Cursive, penmanship, calligraphy. If handwriting comes to mind with those words you may wonder, as I do, if they are about to disappear from our language. It was in 1995 that I read an article about legible handwriting becoming rare and that adults were resorting to printing to make their correspondence understood. Then more articles appeared saying that teaching handwriting in elementary school was being dropped in many schools. Will language and spelling be next, I wondered.
Every step forward in technology brings change. The telephone was viewed by many as an intrusion in daily living. Next came the typewriter which eventually wiped out hundreds of handwriting jobs. In the mid 19th century private penmanship classes taught thousands Spenserian handwriting from the manuals of Platt Spencer. By the 1900s another expert, Austin Palmer, brought a new method of handwriting to the public. Eighty percent of American schools were teaching the Palmer method by 1925. He has been called the man who revolutionized the handwriting of America.
Typewriters replaced the many experts in penmanship who had been in demand in the business world. And yet several years ago the National Commission on Writing did a survey of corporate America and found the written word is still important. Responders said that clear prose in a resume could be the difference between being hired or rejected. They are discouraged to read so many sloppy applications filled with too many needless words, grammatical and spelling errors and fuzzy thinking.
College admissions counselors were also surveyed about the quality of college applications they receive. They too are disappointed with the grammar and style of the required written essay. In 2002 the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only a quarter of 12th grade students could write a decent essay. Even worse only 2 percent wrote really well.
Do you ever wonder if the spoken and written word is becoming unnecessary? Today many believe that as long as their fingers work there is no need to talk or write. Texting has become the way to communicate. The English language has been shortened to numbers and single letters such as ‘4 u’ rather than 'for you.' Neither language nor spelling is important.
All these years after the typewriter replaced handwriting a debate has raged over the propriety of handwritten versus typed personal letters. E-mail added another layer to that debate. One company making note cards advertises their snail mail cards with a poem.
“E-mail rushes to and fro,
Since paper letters seem too slow
But we prefer the status quo:
This card was sent by escargot.”
Handwriting may be old fashioned but researchers are finding it is an extremely important skill for children to learn. It increases brain activity. Holding a pen or pencil increases motor skills and sends a message to the brain. Each time the process is repeated more pathways to the brain are made. They found handwriting is faster than using a keyboard and what is written is remembered longer.
In 2009 a company publishing manuals teaching handwriting instructions found that 40 states had dropped teaching cursive from their common teaching guidelines. Last month I learned printed books are under attack. A private school in Massachusetts has removed printed books from its library and replaced them with e-books and Kindles. Even more distressing is that the Florida legislature has passed a bill requiring all state schools to replace all print text books with digital by 2016.
This week a report from China stated that as school opens this fall elementary schools must hold a weekly calligraphy class for grades 3 to 6 and high schools must offer optional lessons. The reason is to improve writing Chinese characters by hand and “nurture patriotic feelings.”
We live in a topsy turvy world!