Have you read the recent news heralding the demise of handwriting? The articles consigning teaching penmanship to the trash heap? All in the name of producing employable adults who will find typing more useful. Ugh. Bolstered by statistics that show one in three respondents hadn’t written anything substantial by hand in the previous six months, activists are determined to make “writing something down” as outdated as dialing the telephone.
It’s not that anyone I know has fond memories of mastering cursive writing by way of the Palmer method… dull, repetitive drills intended to make all of our handwriting a match for the standardized model stapled above the blackboard. We practiced the same strokes over and over, ignoring the obvious fact that each of us has a handwriting as unique as our fingerprint. Our scrawls, whether chicken scratches or extraordinarily neat, are ours alone. Even identical twins with the identical genetic makeup express their personality and individuality through their completely different handwriting.
One of my daughters, a creative, highly successful head of her own business, writes in large round letters, spacing her words widely. Carrie’s signature matches her personality…outgoing, confident and independent. Her psychologist sister’s closely connected, right slanted letters, mirror mine…just as our sentimental, optimistic, natures and careful decision making skills are eerily similar. My father gave his last name a big flourish, a loopy capitol F he made up himself, reflecting his big hopes and dreams for the future. My mother’s heavy pressured sentences in her notes to me accurately revealed her strong emotions and how intensely she felt things. And I value every idiosyncratic dotted i and crossed t that makes up the wonderfully familiar handwriting of half dozen of my lifelong friends.
When I was a student, we all took notes by hand. When I studied, I took notes on my notes, the act of writing helping to commit the words to memory. As someone who wrote her first five books by hand on yellow pads, I, plodded along way slower than if I were typing, forced to decide what’s worth writing down. My brain was more engaged in processing the information, thought by thought. Although I now write on the computer, I use pen and paper for outlining before I begin a piece…and then again after, painstakingly editing down the finished draft. I am more honest and less forgiving when I have pen in hand.
Every day I handwrite to-do lists and thank you notes, condolence cards and journal entries. When I need to remember something, I write it down. I am not negating the efficacy of typing the same thought into my phone…or computer…or talking into my phone to make an audio recording that the phone will automatically transcribe into text. I’m just saying speed is not all that’s important. What happens if technology fails.. if there’s a blackout? Handwriting is a window into our humanity and learning how best to do it is worth taking a sliver of time in the third grade curriculum.
To agree with those who say handwriting is old fashioned and unnecessary and on its way out is like saying cooking is no longer valuable because we can buy anything we want, already prepared. It’s like saying why waste time teaching non-utilitarian things that don’t matter like art appreciation or literary classics? Yes, I’m older and going with the flow toward a radically different future is sometimes more scary than exciting. I just want my grandchildren to be able to decipher my recipes, enjoy their mother’s letters home when she was in Europe, and sigh over their great grandparents’ correspondence during World War Two. Because progress be damned, a love letter should always be handwritten.