The Handwriting Is On the Wall

Several months back, I ranted a bit about the disturbing trend for elementary schools to stop teaching cursive writing as a mandatory part of their curriculum. Recently, I came across Margaret Webb Pressler’s Washington Post editorial The Handwriting Is On the Wall that suggests that handwriting makes a qualitative difference in what is written, not just how it is written:

The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better – a lifelong benefit.

Or to put it more succinctly, handwriting equals better learning, especially for school-age kids. Not convinced? Read on:

Why Does Writing Make Us Smarter?

Brain Research and Cursive Writing

Hardwired for Writing: The Intelligence of the Hand

Why Handwriting Makes You Smarter

I strongly support continuing to teach kids handwriting, not because it’s necessarily all that vital to have pretty penmanship, (although as someone who does not have said, I certainly see the value in that) but because I think kids are being robbed of the opportunity to develop an important skillset. The strong cognitive connection with manual notetaking can’t be matched with a keyboard. It may also be worth considering that if we neglect to teach kids to write cursively, we may also be hindering their ability to read cursive writing.

Increasingly, schools are phasing out handwriting to make more time for teaching technology and materials needed to pass standardized tests. Pressler notes that even those few schools where handwriting is still taught generally drop that from their curriculum after the 3rd grade. And given the choice—although I’m totally baffled why they would be—most kids quickly abandon the struggle to continue developing handwriting skills in favor of keyboarding, which most have been doing since kindergarten.

Lastly, consider this: Sure, as one technology becomes common, older ones lose their place in society, and so keyboards have largely relegated paper & pen to the dustbin. But one of the newest waves of personal computers, tablet PCs, may actually bring about a renewed demand for handwriting. Pen-driven tablet PCs easily and accurately read handwritten input—in fact, the adaptive nature of tablet-based operating systems allows them to continually improve handwriting recognition. Maybe 20 years from now, we’ll show someone a keyboard and they’ll wonder what it does…