Handwriting Death Knell (again)

lettering homework

About every few months, someone publishes a story about the death of handwriting or some variation on this theme. Today’s grim reaper is the BBC with a video article about North Carolina Congresswoman Pat Hurley, who is drafting a bill to mandate handwriting be taught in primary school. A professor of linguistics provides counterpoint describing handwriting as “nostalgic”.

The whole video raised my hackles especially because neither camp mentioned the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills that are developed as a result of writing. Not to mention that handwriting in the joined-up version helps to speed up writing so that students (and later adults) can more quickly capture thoughts and ideas on paper.

On the whole, I think the story was a bit of sensationalist, shoddy journalism and I’m going to be all grr-argh! for the rest of the day as a result.

Argue, agree or debate at will.

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7 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Most journalism is sensationalistic, and most of it serves to instil fear in us. I agree that teaching handwriting is important for more than its own sake, motor skills etc. My 16 year-old can’t even read cursive, never mind write it: a product of the public school system. My godson is in third grade in the Catholic system and is already learning cursive, and can already do better than a lot of adults I know.

    Soon they’ll say speech is unnecessary. Then what happens if all our little devices stop working? Will we grunt and wave our hands, and wait for another black monolith?

    Handwriting tuition should be part of all school curricula.

  2. We are nowhere near the stage where anyone can exist without having to write a few words, every now and then. It is therefore essential that they be able to write legibly. The first step should be to eliminate the stupid but depressingly common idea that unreadable handwriting is something to be proud of.

  3. I don’t think handwriting is about to become obsolete, not so long as there are pen addicts and link lovers and, face it, plain old Luddites among us. On the other hand, I recently worked for a supervisor who would accept NO COMMUNICATION written or printed by hand. He preferred e-mail and the inchoate mess that Track Changes can make of a document, rather than handwritten marginal notes. And my 16-year-old, a sophomore in an advanced program at a relatively reputable high school, cannot submit work in cursive script: Anything she hands in must be submitted in word or block-printed–and, get this, IN PENCIL. So I see under way an attempt to minimize the use of cursive writing, in the interest of false time savings (at offices) or trendiness (in schools). Those of us who value the handwritten word should shun hysteria and, in simple terms, keep the faith and practice what we preach.

  4. There are cursives and there are cursives. In the photo above, someone (Ana?) is practicing an excellent printed italic style that can easily morph into a very legible cursive, with simple and efficient connecting strokes. The letterforms are based on ovals, which are easier for our hands to write — and just happen to be the forms that most of our typefaces started from, way back in the Renaissance. All that is unlike the misguided ‘block print’ style, based on 20th-century geometric typefaces, that Americans have been taught in primary grades. Changing from awkward circular forms to a very different 19th-century (!) Palmer-style cursive — with ornate and unfamiliar caps like A, G, M, N, Q, and S as well as new loopy forms for most of the lowercase — makes no sense.
    These arguments have been made for decades, but most people still think there’s something ideal about the goofy way they learned to write. At least some smart people can go back to correct caps and get rid of loops, to develop a personal hand that comes closer to the italic style they should have been taught to begin with.

  5. Funny. I am requiring all students to take handwritten notes next year. Oh, I am an educational technologist, but I find that the students who take handwritten notes (and also sketch note -yes I am teaching them this in my English classes) are having much more success than they have in quite a while. Although my handwriting was horrible for years (writing too fast as well as becoming a journalist), when I got the write utensils, it has improved significantly, and I take pride in that. Oh, I now have students who want to know where I get my pens and paper…and they are buying them. To quote one student: “pen and paper allow me to be an individual…my computer makes me look like everyone else.”

    1. Cary,
      You are teaching English and yet you use “write” utensils instead of “right” utensils?
      May I ask how you fare with there, their and they’re?

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