Thursday, October 12, 2006


THE HANDWRITING IS ON THE WALL, BUT NO ONE CAN READ IT

or
FAREWELL, BEAUTY OF THE WRITTEN WORD...

"When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters...

Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it's important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades."
The Handwriting is on the Wall

The syntactic beauty of writing is learned at first in analog, like the moves of a dance, from the rhythm of the pen; when cursive is lost, the dance is lost, and the beauty of wording will suffer accordingly; the keyboard offers no dance. The decline shows already in atrociously written journalism, and the ongoing plunge in quality of 'best-seller' fiction.

I'm so old I can remember when you couldn't find a single misspelling in ten years of Time magazine.

You can bet the Chinese and Japanese won't let go of their handwriting.

4 comments:

Coll said...

What you say is undoubtedly true.. but I must admit my own hand writting has failed much with the decrease in my vision. In my case.. the keyboard has been a saving grace. But I do not pretend to be a writer. Just someone who enjoys communicating.

Robert Brady said...

I don't mean to disparage the utilitarian benefits of the keyboard at all; I use one myself as much as I use cursive (probably more nowadays, though dinosaurically I still love writing with my fountain pen). I just believe that learning cursive when young, learning to direct words to flow out of your hand like that, analogously in response to your thoughts, somehow plays a cognitive role in the art of writing. Once you've learned that, a keyboard can work almost as well as a pen...

Maya's Granny said...

There is so much that is being lost about writing -- cursive, spelling, grammar, syntax. Style. Flow. Beauty.

A few years ago I was supervising a young man who wanted to be a grant writer, but couldn't write what would have been fourth grade level when I was in school. He had no idea that he wrote poorly, his college instructors (people who would do this are neither teachers nor professors in any kind of a sane world) had told him he was a good writer! And yet, it took him eight drafts to achieve a barely literate result.

When I asked him what he reads his response was that he reads nothing. Not books, not newspapers, not letters from home.

It is so sad.

Eric Pyle said...

The wonderful French/American memoirist Julian Green wrote that in pre-war Paris his father disapproved of fountain pens, saying that all that best literature had been produced with goose quills. They obtained theirs from a shop that got them from England, where the quills had been used just once before, to sign bills in Parliament. Maybe it's just my imagination, but it seems to me that you can sense the slower pace of life that a dip-pen would require as you read Green's very thoughtful books. Four volumes to get to about age 25.

I am no goose-quill man, but I splurged on a good Pelikan fountain pen years ago and have never regretted it. I don't remember when I last wrote a letter with it, but it is always next to my reading chair, for notes, sketches, etc. Keeping such germinal notes on a computer wouldn't work at all. I'm sure you're right that the physical touch of the pen and the flow of the ink are connected in some way to thinking itself.

On the other hand, even typing may be on the way out. The Pentagon has been spending millions and millions on machines that are thought-activated. They have succeeded in developing a kind of headgear that reads your brainwaves. The scientists put it on and without using their hands can make the cursor on a computer screen move as they wish. If this technology follows the course of so many others, it means that after it has been incorporated into sophisticated killing devices it will eventually find its way into general use.

So you and I may not be here to see it, Robert, but your grandkids may be nostalgic for typing someday, when everybody is just thinking their words onto the screens.