Do I Care? Should I?

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.

8 responses to “Do I Care? Should I?

  1. A very interesting point. I don’t think there is any justification for kids nowadays to ignore penmanship.

    You must have heard of Miyamoto Musashi who, besides of being a samurai, created “masterpieces of calligraphy”and showed that the art of war and the art of calligraphy have a lot in common (I’m not sure I put it right, but something tells me you know what I’m talking about :). This is just another way of presenting the “motor skills” you mentioned.

    When I’m thinkning about the gender issue now, I remember my husband saying he was going through the same problem in school, being continually mocked and underestimated due to his awful handwriting. And he said, he had never taken the trouble to improve it, since nobody cared to explain what stands behind calligraphy and why it is important to write clearly.

    It’s only many years later, when he became acquainted with the whole theory(his source being mainly the japanese swordsman), he conceived what underlies the concept of penmanship.

  2. Nice analogy–maybe I need to rethink my thesis! The key point is that you do have to learn skills that you can take pride in and I agree you’re more likely to get those from penmanship than keyboarding.

  3. (My previous comment has mysteriously disappeared, which gave me a chance to reshape my thoughts)))

    ***
    This is an important and interesting topic you’ve raised here, considering our contemporary world of technologies, where handwriting is regarded almost as an archaic method of self-expression. I belong to the younger generation and still, I strongly disagree that there is any justification for kids today to ignore the art of handwriting.

    You must be familiar (well, not personally :) with Miyamoto Musashi who, besides being a great samurai, indoctrinated the theory of calligraphy, saying that it has a lot to do with the art of combat. I’m not sure I put it the right way, but something tells me you know what I’m talking about ))) This is just another way of presenting the “motor skills” you mentioned, in a wider aspect.

    Now when I think about the gender issue, it reminds me of my husband, who was being continually mocked and underestimated during his school years because of his awful handwriting. He said, he had never taken the trouble to put much effort into this, because nobody cared to explain what stands behind the idea of clear writing. He didn’t understand WHY a beautiful handwriting was cultivated in the first place.

    It’s only years later, that he got acquainted with the japanese swordsman theory and conceieved the perception of calligraphy.

    Hence I conclude, that the idea of penmanship should be brought to light in schools with a preliminary theoretical approach… but I guess, this is just too sophisticated and unrealistic.

  4. The same thing, by extension, has already happened–certainly to me–in the world of numeracy.

    In my early years we used to learn and practice “Kopfrechnen” (head calculating, literally), ie calculating without the aid of a machine. This was considered important and I was hopeless at it.

    Now I pull out my iPhone to calculate even a tip in a restaurant.

    There goes that skill, never to return again.

    Who’s to say whether that is a loss?

    • Yes! The issue of learning math vs. how to use a calculator isn’t too different from learning penmanship vs. keyboarding. Maybe years ago when matches were invented there was a debate about whether fire starting skills would be lost?

  5. Horsemanship vs driving.

    Reading the stars vs using a compass.

    Reading a map vs GPS.

    Fishing with skill vs dynamiting the ocean and seeing what floats

    You’ve opened a can of worms…. ;)

  6. [Catching up on previous interesting posts]

    I used to write cursive, until I found that I was putting more words through a keyboard than a pen. Now I print. I print rather nicely, though.

    Some consider elegant writing the mark of a Gentleman; I think the concept of Gentleman has disappeared entirely from our society.

    One thing I find fascinating is the way younger people hold a pen. Obviously, God intended Man to hold a pen between thumb and first finger, aligned along the latter. Today’s youth have strange ways: between first and second fingers, and in other incomprehensible grips.

    The fascinating thing about handwriting is that it is the same for a person, whether he’s writing on paper or in really big letters on a blackboard. Which seems to say that the style isn’t contained in the finger muscles, but somewhere higher up, like the brain.

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