In the April 24 Christian Science Monitor: Practice Makes Perfect Penmanship, writer Monica Bhide asks the question: "In this age of computers, does a six-year-old really need good handwriting?" She says yes. I say no. Unfortunately, her essay supports my position, not hers.
Let's look at some examples. She extolls the virtues of penmanship that she learned from her father, who made her sit at the diningroom table every summer morning for two years, copying articles out of the newspaper. (I have no problem with this method of handwriting instruction, by the way.) She wants her son to also learn good handwriting because "He loves to make up and write out stories, but he writes so fast that his lovely stories don't look lovely - or legible." I would like to submit that writing stories is its own art-form and the story is his ultimate goal. I don't know about Bhide, but my first drafts are anything but legible, even when I compose on the keyboard!
Hold that thought.
She goes on immediately to say, "Growing up, I had no choice - practicing good handwriting was as important as learning addition or subtraction."
Hold that thought, too.
She praises her father's beautiful handwriting.
"His handwriting was exquisite - like calligraphy without any special pens. I have saved letters he has written me, and somewhere in my heart I resent e-mail, which he now uses, because it has dashed the possibility of future handwritten notes from him."
Wait a minute. She saves his letters and resents his emails, not because of what he writes to her but because they are beautiful. Doesn't that mean handwriting is an art-form, rather than a method of communication?
Another example: "I still have good handwriting. It sounds strange to say in this day and age. Friends ask me to help address their envelopes and even help with their scrapbooks. I am a writer, and pride myself on my handwriting. I want my son to have the same pleasure." ...
"He then turns to me and says, "Mama, I never see you write on paper. You are always typing on your computer. Why do I need good handwriting on paper if all I am going to do when I grow up is type on a computer?""
Okay, she prides herself on her handwriting. Wonderful! It gives her great pleasure. Fabulous! She only uses it to address other people's envelopes, not in her day-to-day life. Art Form!
Great skill at landscape painting is also a reward in itself, but it is not a skill anyone but an artist would use in their daily work. When Bhide's son is writing his wonderful stories, the words are a means to an end, not the end in itself as she expects them to be. He is working, as she does, not practicing an art form. Nor should be be forced to be a visual artist at the same time he's trying to work with words.
Which leaves us with the only argument that rings true throughout the whole article: She had no choice but to develop beautiful handwriting. This is the same argument that underlies fraternity hazing rituals, 36-hour shifts for medical interns, and public school for that matter. "I had to do it, so why shouldn't you?" Is this a proper basis for education? Wouldn't it be better for him to learn to admire his mother's penmanship hobby and want to learn to do it, too, instead of ramming it down his throat so he hates it?
She ends the article by comparing teaching penmanship to learning to tell time with an analog clock or learning to tie shoelaces instead of using velcro shoes. She could just as well compare it to learning to drive a standard transmission instead of an automatic. There was a transitional time when it was necessary to learn to drive both kinds of transmission "just in case you had to drive a stick in an emergency." Now you'd be hard-pressed to find a stick-shift, even in an emergency.
We are in just such a transition from handwriting to keyboarding for the vast majority of our communications. Yes, Bhide's son will probably find a time when he has to write a note in an emergency. But when it's just as easy to text the note to someone, when even medical charts have gone digital, that time is passing fast. Soon, handwriting will be the province of the professional and the hobbyist, much like standard transmission is the province of the race car driver and the gear head.