I picked up a link to an interesting article yesterday from the New York Times about the increasing numbers of students who have lost the art of cursive handwriting. I had to look twice when I read it. Could it possibly be true that handwriting is not even being taught beyond infancy in some places these days?
I’m not worried for my own children, who have been taught better than I ever was. My primary education happened in the wake of the 1967 Plowden Report which drastically altered education in the UK. Or so it seemed to me when I compared my early learning experiences with those of earlier generations. But I think my avant-garde primary school, fun and playful experience as it was, threw the baby out with the bath water. I’m not sure what The Plowden Report had to say on handwriting (or for that matter on anything), but I do know that during the late 60s, no one seemed to care what handwriting looked like. By the time I reached university, I was told before my first year exams that if I didn’t improve my script, my papers would go unmarked. That was sufficient incentive for me to spend my Easter holidays following a handwriting course for seven year olds. It did the trick.
It was odd that I had such shocking handwriting, because I have always been so visually sensitised, and there are few things in life I admire more than beautiful script. I used to feel envious of German and French penfriends for their interesting instantly recognisable national styles, which certainly wasn’t the case in England. I would longingly gaze at scraps of handwriting I encountered from years gone by, and wish my natural scrawl was intricate copperplate.
I taught myself calligraphy, and became pretty expert at calligraphic scripts, but it had little impact on my day-to-day messy lettering. But at least I could write cursively, and could read cursive handwriting, which is something that according to the NYT article, many students can no longer do.
I can’t produce evidence as to why, but I instinctively feel this is not good. I have always said to people who declare they can’t draw ‘properly’ (by which they usually mean a formal academic type of drawing) “Of course you can; you just need to be taught! If you can write your name, you can draw. It’s essentially a motor skill…” But what if people never learn to write cursively to begin with? What does this lack of motor skill training mean not only in life but in terms of visual aesthetics and the art of drawing?
If all written communication is tapped out on a keyboard, the chances are it will be lost entirely within a decade or so. That’s a whole other story, of course, but even as I sit and type this out, I can comfort myself with the thought that at last I do put pen to paper nearly every day.