Monday, July 27, 2009

Handwriting, RIP

This past February, I wrote a post titled "The Write Stuff," in which I blogged about Kitty Burns Flournoy's fascinating book, Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting. Handwriting, or cursive as it's sometimes called, is a dying art, having been replaced by keyboarding skills taught to people who communicate exclusively by telephone, e-mail, text-messaging, SMS, Twitter, and other electronic media. Why teach beautiful handwriting when nobody writes any more? In my February post, I wrote that "...good handwriting, like good speaking, is an important component of how we are perceived by others. Time was that elegant handwriting was a sign of a good education and general social grace. Nowadays we print or type, and typewritten letters offer no sense of the personal effort that went into the creation of the epistle. For business writing, typing may be all right...for personal correspondence, there's nothing like ink on paper in one's own hand." Just another useless and nostalgic rant from your favorite professional curmudgeon.

The latest issue of Time Magazine has an article by Claire Suddath titled "Mourning the Death of Handwriting" which brings back this topic. Ms Suddath traces the beginning of the long, slow decline of handwriting to the educational theories of the 1920's, which held that "...because children learned to read by looking at books printed in manuscript rather than cursive, they should learn to write the same way." Today, cursive writing is introduced in the third grade and then pretty much dropped as a topic of instruction. Children learn to print, then they learn basic handwriting, and then they learn ... to type. What remains is a hodgepodge of printing and a scrawl that vaguely looks like cursive. It's sad.

Over the past year or so, I've exchanged real, handwritten letters - real ink on real paper, with envelopes and stamps - with some of my blogging friends. Amanda, John, Fiona, and Andrea have all sent letters or cards (Amanda being the reigning champion with two long letters, two cards, and a postcard). Mike sent a letter that simply contained a newspaper clipping, which sort of counts. And the common comment each of them has made at least once is a variation on "my handwriting is really bad."

Handwriting styles have changed more or less continuously over the years, from the very ornate Victorian styles to the clean and elegant Palmer script I learned from the nuns at St Teresa's School in Pittsburgh all those years ago. Of course, those who have received my letters know that my handwriting is nothing to write home about either, letters tend to have neat and tidy handwriting at the outset, and then degenerate into something like a seismograph recording of the latest Chinese earthquake by the end of the second page. It's too bad.

I do a lot of e-mailing just like everybody else, although I draw the line at text-messaging and "twittering." But I really do love writing genuine letters. The problem isn't that my handwriting is so bad, but that I just don't have the time to write the sort of long and chatty letters I would enjoy receiving. Most of my friends only get the basic, semi-personal Christmas letter.

There are all sorts of organizations dedicated to saving this or that endangered creature, but nobody seems to be worried about saving handwriting as a skill. I can't be the only person who cares about this...where are the rest of you?

Why not take a few minutes and write ol' Bilbo a letter? I promise to respond (and some of you know that I really do). Let's save the Post Office, the stores that sell stationery and fine writing instruments, and the teachers who impart cursive skills to our children.

Let's do the write thing, right now. We could spend our time on worse things.

And most of us do.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

I thought you were going to end by saying you will send each of us a handwritten postcard from Germany :D

The Mistress of the Dark said...

My handwriting was bad long before the internet took over.

Bilbo said...

Amanda - I was planning to do that in any case, but was going to surprise everyone...especially since, particularly in your case, the card probably wouldn't arrive until long after we're back home!

Andrea - I've seen handwriting MUCH worse than yours!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Bilbo has seen my handwriting!

Eminence Grise

Leslie David said...

My 14- year old nieces don't know how to write cursive. I was never taught to print. I learned to read and write cursive in Portuguese in first grade because we lived in Brazil. I was taught to write a very small European script with a fountain pen on very fine lined paper. When I came back to the US in third grade they handed my the paper with the huge lines and the big pencil and I looked at them with the "what am I supposed to do with this?" attitute. My teachers complained that my handwriting, while perfectly legible was too small so my mother had to explain to them that I had learned to write in a country where paper was at a premium so people write small.

I will admit that my handwriting has deteriorated over the years as I hand write less and type more, however my typing speed has increased a great deal.

Of course electronic writing (and I don't text or tweet) is cheaper--you don't have to buy paper, envelopes or try to rememer exactly how much it costs to mail a letter at any given time.

Debbie said...

Is it easier to learn keyboarding than writing? When I came off life support last fall I could do neither. I mastered typing rather quickly, but the handwriting was and is still more difficult. With much concentration on each stroke of the pen I can now write out checks and simple notes to myself that are usually legible.
I think it is more important to teach our children to communicate through writing no matter which writing implement they use relaying their thoughts in a grammatically and not phonetically correct way.

bandit said...

In high school I had an English teacher that had us take a correspondence handwriting course through Zaner Bloser. We literally learned how to draw and connect the cursive letters (and numbers). It was the same letters that were above your elementary classroom chalk board. I'm still pretty good at it.

Mike said...

I still have that postcard I was going to send to you from Prague. One of these days it will get in the mail.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Handwriting is a dying art. To get a real letter is always a joy.

SusieQ said...

I have beautiful handwriting. Problem is no one can read it. So if I were to write you a letter in longhand, you would spend weeks trying to decipher it.

Have a delightful vacation!

Amanda said...

Oh NO! I ruined a surprise for EVERYONE!! :(