The Fate of Handwriting: Dead or Alive?
I recently read a post by an educator on the death of handwriting, which was quite depressing. It had me wondering about the fate of handwriting. Right afterward I received a snail mail letter to me from my almost 5 year-old grandson, asking me to be his pre-school pen pal. I was honored, and thought how wonderfully old fashioned that was. Soon afterward, I received a beautifully handwritten card from my daughter for Father’s Day, which sent me off sobbing like a baby. They were handwritten, and beautiful; I’ve reread them over and over, and physically held each close to my heart.
Our emotional attachment to handwriting
There is an emotional attachment to things handwritten that speaks to the labor and love it takes to display the written word in a timelessly, age-old way. If you look just at that, and not beyond, you can be confident that the emotional attachment we have towards handwriting will not go away in our lifetime. And it is that emotional attachment, in part, that keeps districts serving up handwriting curriculum each year, too. Additionally, many educators today, and for generations, have felt that teaching writing is and was a sacred obligation. Walk into most every primary and elementary classroom and you see manuscript and cursive letters posted somewhere. In most of those classrooms, the teaching of writing is a daily, ancient ritual, requiring a lot of classroom, teacher, and student time.
You can’t take that away from me
While digital touch and pen options exist, there are still many more school supplies, and instruction aids devoted to handwriting than to most anything else. These marketed solutions cross more grade levels than anything else as well. They were blessed education purchases long before standardized testing practice solutions became the newest mandated rock star. In most places, if you took away handwriting, it is quite possible 1st through 6th grade teachers would riot. While I’ve never seen a first grade teacher angry, removing handwriting from the curriculum could cause that to happen, too.
The practical side
On the practical side, and there is one. Even though some consider my handwriting to be pretty, it doesn’t cut it in the real world, the way it once did. No one is going to read a manuscript in long hand anymore. Add to that all the things, where digital key, pen, audio and video solutions have overshadowed the pen and pencil to become the norm. For the most part, writing for us has meaning only to those, who still sign contracts, paper checks, or as verification at a department store checkout. It is quite possible to go a very good length of time without using handwriting, in the traditional sense, at all.
The movements to go paperless in classrooms and schools have caused us to think more about how to do that using technology tools and solutions instead. There certainly is a heavy cost for schools in the use, and then the disposal of paper. On the other side, there is a great cost in implementing and upgrading technology, too.
There can be a good argument made, that writing in a digital way—using keys, pen, or audio, which then turns the written word into a form, letters and words, we’re more used to reading, helps students better write and read what they write, because it is less like translating a foreign language. Can we now consider the digital more natural?
Software and apps that easily and quickly turn written digital pen scribblings into meaningfully neat letters and words in documents are magically common today. And software and apps that do the same with voice add a bit more to the mix as well. If you can say what you would write, and it can be transcribed digitally in real-time to a document, do you need handwriting at all?
Is traditional handwriting dead?
I’m not exactly sure, what the fate of handwriting will be. There are so many issues facing educators and education today that the argument as to whether handwriting in schools is dead or alive may be one of the smallest concerns. I do know this; I have a pen pal letter to write to my grandson, which needs to be in my best manuscript in case he wants to model my writing—and send me a return. Secretly, I do know that his favorite part will be the ice cream money enclosed. There can be no argument there.
Additional Reading: The Challenges of Teaching Reading
About the Author
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.