Maria Konnikova over at the NY times writes about the abandonment of handwriting skills and the benefits it had provided:

The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

It now appears that there may even be a difference between printing and cursive writing — a distinction of particular importance as the teaching of cursive disappears in curriculum after curriculum….In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

When I left grade school and moved up to Junior High and seventh grade – this was about 1963 – I stopped using cursive and instead wrote in block letters. For whatever reason, I felt I could write faster and so could process the lecturing more easily. It was somewhat counterintuitive since cursive was built for the graceful flow of connecting letters without the interruption of lifting your pen from the page. But it seemed to work for me while taking notes in class and then later in putting down bits of poetry and prose to keep in my pocket.

During the term, my social studies teacher – he earlier had placed me at the front of the room for behavior reasons – saw how I was taking notes and suddenly stopped the class. Looking down at my notebook, chalk still in hand, he paused mid-point long enough for the entire class to turn their heads in my direction curious to see what was happening.

He stood over me and demanded to know why I wasn’t writing in script the way that I was taught. I told him, in sincere and honest fear, that I could write faster in block letters. He turned up his nose and dared me to keep up with him while he spoke the lesson. Always respectful of authority, I saw it as a request rather than a challenge.

He stepped back to the front of the room and continued his lecture. After a few minutes he stopped, demanded I put my pen down, and walked back to my desk, all heads turning once again back in my direction. He rotated my notebook around and reviewed what I had written, drawing his index finger along the lines. The he abruptly stopped, lifted his finger, huffed a bit, and turned the notebook back towards me. He returned to the front of the room and didn’t confront me again. I never returned to cursive after that incident.

I will say this – I sacrificed cursive for block lettering only for speed. As an adult, I’ve since deeply regretted losing my ability to write cursive and have always admired an elegant handwritten style. I’ve tried several times to get back to it and not only does it feel awkward, I’ve also forgotten how to form certain letters.

With the adoption of the keyboard, now, even to me, my block lettering has become obscure. I’ve been trying to find a penmanship class to take. But what’s that anyway?

Eastman-Johnson-xx-Writing-to-Father-1863Writing to Father
Eastman Johnson
Oil on composition board
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

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