Education · Handwriting

Today is National Handwriting Day—Taking a Long and Optimistic View

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And the winner is—cursive handwriting

The folks at WordPress, the company that hosts this blog, kindly provide bloggers with statistics at the end of the year that show their most popular posts. And the winner for ‘Hints and Echoes” by a wide margin is—the June 28 post, “Cursive Handwriting: Should We Care If It Disappears?” Since it seems to be such a popular topic, I decided to give it some more thought.

When I voiced my opinion on the subject in June, I tended to think that regretfully handwriting was a disappearing practice, but now, I think I’ve been looking at it the wrong way. It’s not a question of an old technology (cursive handwriting)  giving way to a new technology (word processing), and the old technology becoming obsolete. After all, we are not going to stop manufacturing hands and fingers. Should we decide to reintroduce the teaching and practice of handwriting in our schools after it has virtually disappeared in society, it would be a simple matter.

I say “virtually disappeared” because I’m not so sure the practice of writing by hand will ever completely disappear. Even now when people are wearing out their thumbs texting, and it seems as if there is no need for the more leisurely pursuit of a handwritten letter or the more thoughtful process of making handwritten notes, there are those who continue to put pen to paper. These are the folks who are keeping stationery companies in business; the professors who require that lecture notes be taken by hand; the mothers who insist that their children handwrite thank you notes; the men and women (I suspect mainly women) who keep a handwritten journal.

It may be that eventually writing by hand becomes a social class marker, and the few who can afford creamy ivory correspondence cards engraved with their initials will write on them by hand and they will make sure that their children learn to write by hand too,  even if it means private instruction.

But I think that sooner or later, there will be a change of attitude among the wider population, and people will recognize the importance of handwriting, not because it is genteel, but because it connects us and affects us in a way that written words generated by a machine do not.  We are still in the early stages of the digital revolution after all. Though it may seem that email and social media have been around forever, we’ve hardly had time to really recognize and accept the negative effects on our personal lives of computer-generated writing.

And when neuroscientific research, which is now well underway, shows conclusively that writing by hand changes the brain in a positive way, which I have no doubt that it will, then the educational community will take note and introduce handwriting in the curriculum and herald it as a bright new educational reform!

If you were educated in a U.S. public school, you were probably taught the Palmer method, which replaced the less efficient nineteenth-century Spencerian script, notable for its excessive curlicues. Then there is the Italic script, which does not connect all the letters. I personally find an Italic hand more pleasing. Do we need all those hoops and loops? However, having mastered the Palmer method, I think I’d better not try to change my handwriting at this late date.

The Palmer alphabet
The Palmer alphabet
Spencerian script was based on Copperplate engraving
Spencerian script was based on Copperplate engraving
Italic cursive
Italic cursive

Incidentally, have you noticed that almost everyone admires beautiful handwriting, but a great many  people are embarrassed and apologetic when it comes to their own? Maybe that shows that we haven’t done a very good job of teaching it. I think we’ll do better next time. It may take a generation or more—or maybe less—but eventually I think that we will rediscover the joys and advantages of writing by hand. (For more on cursive handwriting, type the word “cursive” in the search box.)

P.S. Have you seen the signature of our new secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew—a signature that will now appear on all of our paper currency? Actually, it’s not so much a signature as it is a logo. I wonder how long it took him to come up with this absurdity. It occurs to me that Mr. Lew may be giving tradition the finger (sorry!).

Signature of Jack Lew, Secretary of the Treasury
Signature of Jack Lew, Secretary of the Treasury

5 thoughts on “Today is National Handwriting Day—Taking a Long and Optimistic View

  1. I sure hope you are right. I remember writing my name over and over when I was a teen, just to see how it looked and kind of discover who I was. Then when I was about to get married, I practiced my name again, over and over. Who was I now? And then when I was pregnant I practiced writing the name of my unborn child, over and over and over — dreaming of who he would be and how he would feel writing this new name. When you think of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence you imagine people — all those different characters and personalities — and you know they signed their names thousands of times and they knew who they were. I have a feeling Jack Lew doesn’t have a clue.

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    1. As a matter of fact, National Handwriting Day is also John Hancock’s birthday, While his is the big signature we associate with the Declaration of Independence, as you say there were many others—principled men who definitely knew who they were and what they stood for!

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  2. What a great post. I read it together with a group of friends who are retired school teachers. Cheers and applause after every paragraph. I had to make copies for them to send to friends as I was the only one in the room who knew how to turn on a computer. Nonetheless, they all agree that those who write like a child think like a child. Speaking as a person with “beautiful” handwriting, I agree.

    Grace

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    1. Thanks for sharing! I am really amazed at the interest this subject generates. A whole lot of people feel strongly that we lose something really important if we give up the practice of writing by hand.

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