Thursday, October 12, 2006

Longhand is passing away, pecked to death by millions of keyboarders. Long live longhand.

The Washington Post reports on the demise of handwriting.
When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.

And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.

Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it's important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.

Scholars who study original documents say the demise of handwriting will diminish the power and accuracy of future historical research. And others simply lament the loss of handwritten communication for its beauty, individualism and intimacy.
Josh Marshall muses about what we're losing.
So does it matter? Do we really need to drill kids to learn cursive when it's a skill they just won't use very much except to sign their name?

Possibly so. The article points to some research that suggests that cursive handwriting leads to cognitive advancement. Kids who learn cursive handwriting express themselves in more complex thoughts. Given the tie-ins between cognitive development and hands, I guess this isn't that surprising.

Here's a question. When you jot things down in your daily life or take notes, do you write in cursive? I found that as I got older, late adolescence through early adulthood I guess, my cursive writing slowly died away and was replaced by a sort of hybrid of printing with a little cursive thrown in.

I'm looking here in one of the tablets I take notes in during the day. And the way I write isn't really quite either. But it's closer to print than cursive. How about you? How do you write when you put pen to paper? And how old are you?
For what it's worth, I've always felt there was a major difference between the process of writing a draft in longhand and simply getting on with it using a computer keyboard. In the case of the former, unless you want to end up with what looks like a bird's nest of strikeouts and insertions, you need to have some idea of where you are going before you set out, simply because of the physical labor involved in making changes. The computer imposes no such limitation. It's easy to make it up as you go and alter what you are saying -- indeed, to discover what you really mean to say -- while you are writing. Structure and planning versus free-form spontaneity.

I suppose that's the reason for something else dropping out of the school curriculum along with handwriting -- outlining. The Golden Age of Handwriting was also the Golden Age of Outlining. Outlines were maps that might keep writers from getting lost in a sea of words. But they're not really needed now -- just reach overboard and pick up some passing flotsam and jetsam from the sea we call the Internet.


Anonymous said...

Guess it is my last little vestige of anachronism -- I have lovely penmanship. Probably over-correcting, because I am a lefty. Anyhow, I was pretty stunned by this press release too.

Especially because learning disabilities seem to be increasing, and at least for my kids, the continuity of cursive helps avoid whatever disconnects occur while printing.

Uh, most of what I snatch out of the internet has to do with jellyfish...

your non-smoking pal,

Madison Guy said...

I have terrible penmanship, but love pens and using them. Interesting you mention non-smoking. Every time in the past when I tried to stop smoking, I would lose my ability to write in longhand -- it was as if my hand were seized by an invisible Parkinsonian tremor that only I could feel or see, making the whole act of writing so physically unpleasant and awkward I didn't want to bother. That ever happen to you? Now I use a residual, fractional patch and it doesn't happen.

Still nonsmoking,