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Thursday, 17 February 2011

A Question

A recent comment by my brother got me thinking about handwriting. He said he couldn't understand why school wasted any time teaching cursive writing to students. He feels that with the available technology, cursive is an archaic skill.

It's true. Most of us rarely write with pen and paper anymore. Some of the younger teachers at school can't write in cursive and certainly aren't comfortable teaching handwriting to children. When I was in grade school, penmanship was part of the curriculum, and I can remember the endless pages of oooooos and llllllls we wrote to help us develop the fine motor skills needed to form the graceful loops and whirls of handwriting. Now, students get about fifteen minutes a day and teachers don't feel the skill is important because so much of what a student does is on the computer. I can understand how people would feel that handwriting is uneccessary and with all the new things teachers need to fit into the school day, there really isn't time to teach this old-fashioned skill.

Still, I can't help but feel that society loses something valuable if cursive writing becomes extinct. This spring I spent many hours typing my grandmother's journal into the computer so every family member could have a copy. The first half of the journal was handwritten and the second half typed on a typewriter. I enjoyed the whole thing, but it was more interesting reading the first half. At first we couldn't figure out all the extra periods, but soon we realized Grandma had an interesting habit of resting her pen on the page after writing a word while she thought of what she wanted to say next. In her handwriting I could see her personality and often her mood as she wrote.

The potential death of cursive writing is extending to printing as well. While I was subbing at the school recently, I had a conversation with some of the teachers. It began when I observed how the children all held their pencils in different ways. I remember learning to print and how holding the pencil properly was so important. The teachers told me that they that they didn't have time to worry about proper form and as long as the child could make legible letters, it didn't matter.

My own children are all in junior/senior high school and well beyond the grades where good penmanship is encouraged. They are asked to submit all their papers typed rather than handwritten.  One of my daughters even struggles to read some cursive writing. I always tell them they better learn, because that is the only way I write. Some college entrance exams in the United States still have handwritten essay components which can be graded with an automatic fail if the person grading the test can't read the handwriting.

I listened to an fascinating interview on CBC the other day. They were discussing the importance of handwritting and some interesting studies that had been done. It has been found that students who write an essay by hand before typing it into the computer express themselves better, have more creative ideas and, overall, write better essays. I've always maintained that writing by hand engages a different part of the brain than typing on the computer. If I am typing, I can watch TV, talk to someone and still type at the same time. On the other hand, if I am using pen and paper, my entire focus needs to be on what I am writing and I tend to think through what I am saying a lot more thoroughly.

Don't get me wrong, I would never give up my computer. If I had to write novels by hand, I don't know if I would ever finish. But there are times when I put the computer away and get out my notebook and pen. It helps me get past writer's block and brainstorm new ideas. When I write in my journal, it is always by hand. There is something so much more personal and intimate about expressing ideas one elegant loop at a time. And there is nothing better than receiving a hand written note in the mail. And, as the CBC program pointed out. . .what happens during a power failure or when the batteries die?

I can't change what is taught in the schools, and can't even convince my kids to improve their handwritting skills. I won't give up my computer but I won't give up my pen and notepad either. But maybe I am part of the last generation that will write letters, grocery lists and journal entries by hand. I find that a little sad.

3 comments:

Rachelle said...

Totally love this post! I don't like my handwriting and find that I'm impatient because I can type so much faster. But I still write in my journal by hand and there's something to say about practice. I'm shocked at the conversations you've had with teachers. My daughters are in 2nd and kindergarten and handwriting is very important. The teachers stress holding the pencil correctly and my 2nd grader's handwriting is rivaling my own print. :) Hopefully those teaching methods won't dissolve because I agree they are very important. And on another interesting note--some of the dystopian novels out there focus on this very thing--the death of handwriting. If you've read Uglies or Matched, you'll know what I'm talking about. Sorry for the novel here (told you I type fast) but this is an interesting topic! :)

Karen said...

I also enjoyed this post. I also think I have horrible hand writing and I don't think my teachers cared too much teaching it. Except for maybe third and sixth grades, but by then I didn't care. It is important to learn the fine motor skills. I also agree that hand writing allows more expression. Ever since I started blogging my journal has been put on hold, and I miss how personal I can get when I write things down by hand

Stephanie Humphreys said...

You're right Rachelle, good handwriting does take practice. I remember as a teenager, someone told me I didn't have very nice handwriting. I didn't think it was that bad, but I decided to work on it. Now I've been told I have very nice writing, but it took years of work to get it that way.

Karen, just the other day I was thinking about how my journal writing has suffered since I started blogging. I usually print all my blogs at the end of the year and put them into a book, but it just isn't the same or as personal as writing in my journal. I become a journal writer again.

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