Leafing through one of those family magazines with stories about kids and activities, I came across a headline that instantly caught my eye: “Is Writing Relevant?” The magazine featured an overview of New Jersey prep schools, so this headline had me worried. Were schools, private or public, really considering axing writing from their curricula? What could the editors be thinking, I wondered to myself — of course, writing’s relevant! After that first assault on my psyche, I read on.
The article, thank goodness, wasn’t advocating the end of academic writing programs, but it was talking about eliminating cursive writing instruction, which to me is almost as serious. Are we really going to be better off as a society and a culture if kids don’t know how to sign their names? Frankly, cursive writing was already an afterthought when Alex was in elementary school and I often kick myself because I never really sat down with him and tried to compensate for this.
I think back to my own days sitting in my third-grade class with one of those work books with an army of straight lines marching across the pages and the letters I was yearning to shape and master captured before me in black ink. How proud and excited I was when I learned to shift from clunky block letters to smooth-flowing script! How I loved that feeling of my hand gliding across the page, looping letters together in one unbroken sweep. Somehow, learning to hand write my name and all the letters of the alphabet connected me to the whole world of words in the same fundamental and mysterious way that learning to read did. I felt strong and powerful — as if I’d crack a code and opened up the universe. It also connected me to words physically as well as emotionally.
And I think of my mother’s beautiful and graceful handwriting in letters and notes she wrote to me, and my Aunt Sandy’s lovely handwriting. And then I think of my father’s strong, angular handwriting. He grew up in Germany and his handwriting definitely had a different cultural tilt to it: vigorous, upright, and bold, it consumed page after page as he wrote articles for publication. I wonder what a handwriting analyst would have made of it.
Does anyone really think that robbing kids of the ability to write by hand by not teaching them this vital skill in school is not going to affect them negatively? That having them write everything on a computer with an angsty little arrow constantly blinking at them is going to lead anywhere that we really want to go? There is plenty of evidence (I’m gathering it for a future post) that writing by hand links the two hemispheres of the brain and reinforces the mind-body connection in a way that inputting on a computer doesn’t.
So let’s not give up on cursive writing. Maybe if schools take this ill-favored step, then a whole new profession will be born: handwriting teachers. These valued scribes will help us recapture something that, in my view, is more precious than gold: the ability to put a pen or pencil to paper and inscribe our names and pour our hearts out. What’s your view on this? I would love to know what you think. Write on!
When I was growing up in the middle of the last century I learned ‘joined-up’ writing with the Marion Richardson method, very different from the ornate cursive script favoured in North America and simpler from the ‘italic’ style most of my contemporaries used in the UK school I went to. Until I stopped schoolteaching in 2008, many kids seemed to have worked out a joined-up lower case style of their own, though the occasional individual who’d slipped through the net insisted on writing in small CAPITAL LETTERS. If you’re interested, there’s an overview of UK handwriting styles in the 20th century here: http://www.unask.com/website/handwriting/new_web_pages/acquisition.htm
Yes, PCs and laptops are becoming ubiquitous in schools here too, and many with special needs seem to almost exclusively used them. The world is changing before our eyes, and I have no idea where it is heading. Do any of us?