An argument for penmanship.

I came across this article via Arts and Letter Daily this morning, although it’s been out for a while. (I’m always behind in my reading. Always.)

It’s a fine argument in defense of handwriting written by Kitty Burns Florey. More and more schools, it seems, are doing away with teaching handwriting in lieu of teaching keyboarding. It sounds crazy, I know, and most teachers agree. So they squeeze in time for teaching printing, because they know that the ability to write with a pen is — well — important.

Educators I talked to claim that kids master reading more easily when they write a word as they learn it: the writing process keeps their attention focused as they match symbol to sound. Quite a few teachers whose schools make little provision for teaching handwriting have wedged it into the curriculum anyway because they’re convinced of its importance.

Kids certainly need to learn to type on a keyboard, but they also need legible handwriting–for taking tests, writing reports, working at the chalkboard. Many schools have adopted some version of technology for these tasks, but far more haven’t the resources for it. Children are judged by their handwriting; if they produce indecipherable chicken-scratching, a teacher will not be sympathetic. And if writing hasn’t become easy and automatic, they’ll lose their train of thought, be unable to plan ahead as they write, and, in the end, dislike both aspects of the writing process: forming their letters and expressing their ideas.

The big loser in this whole scenario is, of course, cursive writing. That’s what’s quickly disappearing from schools all around the country. If it’s hard enough to squeeze in enough time and money to teach printing, the chances of teaching printing and then cursive are pretty much nil.

I’ve seen some heated debate on this issue in various message boards over the past few months. Some people are horrified to hear that cursive writing may become extinct over the next few decades. Some people are thrilled. Some make their kids learn only cursive; some only printing. Some do both. Some teach a method that combines both skills simultaneously.

Here at my place, I’m teaching both. At some point, I’m sure the kids will develop their own singular combined style, and I’ll be glad to see it. I think it’s a mark of developing maturity to see individual penmanship styles emerge.

It’s just one more thing that keeps me homeschooling, I guess. I can’t imagine my girls not knowing how to write cursive letters. And I’m very glad to be the one to teach them this skill, especially because one of my girls is left-handed like me. For me, as a lefty in school, learning Palmer Method cursive was filled with all sorts of hidden pitfalls. I struggled with it through 3rd grade and spent most of that year washing layers of pencil lead off the side of my hand where it ran over the script.

But then in 4th grade, I ended up with a teacher who understood the whole lefty situation. She spent that year retraining my hands and teaching me to reposition my paper so that I no longer wrote with my hand curved around the top of my pencil. I hated it at the time. She placed my desk at the end of a row so that she could easily reach my hand and paper. And EVERY TIME we were given writing assignments she’d watch me, and the minute she saw me revert back to the old awkward postions she’d come over and change me back to the proper way. She’d pat me on the back and say: someday you’ll thank me for this.

And she was right. Because once I’d made that adjustment, all of the handwriting skills that used to trip me up suddenly became clearer and easier. And I hope that there are teachers out there still who are doing this for their lefty students. In spite of the push to simply replace pencils with keyboards.

And in another year or so, when my older daughter calms down about her writing, I’ll start doing the same thing to her. And when she’s about 30, she’ll thank me for it. I hope I live that long.


6 Responses to “An argument for penmanship.”

  1. 1 Mom #1 February 1, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Baby Boy’s cursive is atrocious! He went to public elementary school, and I’ve been trying to undo the damage every since. He can write it . . . but Lord help you if you need to read it, LOL. I CAN write in cursive, but I prefer to print. Go figure!

  2. 2 Lisa February 1, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    I’ve been on the fence with the whole thing. We do some dictation and copywork, and we’ve played around with cursive – my son is seven, we haven’t done a lot yet. I’ve always felt that he’ll be typing way more than writing so I’ve never pushed penmanship, but it looks like I need to rethink this!

  3. 3 Maria February 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Great post…we use Getty Dubay right now, because I hate the traditional ZB style of cursive…where the F’s, S’s, Z’s look nothing like their printed counter part. Confusing. To me at least. I love the look of italics cursive tho…beautiful…I can’t imagine a world w/out cursive…but it is a bit of a relic in this day and age…but then so is Latin and look how many people feel the need to teach THAT! So there you have it. Relics ARE important!

  4. 4 RegularSis February 2, 2009 at 10:57 am

    How bizarre. And to think the debate when we were in highschool was whether or not your kid should take typing. I believe writing helps with brain function, so I’m glad you’re teaching both.



  5. 5 yestheyareallmine February 3, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    Excellent! We start our youngest ones with printing letters and then they transition to cursive. They have daily practice sheets, and they love doing them. I think the art of penmanship is very important and a skill they will enjoy having.

  6. 6 RegularMom February 4, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Thanks guys.

    I’m really glad my kids enjoy workbooks and worksheets. Because it really makes this sort of stuff much easier to teach. I barely “teach” handwriting as it is. I show them the motions, watch them do it, and then give them the workbooks.

    My 8yo feels very grownup now that she’s doing cursive, too.

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