Keyboards are everywhere. I marvel at the speed with which my own kids manage to pump out text on a full sized keyboard or with their thumbs on a smart phone. In the USA there is a growing debate about whether or not children need to be formally taught cursive writing. The new Common Core State Standards do not mandate its teaching. In Australia we have seen frequent discussions about the problems faced by final year high school students being required to write extended passages long hand in exams, when they are unused to the practice during their school year. They feel they lack fluency and their hands ache!
For some years now I have been troubles by the weird and wonderful ways in which I see young adults holding pens and pencils. They look awkward and they revert to keyboards as soon as practicable.
When I taught grade one and two children a major part of my curriculum was teaching them how to hold their pencils efficiently and how to form letters that would lead to fluent, legible, effortless handwriting. The refrigerators in the homes of my students were festooned with examples of their early attempts.
There are those who regard this particular learning process as a waste of time, as clinging to an old, outmoded technology.
How often do we set things that are essentially different up against each other for comparison and competition?
Which is better, the movie or the book?
Which side of the brain is most important, the left or the right?
Who is smarter, men or women?
Which do you prefer, oysters or chocolate cake?
Which is better, a photographic or a painted portrait?
These comparisons don’t work.
Neither does the question, ‘which should we teach, keyboarding or handwriting?’
There will always be a place for the handwritten, just as there will always be a place for the painted.
Just because a child can easily take a photograph of a tree doesn’t mean that we should not give him the opportunity to draw or paint a tree. There is something about the artist that is revealed in a painting, a personal response to the subject matter and a reinterpretation of the literal truth that comes about when a subject is painted or drawn.
So it is with handwriting.
We know that every person’s handwriting is unique. Why? Because the movements of the pen on paper are influenced by the character and experiences of the writer. They keyboard gives us the vocabulary and the syntax. The pen gives us something of the person. Another manifestation of the marvelous variations between people can be seen in the formal, controlled and perfectly formed handwriting of one person, the tight, tiny, cramped writing of another and the expansive, impetuous scrawl of yet another.
Our handwriting is one of the things that proclaims our individuality.
How many of us hold dear the early attempts of our children to write us notes, the love letters of an early sweetheart or even the handwritten name of a long dead loved one in a favorite book of poems?
We seem to be very good at throwing out our babies with the bath water in education.
Let’s not do it again.
Let’s continue to teach our children the intimate, expressive art of handwriting as well as the efficient, expedient skill of keyboarding.