Penmanship

Penmanship

I have begun writing back to those who have written to me as part of this project and I have come to the conclusion that my handwriting is terrible! It seems as if my hand can’t keep up with my brain. I’m even misspelling words as I write. Thank goodness this blog is typed!

I don’t think there is anything medically wrong with me. I can type as fast as I think and I am generally a good speller. I think it is as simple as just being out of practice. Isn’t there a joke about how most doctors have bad handwriting? Maybe I am just in the wrong profession. I have not really paid attention to my handwriting over the years, however I’m always after my kids about theirs. But, should I be? How important is good penmanship?

Two days ago, I woke up to an article by Libby Nelson for Vox, an online news service, (http://www.voxmedia.com). The headline read: Cursive handwriting is useless, but politicians want students to learn it anyway

Apparently in the early 2000s, handwriting lessons started disappearing from the classroom as computer use became more wide spread. According to Nelson,

“Cursive handwriting has been on its way out for two generations, long before texting became the preferred way for young people to communicate. The search for a simpler way to teach children to write goes back a century. The slow death of cursive is just the latest version. In 2003, according to a Vanderbilt University report, teachers spent less than 10 minutes per day on handwriting instruction — down from up to two hours in the 1950s. But the real reason cursive is fading is that the arguments in favor of it are pretty weak. They usually center on students being able to read the Constitution and Declaration of Independence (which were originally written in copperplate script, and are hard to decipher even for people who studied cursive in school) or on developing fine motor skills, which can also be cultivated in other ways.”

So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, and on my kids, about our sloppy handwriting? I did some more digging and found an article written just last year in The Guardian, (http://www.theguardian.com/us) which had a very strong argument for continuing to learn and use cursive handwriting. It’s headline read: Handwriting vs. typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard?

The author, Anne Chemin, writes, “Computers may dominate our lives, but mastery of penmanship brings us important cognitive benefits, research suggests.” In this very interesting article she quotes several experts in the field to back her case.

“Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought, “says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva. “Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: you need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.”

“It’s a big change,” says Roland Jouvent, head of adult psychiatry at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. “Handwriting is the result of a singular movement of the body, typing is not.”

I like the thought of writing as a performance of the body. What about how we write? Claire Bustarret, a specialist on codex manuscripts at the Maurice Halbwachs research center in Paris says,

“Obviously you can change the page layout and switch fonts, but you cannot invent a form not foreseen by the software. Paper allows much greater graphic freedom: you can write on either side, keep to set margins or not, superimpose lines or distort them. There is nothing to make you follow a set pattern. It has three dimensions too, so it can be folded, cut out, stapled or glued.”

“When you draft a text on the screen, you can change it as much as you like but there is no record of your editing,” Bustarret adds. “The software does keep track of the changes somewhere, but users cannot access them. With a pen and paper, it’s all there. Words crossed out or corrected, bits scribbled in the margin and later additions are there for good, leaving a visual and tactile record of your work and its creative stages.”

“Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory”, Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.”

In a paper published in April 2014 in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer reported on a study they did that focused on more than 300 students at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, which found that students who took longhand notes were better able to answer questions on the lecture than those using a laptop.

So yes, I should keep after my children about their penmanship. And I should keep after my own. Technique. Like any artist that must choose to either remove evidence of her “hand”, or to leave it in the work, I have made my choice. The hand stays! Now, I must work at the craft.

Cursive.svg.0

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