Born-Again Handwriting Lessons!

Feb 27, 2017 by

More than a half-century later, the emotional bruise I suffered in the 1950s has not healed. Countless co-payments to psychotherapists later, I remain scarred by the stigma of having been the third-to-the last kid in my class to be admitted to the “penmanship club.” As we qualified, our names were inscribed in chalk dust on the blackboard. It was an exclusive club to which everyone was expected to belong.

To this day, I am haunted by the recriminations incurred by the ramp-like line of my capital “R”s. It has made human resources officers think twice about me. And my sleeplessness has not been helped even by that special Minnesota-made special pillow.There’s so much data-mining going around. Who knows what’s been archived. How will I cope if my friends, colleagues and family find out about my belated initiation into the”penmanship club”?

When the Department of Education stopped mandating, and probably even prohibited the teaching of handwriting to elementary school students years ago, I sighed with empathy for the new generation that had been spared. No doubt the DOE did away with it for no good reason. For them, no good reason is often the most compelling of reasons.

Maybe they thought that penmanship standards were oppressive or discriminatory, or an invasion of privacy because an analysis of a person’s lower-case quirks might yield clues to their personality and inner thoughts. (The study of handwriting, broadly speaking, can be fascinating for just that reason. Compare the handwriting of Queen Elizabeth I and John Hancock and other prominent heroes and villains of history!) Perhaps penmanship was ruled irrelevant because it didn’t lend itself to standardized tests and the exploitation of results.  The rise and fall of penmanship proficiency is not a publicity-marketable area of interest. No glitz.

As such, it took up precious instructional time that could be more advantageously devoured by fake curriculum such as the de-facto subject of high-stakes exam prep, which has nothing to do with the acquisition of knowledge to be tested. Test-prep sounds legitimate, however, which means it passes the DOE’s muster.  Sound is everything.

But what’s the point of learning penmanship, anyway?  In the spirit of keeping up with the times, people rarely write by hand anymore. They just type on their phones, computers or other gadgets and devices.

By that argument, brains should become as obsolete as penmanship classes, since the skill of thinking has eroded in our species no less than has the mastery of a flourish of a signature in script. Perhaps we should rejoice in the abolition of penmanship, because it has probably saved lives, because doctors now e-mail patients’ prescriptions directly to the drug stores so that confounded pharmacists no longer need to decipher the handwritten scrawl of doctors and risk making critical errors.

I’m glad they’re restoring cursive handwriting to its rightful place. It makes me feel that our nation’s innocence has been recaptured from the days of my lost youth.

It may have surprising appeal to our kids, though their enthusiasm might be based on the misconception that “cursive” means cursing. In fact, the policy-makers at the DOE may have made their decision predicated on the same mistaken belief. They’ll try any concession that “reaches out to children.”

Ron Isaac

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    See my blog posts on the importance of cursive: Klemm, W. R. (2013). Biological and psychology benefits of learning cursive. Don’t let your schools stop teaching cursive. Aug 5. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201308/biological-and-psychology-benefits-learning-cursive. Accessed Aug. 6, 2016.

    Klemm, W. R. (2013). Why writing by hand could make you smarter. Mar. 14. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/why-writing-hand-could-make-you-smarter. Accessed Aug. 6, 2016.

    Klemm, W. R. (2015). Improve reading and hand-eye coordination by learning cursive? Psychology Today. Feb. 7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201502/improve-reading-hand-eye-coordination-learning-cursive. Accessed Aug. 6, 2016.

    Klemm, W. R. (2015). An intelligent new way to teach cursive. Psychology Today. Jan. 15. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201501/intelligent-new-way-teach-cursive. Accessed Jan. 23, 2016.

    Klemm, W. R. (2016). The pen is mightier than the keyboard. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201605/the-pen-is-mightier-the-keyboard. Accessed Aug. 6, 2016.

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