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Peggy Barnhardt: Brain freeze

Peggy Barnhardt

While working as a bank teller, needless to say, I came into contact with people from all walks of life. Two come to mind presently.
Although the actual encounters have long passed and their names have escaped my memory, the situation was impactive. Neither man could read or write. This is what prompted me to join the Rowan County Literacy Council, where I received tutor training in the Laubach Basics.
Before, it had never occurred to me that in this day and age there were still persons with little access to educational opportunity who were holding down jobs and concealing their inability to read.
I first became aware when a gentleman customer began coming to my station weekly to cash his check. He would perfunctorily place his mark in the designated space — X marked the spot — X was his mark.
Usually his wife would sign her name under his mark. One day, for whatever reason, her signature was missing, and since an X is non-descriptive and easily reproduced, a witnessed approval had to be obtained — legally necessary, but frustrating all the same.
Of course by now I knew his face, his race, his occupation and his always pleasant smile. So I made him the offer — the opportunity to learn to write his name. It took only a couple of lessons on his weekly visits. Voila! A beautiful signature emerged like a moth from a cocoon, and happy campers witnessed it — he, his wife and I.
A signature in the cursive style of writing, letters formed in a connective line, with individual twists making each one uniquely distinctive; this was the accepted norm on all business forms.
What to do now that cursive writing is no longer taught in school, along with other things that have become passé?
For example: I went to Hardee’s and bought a burger the cost of which was $1.07. I gave the cashier a $5 bill and as an afterthought, a quarter as to not have a bunch of change. It took her three tries to determine my correct change. Is adding and subtracting with your brain passé?
I have young guys that do yard work that can’t figure out the amount they are owed or the time worked on a clock. Are digital watches, smart phones and tablets diminishing our thinking ability, generating a form of stasis? I know remembering phone numbers seems far more difficult than it used to be since my phone compiles them for me.
Can your teen fill out a time card, write a check, read a bank statement, interest rates or insurance? History is both enriching and exciting, but it would seem consumer math would better serve the purpose of everyday life.
Such subjects speak to a realistic view toward financial success. Vocational training used to be taught in high school, maybe that idea needs to be revisited. There is a relevant connection between skill level, thinking ability and crime rate.
Muscles become flaccid from non-use. As Arthur Fletcher’s phrase expressed, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Think about it.

Peggy Ann Barnhardt lives in Salisbury.

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