Is It the End for Handwriting? Are Tablets Doing Penmanship In?

Is handwriting on the way out? Is scribbling with a pencil or ink pen on actual paper destined to become a cultural relic?

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Is handwriting on the way out? Is scribbling with a pencil or ink pen on actual paper destined to become a cultural relic? The BBC wonders in a brief piece that presents the arguments in two columns, one that views (cursive) writing as critical — a matter of heritage and art, the other suggesting that we’re clinging to handwriting for mere nostalgic reasons.

I don’t have the answer, but my penmanship has been in decline for years because I write almost never (just to sign checks or mortgage documents, and even then, it’s chicken scratch — were my signature an EKG chart, I’d be dead). A decade ago, finishing my graduate degree, I was filling spiral-bound notebooks with tiny, barely legible notes — for some goofy reason, I liked to cram two written lines between each 9/32 of an inch horizontal writing space. In the 2000s, I switched to a notebook computer for everything, because I can type and revise a lot faster than I can scribble something down or erase and rewrite it. I’ve since folded smartphones and tablets in, my notes automatically synchronized, easily accessible and readily available for copying, printing or emailing.

I know many who’ll swear by legal pads and no. 2 pencils, who — even if they eventually have to type things out — prefer to write by hand. They argue that by actually writing things out, they’re slowing the creative process down, allowing themselves more time to consider what they have to say. Consider the hypothetical advantages if you know you’re going to revise what you’ve written anyway — as they say, most of writing well is revision.

And yet Jeffrey Reaser, the North Carolina State University linguistics professor interviewed for the piece makes a powerful point: “The resources that schools are given, the most important resource probably is time. There’s only so many hours in the school year, we have to think about what really fits in there in terms of our priorities.”

What do you think? Pen and paper are as much “technology” as laptops, desktops and tablets. Is the urge to continue teaching forms of handwriting like cursive just a kind of primitivism? A generational artifact that’ll eventually disappear now that we’ve developed arguably superior communication alternatives? If the research indicates that the cognitive benefits from learning to write by hand are essentially nil, should we really bother anymore at the formal educational level (beyond, say, its pursuit as an art)?

Is handwriting still important? The digital generation skips penmanship [BBC]

4 comments
DaveGreen
DaveGreen

Being able to put one's words to paper, whether in cursive or block print, is a basic communication skill that should enever be allowed to be crowded out by electronic media. Consider if all current written works were  available only on magnetic or paper tape, requiring a reading device to allow the material to be read out. Reader dead; no information.  Same with math skills. Sure we have calculators/computers that make our feeble attempts at number crunching look quaint, but what happens when the batteries die, or you make a data entry error. Either you have no numerical processing ability, or you don't recognize a result that is obviously in error, indicating a data input problem GIGO! 

The ability to read/write with basic means is the same as the ability to perform basic math (hopefully mentally). The electronic aids that we use to speed up/neaten up the output are only tools; no substitute for the basic ability.

Kate-Gladstone
Kate-Gladstone

Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations appear below.)Cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are required to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters. When following the rules doesn't work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.(In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too ... not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.) Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)CITATIONS:/1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HANDWRITING STYLE AND SPEED AND LEGIBILITY. 1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf and /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.DEVELOPMENT OF HANDWRITING SPEED AND LEGIBILITY IN GRADES 1-9. 1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf (NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way. Shouldn't there be more of them?)Yours for better letters,Kate Gladstone Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Worksand the World Handwriting Contesthttp://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

Kate-Gladstone
Kate-Gladstone

Handwriting matters ... But does cursive matter?

Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters join only some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations appear below.)

Cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are required to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters.

When following the rules doesn't work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)

Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.

(In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too ... not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)

Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don't take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)

CITATIONS:

/1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HANDWRITING STYLE AND SPEED AND LEGIBILITY.

1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

and

/2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.

DEVELOPMENT OF HANDWRITING SPEED AND LEGIBILITY IN GRADES 1-9.

1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

(NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.

Shouldn't there be more of them?)

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone

Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works

and the World Handwriting Contest

http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

bluenotebacker
bluenotebacker

2 things: I think paper will always be around, but the proliferation of technology has driven the demand for it down and as a result paper prices skyrocket. Paper and paper products rise in price quarterly and will keep rising as paper mills and distributors find energy costs going up and sales going down. Also, studies have shown that you remember a thing more if you PRINT it on paper than if you write in cursive or any sort of script. I think teaching cursive in schools is a colossal waste of time and resources.