Writing by Hand

May 19, 2014 § 17 Comments

saxton_quickbrownfox

In my late teens I had the opportunity to have my handwriting analyzed. It was the coolest thing. An old woman in a hospital, whom I never personally met, looked at my swooping p’s and looping y’s and sharply crossed t’s, the height of my h’s, the slants, the weights, the close-or-far-apartness of the letters, if they were small or large, tidy or swirly. What she discovered may well have been the best description of me I’ve heard. Her analysis also told me things I didn’t yet know, almost like a fortune, or a map. It was pretty fascinating.

Which reminds me that the physical, pen-in-hand act of writing is not only a form of communication, it’s a form of self-expression; another window into the soul.

It’s also a fabulous collector of thoughts. Sometimes a pen can’t keep pace with my thoughts, but sometimes the slower act of hand-writing keeps my thoughts in line, keeps them from running off to oblivion, balances my mood. Plus I get to make doodles on the page. (Silly? Not really – it’s actually part of the thought process.)

Something happens between the mind and the hand that’s different than what happens between the mind and the keyboard. Maybe it’s simply that hand-writing is organic. It’s breathing deeply instead of a quick lap around the track.

There’s a place for both the handwritten and the typewritten – one is not “better” than the other; in fact both are good, and both are necessary – but even without the scientific evidence at my fingertips (no pun intended), I am certain that both methods exercise different parts of the brain, some how, some way. (And yes, there are differences between printing and script to form our letters as well.) The entire mind-body-spirit is involved ~ how we think, how we process, how we sit, how we move our hands, how we feel. There’s got to be physiological implications.

And so, while this may be old news, the fact that teaching cursive writing in school is being phased out of the curriculum just blows my mind. I can’t believe it’s even up for discussion, much less already happening.

What about hand-eye coordination, thinking patterns, better comprehension when writing things down “painstakingly” by hand, knowing how to spell and use proper grammar and punctuation without spell-check tools, and yes, expression and creativity?

When it comes to writing by hand, there’s so much in the pro column here, and, as far as I can see, a big zero in the negative column. What is so damn important that basic penmanship skills get the boot?

All this really brings my inner cynic out front. Anyone interested in positive teaching, in my opinion, wouldn’t even consider taking this out of our schools.

Sure, electronic-based writing is more practical, and block-letters are easier to master than script. But there’s enormous value in writing by hand, and to imagine this capacity no longer existing is a truly disturbing thought. The very human-ness of writing by hand should not be relegated to dusty archives, hidden corners, calligraphers and ancient texts.

Please teach your kids to write! (I can hear it now… “But why do I have to do this? I’ll never use it!) Are we to be tethered to electronic devices for everything we do? (Next it’ll be paints. No more Grumbacher. Good bye Winsor & Newton! Why use real paint when you can do it with software?) Who decides the value here? How is that value measured? Will we cordon off whole parts of our brain?

There’s just too much telling people what to do, what to think, how to think, how to feel, how to be. Stop it already. And let kids learn to write. Print letters and script letters. By hand. It’s important.

And not that this is the crux of my argument, but you know, maybe they’ll even gain insights from having their handwriting analyzed one day… their own personally unique formation of words on a page, from head to hand to paper.

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§ 17 Responses to Writing by Hand

  • kategladstone says:

    Has anyone else here noticed that the sample of handwriting at the top of the page — which is clear, efficient, and lovely — would not be regarded as “cursive” by people who teach cursive? Most of its letter-forms, as well as its semi-joinedness, resemble italic handwriting rather than conventional cursive handwriting.
    I’ve been waiting to see if anyone but me would observe that, and would wonder why handwriting of that (overall excellent) nature was chosen to illustrate an article in praise of cursive.

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    • Dorothy says:

      there are cursive letters mixed in and that is the beauty of cursive…one is able to develop a fast way of writing connected letters which helps the thought processes to flow. I only write cursive in my journals and my signature is a combination of printing and cursive…i was a 3 rd grade teacher for most of my career and I taught cursive (Danelian) every year for 20 years!! This is an example of individualized cursive.

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  • Thank you so much for the thoughtful post, Patricia. As a former elementary school teacher I completely agree. Interesting research (above) but I ALWAYS come back to my own personal experience around writing and learning. Research doesn’t always jive with that so there is an honoring here that must be shared. For me, forming the letters on the page is an act of love. It’s art. My father was a design draftsman, technical illustrator and I loved the way he formed his letters. I dropped cursive at some point because the little girl in me always wanted to emulate her dad. And she did. And she does.

