Penmanship – A lost art?

I recently read an article by Louise Brown called “Why Johnny can’t sign his name”, and I have to admit that it was a little disheartening.

I can, personally, recall many hours as a child trying to get my cursive looking like something vaguely similar to what the teacher was showing us.  I recall with a certain amount of horror the many hours, or so it seemed, of practicing curves and loops on lined paper so that I could be ready for my days of writing everything in cursive.

If, through the course of these lessons, I fell off some, it would show in the form of a note on my report card.  I would always fall a little short on this part and never brought home anything better than a C or C+ for cursive.  This was mostly my own fault, I think there may have been part of me that sensed I was going to be in computers or engineering when I grew up, so I did not try as hard at the time.

I do not use cursive today, in fact, I have not written in cursive for many, many years.  It was just never something that was comfortable to me or for me to do.  It felt, for lack of any better explanation, alien to me.  But then again, I was never a fast writer and cursive, while being sold to us as a fast alternative, never really helped me write any faster.

All this being said and my personal demons with this way of writing aside, I am dismayed that this is not being taught in schools as much these days.   I see it as an important program that is being taken away, not so much for the intrinsic value of being able to WRITE in cursive, but the fact that there is something so much more human about writing.

If I receive a letter or note from someone that is written in longhand, it means so much more to me than if I am sent an email.  For example, I occasionally get “E-Cards” from people for my birthday, and I do appreciate that, but it seems so… disposable.   When I get a real, paper, greeting card in the mail, that means something.  Someone took the time to buy a card, sit down and write a message to me.  Even if it is something as simple as “Happy Birthday Sam, hope you are doing well.”   That means they took the time and effort for me.  In my opinion, that is a perfect example of quality over quantity.

I will get letters from my mother from time to time, and she still writes longhand and cursive.  That beautiful script that they taught so many years ago with the long sweeping arcs for the letters and flourishes here and there.  Letters that look like maybe they should have come from nobility or royalty.  Well… she is my mother, so to me, they are.  But I note that even in my time, when I was a child, penmanship was not taught with the level of importance that it was in her time.  And when my son goes to school, I wonder if they will even bother with pens, pencils or paper at all.

One thing in her article that stood out to me was this quote:

“Under the language curriculum, it’s mentioned briefly about six times between Grade 3 and 8, so it’s a choice for students,” she said — not a must. “The real focus is to be digitally literate and to think creatively.”

While I do agree that we need to make sure that the youth in school needs to have a good grasp of the IT world, I think that to deprive them of the basic ability to convey their thoughts on paper is foolish.  There is strong evidence that people retain more by writing it down and organize their thoughts better of they have a habit of writing, than if they merely make a note in a Word document.  Further, the quote leads me to think that someone out there thinks that by writing longhand, we are limiting our creativity.  This is pure silliness.  Some of my best ideas have some from hashing things out in longhand and then translating them to the PC.

In short, penmanship is a dying discipline, so while the schools seem to be withdrawing from it, I think that we, as parents, need to break out the pens, pencils (quills if you have them) and start teaching this art ourselves.

Special thanks to Louise Brown for a great article.  I hope that you do not mind my citing your work here and linking to your article.

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