A comment that appeared on Twitter today led me to an article on AJC titled Cursive may be a fading skill, but so what? The article interested me in view of a number of places I’ve been recently where concerns are being expressed about the standards of literacy (or lack of them) among today’s learners – with the ability to write by hand being considered a lost art in an age of text messaging and the word processor, and where what used to be called “penmanship” is being shunted aside at schools across the country in favor of 21st century skills.
Referred to in the article are a number of the arguments used by those wanting to retain an emphasis on hand-writing:
It [hand-writing] doesn’t get quite the emphasis it did years ago, primarily because of all the technology skills we now teach. (ie it’s technology’s fault!)
…cursive writing is a lifelong skill, one she fears could become lost to the culture, making many historic records hard to decipher and robbing people of “a gift.”
…cursive writing is an art that helps teach them muscle control and hand-eye coordination.
In the age of computers, I just tell the children, what if we are on an island and don’t have electricity?
The article actually reports a range of perspectives, providing responses for those who are lamenting the lack of time devoted to learning hand-writing in schools:
The important thing is to have students proficient enough to focus on their ideas and the composition of their writing rather than how they form the letters.
Just like when we went from quill pen to fountain pen to ball point, now we’re going from the art of handwriting to handwriting purely as communication.
So – what’s the verdict? Should we see more time devoted to learning that cursive script as I did when I was a student, or should we accept that digital technologies enable us to record and communicate our ideas just as effectively as hand-written tombs, and, being digital, enable us to share, use and re-use what we have written in a number of contexts.
Footnote: if I do have one concern in this area it’s reference to the idea that it is text messaging and Twitter that is replacing hand-writing. There’s a subtle second issue hidden in this debate, and that is around the ability to create quality, in-depth written prose – something more than 140 characters. Word processors, wikis and blogs provide useful vehicles for this type of writing, while IM and Twitter, in my view, simply replace the “notes-to-self” stuff we write in our diaries, or the “message-at-the-speed-of-thought” often fired across board tables on a scrap of paper. It pays to be discriminating in terms of what we are promoting I guess.