Monday, March 29, 2010

The Palmer Method

In the late 19th century Austin Palmer developed a system of cursive writing comprised of rhythmic motions of the arm and shoulder muscles without much finger movement. Although it was met with tremendous objections from major textbook publishers, Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing sold over a million copies in 1912. The method won major awards at various expositions at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Eventually Palmer’s style lost popularity and was replaced by a theory of teaching children to print first in order to give them the chance for written expression at as early an age as possible. Some have said this movement is responsible for the decrease in overall legibility of modern American handwriting.

So why am I yammering on about this today? Because my elementary school principal was very old school. When I was in fifth grade he decided my class would learn the Palmer method. Twice a week for half the school year he would come to our classroom and have us making pages upon pages of flowing circles to get our shoulders to move in the proper manner in preparation for our writing lesson.

I could do the circles though doing them properly was not as easy as you might think. When it came to the actual writing, however, I was a bit of a disaster. By then I’d already started writing my little stories so my bad handwriting habits were well-formed. I remember him struggling to find something nice to say as he told me to try harder to conform to the preferred style of letters. Yeah, that didn’t work so well but he was a very sweet old man who reminded me of my grandfather so I really did try.

I don’t know what made me think of it today. I was filling out a form as I do every day and having some trouble reading my own writing, again as I do every day, so I attempted the Palmer method. And you know what? It looks the same now as it did all those years ago. Perhaps my old principal would be proud of me for, though I don’t write that way all the time, what he taught me stuck and I do remember.

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