Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Handwriting Dilemma

The cycle of typing and tapping on the phone, keyboard, etc. As I settle into bed, I realize I haven't "written" anything with a pen and paper, all day. My gut races from excitement to terror as I realize there is simply no need to put pen to paper.

With the rapid increase of communication through digital devices, does it matter if we write or not? Is the future of a penned signature a fingerprint?

Common Core has removed the mandatory teaching of cursive.  A few articles highlight the importance of teaching cursive in school, In Defense of Cursive and Should Schools Still Teach Cursive. Yet, hardly anyone uses cursive as a primary form of writing. The opposite argument can be raised. If no one uses cursive anymore, then we shouldn’t teach it (clearly that is why CCSS removed it). So, with the disbandment of third graders’ write of passage, the future of penmanship as a whole appears to be misty and murky.

If writing with a pen is no longer typical, then do we even need to teach it in schools? Rather than writing in kindergarten, should kids just learn to type? Can we even extend that to touch typing on a screen rather than keyboarding?

Historically, penmanship was an art. From the Constitution, to love letters, penmanship was and still is a way to physically connect with a person by knowing that his or her hand penned the words.

Email has rapidly replaced telegrams and letters. E-cards are the new birthday notes.

The word write means to mark (letters, words, or other symbols) on a surface, typically paper, with a pen, pencil, or similar implement. Lets think about that word, “typically”, and understand that we are at a crossroads of typical and mainstream. If write means to mark, then as we type we mark the computer screen and as we write with a pen we mark paper. Yes, typically we write on paper, but in mainstream we mark on the computer. So the work write really should now include the mainstream devices we use to write which are computers.

And on the subject of writing, why do we still teach a “friendly letter” format when adults hardly send handwritten letters anymore? What we should be emphasizing is how to craft simplistic email subject lines, digital signatures, and text messages.

Communication has dramatically shifted from physical to digital. I don’t even know what ringtone is on my phone because my primary way of communicating is via text. Phone messages go forgotten because I don’t know anyone who actually leaves me messages, so when someone does I don’t even remember to check them.

Writing in school needs to keep up with the culture of communication. If we are preparing students for life, then we need to think about how they will be communicating in the world when they are adults, and thus we need to teach foundational skills that will help them in that arena.

Yet, on the flip side, there is deep historical and personal value to the physical connection between hand, pen, and paper. Productivity expert David Allen states in the New York Times article by Phyllis Korkki In Defense of Paper, “ Its physical presence can be a goad to completing tasks, whereas computer files can easily be hidden and thus forgotten, he said. Some of his clients are returning to paper planners for this very reason, he added.”
Beautifully stated, co-founder of Levenger, Steve Leveen expresses to the New York Times, “ ‘Paper reminds us that ‘we’re physical beings, despite having to contend with an increasingly virtual world,’ he said. People complain that writing by hand is slow, but that can be good for thinking and creating, he said: ‘It slows us down to think and to contemplate and to revise and recast,’ " (In Defense of Paper by Phyllis Korkki, New York Times).
The crossroads are here. Handwriting is real and physical, ideas spring to life with effort. Typing is quick, efficient, and productive. We accomplish more with less, and neatness is automatic. Handwriting connects us to the historical past, and typing pushes us forward.
Kids will rely upon texting more than email in the future. Maybe the business deals they make will be artfully crafted with emojis and Vines.
Where does handwriting stand? Where does communication stand? And how do we teach our students and children to expertly use the communication tools available to them if we ourselves stick to the tools we know?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article! Thank you!

    I think that writing on paper in our time is not so modern. And more and more people have become just typing on the keyboard or typewriter.
    Most modern people do not really know how to hold a pen, but they surely are printed.

    I even found the competition in speed of printing and literacy.
    For example http://keyboard-racing.com/
    And as the Internet, I found a lot of lessons on how to quickly learn how to type, but did not find any tutorial how to write with a pen.