Why We Say Merry Christmas

Christmas treeSome object to this traditional greeting, preferring “Happy Holidays.” Christianity, they point out, is not the only religion embraced by Americans. Automatically greeting our friends and neighbors with a Christian greeting, they believe, is somehow . . .well thoughtless and rude.

The fact is that over the years, Christmas has become for many a secular holiday. It didn’t used to be so, but since the mid-19th century the secular trappings have become more and more important.

Nevertheless, it is still Christmas we are celebrating at this time of year whether we believe that the birth of Jesus Christ was God’s gift to man or not. December 25, the day Christians celebrate the birth, is the date of the federal holiday when we are all free to come together and celebrate as we wish.

Santa Claus, the Christmas tree with its colored lights, the candles, the gift-giving, the egg nog and turkey, the gathering of the sometimes far-flung family, the impulse to generosity to those less fortunate than ourselves—for some this is what Christmas is. For Christians, of course, it has sacred significance that far transcends these traditional trappings. And followers of another faith may choose to ignore Christmas altogether.

As Christians, this is all okay with us. We would not deprive our non-believing friends of the secular joys of Christmas. And we will wish our Jewish friends and relatives “Happy Hannukah.” But the rest of you are going to hear “Merry Christmas” from us. We will not ask before we speak if you love the baby Jesus. And we don’t intend to adopt what to us seems to be a phrase that diminishes all serious religions. “Happy Holidays” is almost as bad as “Happy eh, whatever.” And insistence of its use seems to us to speak of a kind of preening sensitivity. People today are just too easily offended.     MLK, HWK


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Thinking Outside the Box About Cursive Handwriting

In the ongoing debate about the teaching of handwriting, both those who advocate the teaching of “cursive” and those who are in opposition usually share the following basic assumptions—beliefs that they think simply go without saying:

1. Either we teach cursive writing or keyboarding. We can’t do both.

 Maybe not if we try to teach them at the same time. But do we have to teach keyboarding before the fifth grade? Some experts in child development say fourth or fifth grade is the optimal time to begin keyboard instruction, but many schools start much earlier. This is probably what we should be arguing about. Delayed keyboard instruction would allow time for children to become adept at writing by hand. Teachers would be able to devote concentrated attention then in fifth grade to teaching keyboarding, requiring handwriting for certain assignments.

But what about those standardized tests that require computer skills for third graders? Maybe we should be questioning the need for those tests. Exactly whom do they benefit? I would argue that it’s not the children or teachers.

2. Children have to learn manuscript writing first before they are taught cursive.

 No they don’t. Many European schools typically teach cursive and only cursive . Montessori schools and some other private or public schools in the United States teach only cursive or teach it before printing or “ball and stick” as it is sometimes called.

Ball and stick was introduced in the early 1920s by a British reading specialist, Marjorie Wise. Wise herself subsequently rejected her own technique. But by that time we were stuck with it. Today virtually no one questions the absurd practice of teaching one method of letter formation and a few years later discarding that method after neurological pathways have been formed for the first method.

3. Cursive handwriting links every letter and involves fancy loops.

 There are many forms of cursive and not all require the linking of all letters.

My preference is italic handwriting as taught by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay. I used their workbook, Write Now, to teach myself this cursive hand, though I am an accomplished loopy handwriter. Getty and Dubay teach a printed form of italic first; the cursive version simply involves linking the letters already learned, not starting over from scratch. This is what it what my italic hand looks like:

Print Italic handwriting

Print Italic

Italic Cursive handwriting

Italic Cursive

Until we get past the simplistic either/or, cursive vs, keyboarding argument, it’s hard to see how we will ever come to an agreement regarding the teaching of cursive in our schools.

Hints and Echoes is about to undergo a transformation. Beginning December 1, Herb will join me as a writing (and drawing) partner. Posts will occur more often, but the overall theme of the blog will remain the same: observations on the journey we have personally made from the past to the present and the continuation of that journey from the present on into the future that we are all taking together. This is a subject to which we believe we bring a pertinent perspective, simply because of our advanced age! We’ll also be commenting on books we’re reading, on books we ourselves have written, and other miscellaneous topics. If you’d like to receive the posts in your email inbox, just sign up on the right where you are invited to follow this blog.



Filed under Education

To Bring You Up to Date on the Cursive Debate

cursive-writing-photoWhile the teaching of cursive handwriting has disappeared from the curriculum of many schools, there exists a lively debate about whether or not it is worth teaching

I am very much in the pro-cursive camp, believing that there are many benefits to cursive handwriting that are not generally acknowledged.

Obviously I am not alone. Demand for the teaching of cursive is so strong in some states that the legislature has actually passed a law mandating the teaching of cursive in the elementary schools in their state. I am not really in favor of educational objectives being mandated by law but prefer each State Board of Education draw up the standards for the state.

So far:

Six states (MA, CA, NC. TX, UT and IN) never dropped cursive from the curriculum after the introduction of Common Core, even though Common Core does not require that schools teach it.

 Ten states (South Carolina Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas ) have passed legislation mandating that cursive be taught in elementary school.

 Four states (New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio, Nevada) have legislation pending that mandates the teaching of cursive.

In Indiana a bill that would mandate cursive failed to pass (five times) and in Washington a similar bill was denied a vote in the legislature.

The Arizona governor vetoed such a bill because he believed that the state should not mandate educational objectives, but the Arizona State Board of Education has now included it in the educational standards.

