On the inevitable death of handwriting

When I started writing this post about the dying state of handwriting, I originally intended to write it out in the black journal book that I keep for occasional note-taking. After a few days of procrastinating, I went back to my thoughts on the page.

As I looked down at the chicken scratch I composed the day before I realized that it was completely illegible! How could this be? How could years of practicing handwriting still produce a doctor’s note full of cryptically indecipherable scribbles?

This is just one of the reasons why handwriting has gone out of style for me and why I have turned to the laptop and iPod for taking notes, but I’m not the only one. It seems that the whole world is turning its back on handwriting.

Technology has really put a vice on handwriting; some administrators in the US educational system already consider handwriting dead.

In today’s classes, cursive is used irregularly with the exception a student’s individual note taking. Most teachers, when asking for handwritten work, will ask for printed fonts so it can be read clearly.

Since the 1920s, printed letters have dominated cursive, which is becoming more and more obsolete with the emerging technologies of mass media. Many parents would rather see the subject just simply disappear from the curriculum taught to their children so they can focus on more important subjects, like typing.

As more schools turn electronic the focus has been directed to early year engagement with typing. Think how fast children will be able to type, having all their educational lives interfaced with computers. Computer illiteracy will be a thing of the past. But eventually, most children will no longer know how to use cursive or even print handwriting.

Many in the field of education have been prophesying the death of handwriting for years, and yet, people still write in books, keep journals, students in universities still have to hand in written documents during exams. The great changeover was already suppose to have happened fifteen years ago and yet it still hasn’t come to pass. But why not?

Well, for one thing, old habits die hard. Even though I can’t read my old handwriting I still enjoy the organic quality of writing on paper, the intimacy of being as far from Facebook as possible!!

Another reason is the increased popularity of digital pens and handwriting apps. PenultimateWritepad and Note-Taker have all grown in popularity since the iPad came out. Now you can easily transcribe your handwriting to print at the click of a button. This is amazing for people who just can’t quit cursive!

Also, this generation is the first to live its entire life within the scope of the computer. Think how future generations will use computers comparatively to those who only had a partial engagement with them as children. These days, three year olds can use cellphones! So, eventually, the human experience with education will be synonymous with computer usage. By the next generation, the change will have occurred.

The printed page would forever change once computers were more predominantly used in schools. Even in high school I remember the out-of-date Apple II series computers we had, a few years of kids were trained on these archaic pieces. I remember giving up on cursive around the same time. I just never bothered after teachers complained about my handwriting.

While my computer training effectively helped me to type, all the cursive training I had was not so long lasting. I remember making sure the letters were at the appropriate size and that I was able to reproduce the calligraphic style. It was tough work, well it was for me at least. But I don’t feel bad about learning it, I just feel bad that I might have been part of the last generation that did.

As handwriting becomes less important, do our penmanship skills suffer? And might this have a detrimental effect on learning? After all, we have been writing down stuff for thousands of years and before that we used cave graffiti to tell our stories.

It seems schools have already decided to cut out handwriting curriculum, but it might be a little to early to claim handwriting’s death, especially since many studies have shown handwriting to be beneficial to the educational process.

An article recently published in the Sun Sentinel claims that children that have better handwriting also do better in school. Perhaps we shouldn’t write handwriting’s obituary quite so soon. There is still a lot of benefit that arises from calligraphy skills, after all didn’t Steve Jobs study calligraphy in university?

What if we had the technology to no longer need to write anything? Would we no longer train our young minds to write? No. Of course not!

Just because we can get rid of a curriculum doesn’t mean we should; writing is an art after all, it trains the mind and keeps us sharp.

Now if we can only figure out how to decipher my chicken scratch…

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  • Wonderful post! When I was in school, I had horrible hand-writing and in my later years in high school, my hand would cramp after only a few minutes of writing. Then again, the girls at my school were pretty hot, so lots of male students suffered hand cramps… um… anyway.

    I know some students just in general have bad hand-writing. I did notice that students with good writing also seemed to be the smart ones, but I’m sure there are exceptions.

    I look forward to more posts like this.

  • All children should still learn penmanship, as it is a fine-motor skill, and the brain develops differently when it is absent. actually making the letters and numbers by hand also helps many young children to learn, and solidify the concept into their minds. children should at least learn basic penmanship, as they should also learn to use a paintbrush, chalk, et cetera. The other problem with computers is that they are still more expensive than pens and paper. while children should learn to use computers, including things like typing and digital art, this really should be reserved for slightly older children. Computers should not be introduced into a child’s cirriculum until at least grade 1.

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