Thoughts About Handwriting Today©

by Glen B. Bowen

In today’s world, writing has gone digital and we are witnessing an evolution in how we communicate with each other. One can be forgiven for noticing that in almost every human hand there is a digital device. Walking down the street we can see fingers flying across digital keyboards composing a new kind of shorthand while creating new words and symbols that find many older adults searching for meaning. For many teens and young adults, texting is the new form of communication, and it is subsuming verbal conversations, even at the expense of telephone calls to mom. Today, if you want to know what's going on with family and friends, you rely on Facebook!

There are benefits to digital communications such as lightening speed connectivity and reaching out to someone in a distant part of the world. But there is a downside—isolation. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but the more we text the less we touch and speak to the person sitting next to us. It’s not uncommon to observe groups of young people sitting in cafés texting rather than talking to each other. I often see families in restaurants, children and parents, heads down checking and sending emails or texting. They sit at their table long after the food has been cleared while the kids play tablet games the parents are distracted by their phones. It's really kind of sad to observe the familial distance digital communications can create.

We need to balance things in our lives. While keyboarding and texting is expedient, there is value in preserving traditional communications such as everyday conversations and even letter writing—the post office would benefit in delivering more personal letters, which have precipitously dropped in volume in the digital age. The values we preserve by not abandoning our longstanding traditions could prevent them from becoming lost arts.

It's true that many educators consider handwriting only as an art form that has no place in a crowded curriculum. Like many art forms, good penmanship will be left to a lucky few unless more emphasis on handwriting is brought back to public education. This shouldn’t be a battle between antiquity and modernity, or an analog world versus a digital one. It is absolutely stunning, even frightening to me, that some young people can't even read a birthday card from grandma. It's not for lack of education, but rather he or she was never taught, or learned, cursive skills. Research has shown that handwriting is associated with brain development, reading comprehension and organizational skills and should be integrated with language arts curriculums.

Many young people would enjoy practicing handwriting, especially with a fountain pen. I would even venture that most kids have never seen a fountain pen much less held one in their hands. I've noticed that clerical and restaurant wait staff often hold their pen or pencil in a most awkward looking position with fingers cramped and hand gripped too tight. Handwriting can and should be a relaxing experience providing one can even hold a pen correctly.

Over the past few decades educators have failed to recognize the importance of handwriting skills in the development of the brain, including the ability to read, reading comprehension, organizational skills and the ability to focus and complete tasks.

Extensive research connects learning ability with handwriting and good penmanship, especially cursive. Connecting each letter, one to another, helps reinforce how words are formed and how they are connected in sentences. Also, MRIs have shown an increase in brain activity while writing by hand, whereas brain activity while keyboarding does not rise to the same level. It has been shown that college students who take notes by hand retain knowledge and perform better on exams than students who take notes via a laptop. Another study demonstrates that better handwriting, as in good penmanship, equals better compositional writing skills. For more information about handwriting education, visit scholastic.com and read, "The Case for Handwriting."

Educators often claim there is no time to teach cursive writing. To counter this argument, Linda Shrewsbury of Kansas has developed a streamlined method for learning cursive. This fun learning program is beneficial for both children and adults who want to learn cursive. For more information, visit cursivelogic.com.

Also, Zaner-Bloser has specialized in handwriting instruction for over 125 years and has programs for individual students as well as teachers. Its own research has proven that repetitive practice improves legibility and fluency. Manuscript handwriting, or printing, is designed with a PreK-2 focus, while cursive models begin at grade 2 or 3, depending on the teacher's preference. For more, see zaner-bloser.com.