TDQ: School districts around the country are eliminating teaching cursive, with the logic that no one will use script in the future, everyone will type or text. As an English teacher, do you think that actually writing a story or assignment with a pen and paper is fundamental to becoming a better writer/student, or do you agree that if they’re going to type so much, to hell with teaching cursive?
Haffner: Ha. Good question. I wouldn’t say the actual act of putting pen to paper on a regular basis is going to make a person a better writer, per se (I haven’t used the phrase “per se” in a long time and, looking at it now, I’m realizing I need to use it more often), but it’s still important. If for no other reason, the lack of funds being appropriated to public schools these days almost ensures that kids are going to continue to get an education that’s totally and utterly devoid of current technological devices. They need to learn to write so I can stop grading 150 essays that I swear are written in Sanskrit.
But I’d also like to add that technology is a key that can unlock an unparalleled level of writing skill and communication amongst our current generation. Think about it…our grandparents used to write letters all of the time. Because of it, their writing skill as a generation was far superior to that of my generation, a.k.a. the thirtysomethings. We grew up in the knothole between letter writing and e-mails which means we sat in our bedrooms and talked on our really cool corded phones for hours on end. But we weren’t actually doing any writing. This generation posts, tweets, texts, blogs, blurps…whatever. For all the criticisms we level on these kids for the technological addictions, at least they’re communicating through some form of the written word. Instead of fighting against that, let’s embrace it. Let’s use the fact that kids are writing (or typing) words and take advantage of that. At least they aren’t laying in bed with a bag of Cheetos in their lap twirling a phone cord around their finger “umm-ing” and “uhhh-ing” their way through a pointless conversation.
TDQ: What book are you reading right now?
Haffner: No joke, I’m actually reading a book called “Angry, Black, White Boy” by Adam Mansbach. It’s an incredible melding of the white, upper class kid who is so inspired by the hip hop generation that he sheds his identity as a Caucasian in order to create a revolutionary order of… angry, black, white boys. It really is a pretty incredible book by a young, up and coming writer.
TDQ: What project are you working on right now?
Haffner: Answering a series of interview questions for The Daily Quarterly.
TDQ: Quick: F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck?
Haffner: Steinbeck…I’ll take the working class drunk over the socialite drunk any day.
TDQ: What’s the best book you’ve read in the past five years?
Haffner: I read a book called “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder that was about the efforts a Boston physician made to bring medicine and supplies to the people of Haiti. It was a remarkable book that made me want to move to Haiti. As long as I never get sick in Haiti.
TDQ: With the way the internet and e-readers are changing the way people read and experience books, are books as we now know them dying? And do you yourself have an e-reader or iPad? And if so, can we borrow it?
Haffner: I do have an e-reader…you’re more than welcome to borrow it as long as you charge the battery before giving it back to me…and I wouldn’t say books are dying. It’s hard to say that books are dying when, for so long, it’s felt like reading is already dead. No matter what new technologies are introduced you will always have the group of people who are members of the Dungeons and Dragons fan page on Facebook…and we will ensure there is always a market for the good ‘ol book!
TDQ: Isn’t your career really all downhill from here after this interview runs?
Haffner: I’m pretty sure my entire life will be downhill after this interview. In fact, this is it. I’ve done it. I’ve reached the Zenith of my life…wow…feels good.
TDQ: Are you on Twitter? If yes, why aren’t you following @dailyquarterly?
Haffner: I’m not on Twitter. I don’t think “tweeting” is something that should ever occur in a public forum. So I avoid it.
Haffner: Gotta go with Facebook because even though the verb “tweeting” gives me the heebie-jeebies, “Facebooking” sounds okay to me…
TDQ: You’re welcome for our time
Haffner: Highlight of my life.
Read part 1 of our TDQ Q&A with Jay Haffner here. And take good notes when you do, this will all be on the test.