Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How--and why--to teach handwriting

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m no fan of conventional cursive handwriting.  People increasingly prefer to type, which is fast, readable, and easy to correct.  Once children learned to write the alphabet by hand, they are equally eager to master making it on a keyboard.  In contrast, trying to connect letters into cursive script gives many 8 year olds students their first taste of drudgery, failure, punishment, and a bad self-image. 
   Even though I am a calligrapher by profession, I can make a good case against teaching children to write traditional script.  Most of what we used to write by hand really can be done with a keyboard. 
    But I’ve begun to think it’s a mistake to phase out handwriting in grade schools.   Teachers insist they need the classroom time to teach computer skills, but these computers may look different in 5 or ten years.  It’s likely we won’t even be using keyboards and mouses put down our thoughts and send them to others.  Progress is taking us towards voice input and output, touch screens, and handwritten words on a pad. 
    If we are going to keep teaching children to write, let’s teach them a better system:
  • Introduce them to Italic script, which is easier to write, easier to read, and more historically significant than Palmer method and its offshoots. 
  • Include more book arts in the art curriculum, where calligraphy will connect students with their creative skills. 
  • Introduce students to calligraphy in the study of other cultures, where it provides an important window into other cultures. 
    Today’s students are shaping the future--redesigning publishing, creating new art, inventing new ways to communicate, and redesigning computers, not just using them.  We should make sure that the writing they get taught in school will help them with these tasks. 

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