Jan. 3, 2014
We all know that ObamaCare is the president’s “signature achievement.” The media keeps telling us so. I don’t know what my own signature achievement might be, but I’m certainly happy it’s not a “screwed up” (his own word) launch of a health care takeover.
Less well known, but equally botched, is the so-called Common Core state education standards. Defenders of this federal power grab howl when critics call it “ObamaCore.”
Not fair. This didn’t start under President Obama, they say. True. And anyway it’s voluntary, they say. Not so true. It’s only voluntary if the states want a chunk of their own money back from the tight-fisted federal education department.
The reason it is fair to call it ObamaCore is because it is the fulfillment of President Obama’s pledge to “fundamentally transform this country.” Like ObamaCare, ObamaCore reduces the states to mere local branches of the federal government. It strips them of their rightful authority under the Constitution. It turns citizens into subjects.
Speaking of signatures though, an incident at my local hospital reminded me recently that ObamaCore really roils Americans at the grassroots. A young hematology technician approached me as I rolled up my sleeve to give blood. She slipped in the needle and asked if I’d heard they were going to drop cursive writing from elementary school curricula. Yes, I had heard something about that, I quickly volunteered. She then proceeded to fill me in. This young professional woman was livid. My blood started to boil, too (not always the best thing when they’re trying to draw it.)
Why would Common Core proponents want to get rid of cursive handwriting? Well, we won’t need it anymore, they assure us. Everything will be done on iPads, iPhones, and word processors. We have to get hip and get moving into the Twenty-first Century, they tell us.
This incident was most revealing. Out in the country -- away from Washington, D.C. and its perennial fights over money -- people are really agitated about Common Core. The dropping of cursive writing is just one element, but it’s an important one. We all sense this, even if we cannot give all the reasons why.
Let’s start with the Founding Fathers; it’s always a good idea. Benjamin Franklin was the most inventive genius this country ever produced. Yes, he was even smarter than Bill Gates. Let’s look at Benjamin Franklin’s signature. It’s a work of art.
Surely, the man who was a printer, who set type and who made his living not writing in cursive, might have been dismissive of his signature. But his signature is bold and assertive. It obviously is meant to be an expression of Benjamin Franklin himself.
George Washington’s signature tells us here is a man to be reckoned with. Although personally humble, and although he did not sign the Constitution with the same oversize flair that John Hancock employed when signing the Declaration of Independence, there is yet a solidity and an integrity about Washington’s signature that suggests it will last as long as the Rock of Gibraltar does.
Thomas Jefferson affixed his signature to tens of thousands of letters in his lifetime. He wrote with a speed and dexterity that is stunning to us today. His letters—of which he carefully kept copies to keep critics from “twistifying” his words -- proceeded like a Niagara from his mountaintop retreat at Monticello. Founding Father Benjamin Rush would say that he and John Adams thought for us of the revolutionary generation.
Lincoln thought out intellectual problems, too, by writing. There seems to have been something in the mechanical process of handwriting that enabled this deeply introspective man to work out the most difficult challenges of statecraft by his writing. As a stimulus to thought, Lincoln’s handwriting expressed logic, eloquence, and vast power. Douglas L. Wilson refers to his craft as Lincoln’s Sword. His words have a biblical cadence and a musical allure.
Microsoft’s founding genius, Bill Gates, is urging us to swallow all of Common Core. But this admittedly clever man recently confessed that he had made a big mistake with Crtl-Alt-Delete. That awkward sequence of keystrokes was something the tech whiz says he messed up. He has not told us whether he also messed up in his large donations to President Obama’s campaigns.
I’m hoping my grandchildren will be media savvy and fully able to negotiate whatever technical devices are yet to be developed. But I also want them to know the joy of writing and the importance of their signatures as an expression of their own immortal selves.
Is all of this precious heritage at risk from eliminating cursive writing? Maybe not. But this change is not hopeful. And it can serve us as a synechdoche -- that is, a part that truly represents the whole.
We know this much: Those who today grasp for ever more crushing power over 317 million of us Americans have done nothing thus far to earn our trust.