Here’s a topic guaranteed to polarize people according to age—the demise of handwriting skills. I read an article the other day saying that fewer and fewer kids were actually learning longhand writing. They do learn to print, but rather than ‘waste’ time learning cursive writing, they learn other things.
In my formative school years, all of my classrooms always had all of the letters of the alphabet on big cards along one wall. For the first couple of years they were printed letters—capitals and lower case. For the next few years they were those fancy cursive letters—the ones that are only used on wedding invitations. Do you know anyone who makes a “Q” like a “2?”
So kids aren’t learning that and apparently it is creating the usual amount of righteous indignation on both sides of the argument. One side says that by practicing penmanship kids learn valuable eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. The other side says that they get enough of that playing Grand Theft Auto and texting and should spend their time learning more important skills like being passionate about things.
I must admit that while reading the article my first reaction was to shake my head and to consider the loss of handwriting skills as yet one more example of the de-evolution of the human race that Generation Z represents.
But then I thought about it. Next to algebra and dealing with the opposite sex, handwriting probably caused me more anxiety than anything else at school. The older the teacher, the more artistic her writing was and the higher her standards of proper penmanship. We used to get two grades on essays. One for neatness. Bad writing didn’t mean misplaced modifiers, it meant sloppy handwriting. Clear thinking only counted for half. Improperly formed loops and humps were prima facie evidence of carelessness, a substandard mind, diffuse personality deficiencies and unpreparedness for participation in the human race. Their words, not mine.
There was perfect correlation between neat writing and the teacher’s opinion of you. Because it was physically impossible for left handed people to reproduce the letters on the wall, they were universally deemed to be slovenly underachievers.
But the question remains, is the loss of handwriting skills something we should mourn? Is it as bad as the extinction of the snail darter? Will some important part of our brains atrophy? I’m having a hard time becoming, excuse the expression, passionate about it.
In fact, maybe I feel pretty good about it. Perhaps it’s an element of schadenfreude as I think of the smug condescension of the girls in elementary school whose essays were always held up as examples of how a “good” student wrote. I remember the young ladies cringing as the teacher handed back my essays, smudged with erasures and dripping with the red ink of condemnation. They were afraid to look at my work for fear that the condition might be contagious. Even the teacher seemed to want to handle it as little as possible.
Where are they now? Their claim to superiority rendered null and void by the homogeneity of Times New Roman, Book Antiqua and Arial. Looks like I was ahead of the curve with my sans serif, huh?
But I gloat.
The more I think about it, I’m convinced that loss of handwriting skills may in fact be a legitimate change in human behaviour brought about by technology. And believe me, not all changes in human behaviour brought about by technology are legitimate. I’m sure that cursive writing was invented as a kind of shorthand because printing was too slow to process large amounts of data. Penmanship was invented by spinster schoolteachers as a means to torment the male sex.
So there you have it. As long as you know how to print so that you can make your “X” if the power is out and you can’t do a digital signature, you should be just fine.