And so it goes. State Boards of Education are debating the question as they set up their standards. Educators and parents on both sides of the issue have strong opinions.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss why they have so much trouble agreeing.










Filed under Education

Our Family Thanksgiving Prayer


Thirteen years ago, I wrote this prayer for our family, which then included a child. That little boy is now a semi-adult, but we are all still immensely grateful for the blessings enumerated here:

Dear God,

At this time of Thanksgiving, we thank you for our many blessings:

We thank you especially for our family and our happy homes.

We thank you for giving us all the food we need and want to eat.

We thank you for nice clothes, a comfortable bed, hot water, and a warm house.

We thank you for doctors who help make us well when we are sick.

We thank you for teachers who help us learn.

We thank you for the precious gift of our talents.

We thank you for music, and paintings, and books.

We thank you for our country—for the brave men who had the idea for our nation in the first place, and for the brave men and women who fight for our freedoms and to protect us from our enemies.

God bless us all. Help us always to do the right thing and to be grateful every day.




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Subtlety is Out

“Under Yale’s sexual misconduct policy. . .sexual assault includes any contact without ‘positive, unambiguous, and voluntary consent’. According to Yale, consent must be ‘ongoing’ at each stage of an encounter but ‘cannot be inferred from the absence of a ‘no’.”

Jennifer Braceras, “College Sex Meets the Star Chamber,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 23, 2016




I hear that there’s a law (A law no less!)

that “yes” means “yes.” Oh, no. It’s not

for politicians. It’s designed

for college guys with sex in mind.

Like children playing Mother, May I.

You remember, “Mother, may I take

two baby steps?” “One giant step?”

Anyhow, according to this law,

each sexual step must be preceded by

a clear request and answered, “Yes.”

He asks, “Is it okay to . . .” “What? she wonders,

He does, too. His brain is tied in knots.

They didn’t start this with a list of wants.

Life is cloudy; clarity’s for bots.

From the just-released Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herb Knapp. To see more poems from this book, go to girandolebooks.com.


And yes, in New York state, “affirmative consent ” has actually been codified into law.


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When You Count Your Blessings

Don’t forget to be thankful for modern medicine!

Bloodletting in the 16th century

Bloodletting in the 16th century

From An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-1865:

” Doctors didn’t know what caused people to be sick. What was worse, they didn’t know they didn’t know.

“It would be many years before the medical community understood the role that microscopic organisms played in causing disease and infection.

“In the meantime, various erroneous systems of belief led doctors to prescribe positively harmful treatments and medications.

“Chief among these was the ancient practice of bleeding or venesection. It was based on the notion that an overactive circulatory system caused blood to accumulate, leading to inflammation, which caused disease.The doctor used a razor-sharp lancet to cut into a vein in the arm or leg or sometimes the neck to drain blood from the circulatory system.”

How much blood are we talking about?

 Charles Meigs, a leading obstetrician, wrote in 1842 that he drained 52 ounces of blood from a 20-year-old new mother who had developed childbed fever on the fourth day after delivery . Without this treatment, which Dr Meigs said was typical, he was convinced she would have died. What is amazing is that the cure didn’t kill her.


300 years later and nothing much had changed.

It’s hardly surprising then that many people simply became their own doctors, relying on cookbooks that included recipes for remedies or turned to alternative practitioners. among them doctors known as homeopaths. Homeopaths administered minute and extremely diluted doses of medicine to produce symptoms similar to those of the disease. This was thought to be curative.

Read more about it.

Ann Haddad, researcher at the Merchant’s House Museum, recently discovered that the family who lived in the house in the 19th century turned to homeopaths for medical treatment. It comes as a great relief to the Merchant’s House staff and volunteers. All of us who have an affection for the  family who lived in the house were glad to learn that they were spared the grueling experience of bloodletting.

Read Ann’s interesting account of the history of homeopathy and how one 19th-century family embraced it.





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Do You Have to Print it Out if You Really Want to Understand It? Here’s why—

Are those of us who prefer paper books just indulging in nostalgia or does a physical page actually help the reader achieve better comprehension?

This New Yorker article by Maria Konnikova sheds light on what’s going on when we read online and what conclusions we can draw from the difference.
Because we know we have many sources at our fingertips when reading online, we tend to read faster, scrolling and scrolling, skimming, looking for key words as we go. No time to pause and mull over a passage. Reading a book or an article on paper, on the other hand, is not an open ended task. There is an end to it and we know where that end point is. We can see it and feel it in our hands. We don’t feel the same compulsion to keep going, but are more likely to give ourself time to contemplate, to reread a sentence, maybe turn down the corner of the page because we think we might like to return to a sentence we don’t quite yet understand. And I think there is an advantage to having the page in your lap and being able to look up and away as you think about what you have just read.

Also we are distracted online by hyperlinks that interrupt the flow of the argument. And, depending on what we’re reading, there may be ads here and there, attempting to pull us away from the text. And some of them, God help us, move! It’s simply exhausting and before long we’ve lost our grip.

So what are we going to do about it? For now I suppose, we can just print out what we must. But it’s critical that we figure out how to duplicate “deep reading” skills when reading in the digital environment.

The internet is a blessing, literally bringing the world’s knowledge to our fingertips. But unless we figure out how to teach readers to bring those deep reading skills to material that requires it, we are liable to end up with professionals in every field with shallow understanding of what they need to know.
If you are at all interested in this subject, the article is well worth reading.

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