a fine art as painting or sculpture.” No more, since emails, texting and tweets sidestep writing and corrupt spelling and grammar.
On page three the manual excuses the student saying “the child is not capable of learning to write either easily or well until he reaches the age of ten years, and is not sufficiently developed in concentration and control over the muscles and nerves to master the art until he attains high school age.”
Talk about an out.
Bailey’s aim is serious stuff, “to develop in the pupil the power to write, with reasonable speed, a graceful and legible hand.” To get there, Bailey advises the school day have two writing sessions, each fifteen minutes long, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Ideal perhaps, but not how writing was taught in my one-room country school where one teacher juggled grades one through eight.
Bailey refers to such schools as “ungraded or rural”. I’m fine with ‘rural’. My first sight of ‘ungraded’ made me feel our school was inferior, which it wasn’t.
Our classes turned out grads and more than one went on to the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon for a degree, plenty of others became teachers or nurses until they married some enterprising farmer or entrepreneur.
Throughout Bailey emphasizes the importance of a proper light grip on the pen or pencil using the big muscles of the arm and shoulder rather than choking the life out of the instrument with fingers turning white clamped near the nib or lead point.
The manual also tackles left-handedness. One boy in my class wrote by curling his arm around the top of his notebook. He couldn’t use a fountain pen or he’d smear ink everywhere. For him the ballpoint was the ideal writing instrument.
Medical articles, including one by Dr. Oz, claim health conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, mental illness, tremors, as well as the progression of Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed by analyzing a person’s cursive handwriting. Uneven pressure producing light and dark variations, sloping downhill, exaggerating loops, end strokes curling over the word like a cat’s tail …
Such signs say watch your diet, schedule a physical exam, be proactive about your health … unless you’re a banker, doctor or lawyer.