Cursive Handwriting Needs Rescuing From Educationalists.

Opinion / February 12, 2013

The development of handwriting skills is set to be superseded in an educational move that is seen as a game being played by the USA schooling authorities. From 2014 a significant number of states in America are set to abandon cursive handwriting skills as a teaching resource and an essential element of the curriculum. Will handwriting be completely replaced by typing skills such as Typing with Tizzy.

There is a degree of inevitability after all our handwriting skills are diminishing from lack of use. Letter writing has been replaced by keyboard skills and email or text messages. We can no longer communicate without technology. Maybe this is a good thing as teenagers, historically renowned for their lack of communication now incessantly burst into print through endless text messages. The instant their attention wanes, out comes the mobile phone and thumbs twitch urgently above the keyboard. But is this level of instant communication beneficial? The world of Twitter and its 140 character format has allowed us to express a very concise view. The English precis format has become dynamic rather than an exercise in English language. Unfortunately this ease of access to publication has also taken us dangerously close to the dangers of the maxim “publish and be damned”? Facebook and Twitter are awash with messages the author wished they had never published.

Text abbreviation, the availability of spell-check and predictive text all tend to make communication too easy. Considered thought and the exploration of an argument have little place in a 140 character burst. Letter writing structure, report writing and even writing a novel could be jeopardised in the same manner many adults, brought up on fast finger food, struggle with the concept of cutlery.

Keyboard skills are essential in this technological world. The ability to type with speed and accuracy, once the domain of secretaries and typists, is now falling to the individual. School children learn to type as matter of course through educational games such as Typing with Tizzy. They become highly proficient and can knock spots off the older generation who can still be seen typing with two fingers, looking at the keypad not the screen. But sometimes the production speed overtakes the thought process thereby demeaning the content. Handwriting a bulletin slows things up allowing considered thought and time to reflect on the content.

There is a counter augment developing in the UK to abandoning cursive handwriting. The UK’s Department for Education are of the opinion that cursive writing skills have a substantial part to play in modern society. Not so, said 77 per cent of the 4,000 students recently interviewed in a research project; well they would say that wouldn’t they! But there is a surprising tangent to a simple yes or no debate. Whilst modern technology favours keyboard skills many children are being taught Mandarin as a language option to prepare them with the requisite communication skills in the now global market. This ancient language can hardly be regarded as a modern concept; indeed its script form is alien to western languages. Yet Chinese teachers in England are reporting significant interest by primary school pupils who find writing the Chinese characters fascinating and significantly helping them to understand the language.

This ancient and modern debate is set to run on. I have a strong belief cursive writing helps us towards  a greater understanding of language just as Chinese calligraphy is helping primary school children, and Egyptian hieroglyphics reveals the past to historians. If all communication was reliant on keyboard skills what would become of the portrayal of history. It’s bad enough detective stories can no longer reveal the culprit’s handwriting in evidence or reveal the ransom note was typed on certain a typewriter.  We need some disparity. The receipt of a handwritten note or letter holds one key unassailable ingredient. It’s personal; someone has taken the trouble and more importantly the time to write to me. The handwriting on the envelope portrays the sender holding greater significance than any typed script or email.

And what would become of the joy of owning a fountain pen? The feel of the weight of a good pen, how it glides across the page would be lost. The aspiration to own a designer pen that will last generations would disappear; replaced by soulless typed script and a keyboard that would last a year. Undoubtedly more efficient, easier to read, easier to file and recover and easier to transmit the typed communication using a keyboard knocks handwriting into a cocked hat in the same way calculators replaced  logarithm tables and slide rules used in maths calculations.

A clear indicator of the age of a person is through their handwriting. A young child’s scrawl with misshaped letters and meandering path depicts the developing mind freezing the script in time as if a photograph. The natural progression of improved handwriting with age is ultimately offset by its eventual decline. Following the path of the seven ages of man, in old age we revert to the scrawl of the child. All that would be lost in the typed page.

Let us keep handwriting skills and with it the degree of individualism that can never be accomplished on in typed script. As fast food is slowly destroying our ability to eat using cutlery the absence of handwritten script may destroy our very soul.

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