the future of handwriting

This morning on The Diane Rhem Show on NPR, I heard a story about handwriting in the digital age.  The debate among the guests was on the value and the place of handwriting (particularly cursive writing) in today’s age of computers and cell phones with touch-typing. Some argue that today, people type almost everything.  On the other hand, many argue that handwriting influences your writing and organizes the way you practice thinking & writing in a way very different from typing, deleting, cutting & pasting and so on – that it changes your writing (and thinking) process.  There are many writers who insist on writing with pen and paper.

As a teacher who teaches college writing in computerized classrooms (I almost never take anything from students that are handwritten), I think that mastering the keyboarding skill is very important.  Keyboarding class that I took in high school?  By far, the most valuable class I’ve ever taken!  I can type fairly fast and accurately – and I have Mrs. Hunter to thank for that – she was a mean old b**** but she taught me right!  These days I rarely handwrite things.  Sometimes during meetings I take notes with pen and paper – but if it’s a really, really important meeting sometimes I take my laptop and take notes on it.  I once sat through a 3 hour presentation and took notes on my cell phone (because I forgot pen and paper). I even type out my grocery list or use the grocery app on my phone. 

The only time I really use handwriting is when I write greeting cards, which by the way I still do religiously.  I’m known for this among my family and friends. I love stores like Papyrus and Hallmark and I send cards on all kinds of occasions: St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and of course Christmas.  Don’t forget birthdays. (This I love doing not necessarily because of the handwriting – I would type on it if I could – but because I think of the joy that the recipient will experience when they open their mailbox just a few days after I put in the mail.) 

So, I really do wonder… is it really important for students to master handwriting?  Someone called into the radio show to complain about applicants for retail jobs who write so illegibly that turn off the potential employer – not to mention that if you write your contact information illegibly, they can’t call you or email you to hire ya!  There are still many things that require handwriting.  On the other hand, almost all forms now come in electronic format… Whenever possible, I try to download the form and fill in the blanks on the computer then print out a neat copy.

So – where is the future of handwriting?  Is it a unnecessary skill – mastering the cursive, for example – to require of our children?  Can you LEARN writing without really learning how to write with your hands? One day will children never know what a pen or pencil is and just go straight to typing on their computers to learn how to read and write?


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