The ‘Cursive’ the Keyboard?

My New Screenreader Is a… 

Here at Life Is, the office is all abuzz about our new tablet device. For one thing, it’s a bright shade of green.

It doesn’t run iOS, Windows or Android, nor is it even able to. It has no micro-processor or battery. It doesn’t come with a keyboard or touch-screen menus. We had to shell out extra dough for a stylus device just to be able to input text characters. And the receipt got thrown away so we can’t return it.  Wtf?! What moron of an office manager got this and how much are we in the red?        

Oh, right; that was my executive decision. And even adding in the cost of the blue Bic pens (3-pack!) and a fine line black Sharpie, the cost of the whole package was under $10. I don’t scrimp in my search for quality. And now the office has a brand-spanking new 200-sheet, five section, spiral bound notebook with two pockets and a protective plastic cover. Now that’s a tablet device!

And I’m going to write in it. In ink. That’s right; no backspace or delete key to erase mistakes. Blue smudges on the outside edge of my left hand if I write too fast (ink not fully dry as my writing hand hand passes over it) or for too long (attrition). Outside of sketching, being archaic and staining my left pinkie blue, what possible use is there for a notebook except for drawing maps and playing hangman when the power goes out?

To brainstorm, plan, critique and organize my thoughts… about my modern-day, HTML/css-generated, remote server stored, multi-browser and OS compatible, wirelessly transmitted website. Blue handprinted letters in my own distinctive font. Using hand/eye coordination, muscle memory, various segments of my brain and neural systems, I’m going to scribble out my ideas for what I’d like to see on the site and make notes on the seven million things I have to learn about coding, web admin, design and formatting, SEO, WordPress, plugins, basic writing and a host of other things a newbie has to learn.

Externalizing my brain processes to paper seems to make the information ‘sink in’ better, whether it’s an idea I’m mulling over or a new nugget of learning I’ve picked up from a book or web article. And if I print illegibly, I’m just wasting my time (and mucking up the new office acquisition).

Which brings me to the subject of handwriting and printing in today’s schools. Obviously we live in an ever-advancing world of tech where keyboard inputting of data rules the day and will continue to do so. I have no qualms with that at all.

Teaching Handwriting in the 21st Century

But what do you do when you find that a bright kid who can type up a storm i.m.-ing his/her friends can’t read the original Declaration of Independence or grandma’s thank-you note in its longhand cursive? What do you do when your neighbor’s daughter, who didn’t learn the correct order of strokes to construct the Japanese kanji characters, can recognize the characters on a keyboard but is unable to reproduce them entirely with a writing tool? And what if we start to find out that kids who were taught cursive alongside printing and keyboard skills aren’t just better with a pen, but that their learning processes and note-taking and grades are better as well? Teacher Lydia L weighed in with her observations from the field on the effectiveness of teaching handwriting in schools on a DU thread earlier this year.

Apparently it’s something to consider as schools worldwide begin to evolve more in the digital age. The issue isn’t about how much everyone will use longhand writing when they’re adults (zilch, except for signatures), but more about making sure that successive generations of adults, entrusted with solving tomorrow’s problems, have a more complete education growing up. Not just subject matter- and fact-wise, but also relating to motor skills, cognition, retention, etc. There was even a conference on the matter about the need to teach kids handwriting skills. It was held on National Handwriting Day (who knew?!) which, appropriately enough, is on John Hancock’s birthday.

Teach Handwriting -Graham:Santangelo

And while I would never wish my own experience learning longhand upon anyone (if you’re left-handed and were born pre-2000CE, you might relate), to this day I still find that a pen is my mind’s best friend; for thought collecting, learning/repetition, idea generating, to-do lists and outlines. My writing may never be in longhand again, but it will be in ink, it will be legible and it will be in my own font. And if the evidence shows that it’s making the learning process more complete and thus serving our future adults better, I say let’s go for it; we’re leaving them a pretty tough world as it is. Handwriting lessons and keyboards for all!

Unfortunately, six months after the conference mentioned above took place, it appears that all but five states will be adopting Common Core; meaning that the other forty-five will now start to phase out teaching cursive because of its irrelevancy to the modern world. Judith Thurman has a great piece on this in The New Yorker: ‘In Defense of Cursive‘. I’m not sure how kids are going to sign their name in the future (“Hey, someone forged my name in 9-point Helvetica” “I lost my digital thumbprint code!” ) or if educators are finding that printing by hand is just as developmental to the motor and neural aspects as cursive was. But there’s clearly more fine hand/eye coordination involved in using pens, chalk, crayons and paintbrushes than just typing or dragging your index finger on a screen to learn letter-making. Can you imagine a world without handwritten Thank You cards from grandma, illegible longhand sigs from your doctor or office meeting notes with doodles in the margin?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to my new tablet device…

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