    However, I love to read my mother in law’s notes because the cursive writing is simply exquisite. I also wish I had kept my cursive flowing because morning pages are quite an ordeal in my teeny tiny print. No “flow” happening there. It may be “documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility” but that is clearly not my experience and I have sat in MANY writer’s workshops watching my colleagues cover three pages with words while I eeeek out a paragraph. Here’s the beauty of the printed page in all its forms.

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  • kategladstone says:

    Dear Wrestling Writer — you may find some good material on the “Handwriting Rebels” page of my web-site http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com

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  • Cathey says:

    Patricia, you are so right! Many people still send greeting cards and include hand-written notes. It would be such a shame if the recipient was unable to enjoy the message because they can’t read cursive writing. Although it’s faster and easier to text or email, the process of writing by hand is much more personal and, I believe, lends itself to more sincerity than dashing off a quick LOL. There have been studies showing that taking notes by hand causes you to retain the information better – another reason schools may want to reconsider.

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    • Thanks for your comments, Cathey! Thankfully there are still a few of us note-writers left ~ although sadly, hand-written notes have been going the way of the dinosaurs with increasing speed. 😦 Still, lots more reasons to keep cursive alive, in my opinion!

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  • kategladstone says:

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

    Further research demonstrates that the fastest, clearest handwriters are neither the print-writers nor the cursive writers. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all of them – making only the simplest of joins, omitting the rest, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

    Reading cursive matters, but even children can be taught to read writing that they are not taught to produce. Reading cursive can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds, once they read ordinary print. (In fact, now there’s even an iPad app to teach how: named “Read Cursive,” of course — http://appstore.com/readcursive .) So why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, including some handwriting style that’s actually typical of effective handwriters?

    Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why mandate it?

    Cursive’s cheerleaders sometimes allege that cursive makes you smarter, makes you stunningly graceful, adds brain cells, instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or confers other blessings no more prevalent among cursive users than elsewhere. Some claim research support, citing studies that consistently prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident when others examine the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no traceable source, or

    /2/ if a source is cited, it is misquoted or is incorrectly described (e.g., an Indiana University research study comparing print-writing with keyboarding is perennially misrepresented by cursive’s defenders as a study “comparing print-writing with cursive”),or

    /3/ the claimant _correctly_ quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

    What about signatures? In state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
    Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
    All writing, not just cursive, is individual — just as all writing involves fine motor skills. That is why, a few months into the school year, any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    It is not as if cursive were the only way (or even the best way) to build and maintain a fluent, revelatory, and above all LEGIBLE handwriting. Numerous other approaches exist — and the best of them are (unlike cursive) fully consistent with what is actually known about effective handwriting performance: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:
    http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015
    http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf
    http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf
    http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com • HandwritingThatWorks.com

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    • Wow, Kate, this was a lot of information! I left it up so those interested could read up ~ you’ve recited lots of interesting facts and research there. I still stand by my opinion, though, in the positive merits of learning to write in cursive! Practical or not, being “used” or not, as I explained at length, I believe in its value – even for ways ~ perhaps especially for those ways ~ that are unmeasurable. It’s not only about the statistics or the “scientific analysis”, and it’s hardly like comparing a stovepipe hats being used for tailoring and it’s not about not moving forward. I do appreciate your sharing the “evidence against” learning to write in cursive, but without repeating what I’ve already written, on a gut level I simply don’t find the evidence a compelling reason to stop this fundamental element of learning. I find it amazing that it should even be a subject of debate!

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  • I truly enjoyed reading this and concur whole heartedly about the loss of the written word. And darlin you do have a beautiful written word, love your handwriting ❤ Vicky

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  • I completely agree. Excellent post!

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  • What a great post. I’m all for handwriting!
    I would love to include some of your words about writing with a pen in a book I’m working on. It’s a book where real people who write share their love of writing. It’s a book to inspire people to write and I want as many people included in this book as possible.
    All good if this isn’t something you’re interested, but just thought I’d check.
    JD.

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    • Hey JD, so glad you enjoyed the post! And naturally, I appreciate your appreciation for the love of writing. As for the book, it’s a lovely idea and I wish you luck with it! I’d need to know a lot more before participating, so I’ll probably pass, but I thank you for asking. 🙂

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