Death of Handwriting

I recently proctored the PSAT for approximately 85 tenth and eleventh graders. The PSAT doesn’t really mean anything in terms of getting a kid into college. I mean, it does qualify top scorers for  the National Merit Scholarship (which is definitely nice), but PSAT scores aren’t opening doors to Harvard. It’s a practice exam for the one that really counts. And the truth is, if you really want to be honest, it’s just another way for the College Board to get more money out of students on the college track.

My mind-numbing job was just to walk through the aisles, make sure kids were working on the right section and bubbling in the appropriate section on their answer sheets. It was simple enough. But I also had to assist in the initial “fill out your name and address” section which would not have been too difficult if it weren’t for this one major speed-bump:

“Please write the following statement and sign your name. Do not print.”

When the instructions were read aloud there was a moment of silence before  70 perplexed students raised their hands.

“What do you mean, don’t print?”

“I mean, write in cursive. You know, script.”

“But I don’t know how.”

I don’t know how. I don’t know HOW. Did you catch that? I. DON’T. KNOW. HOW.

See while schools across the country have decided to axe the handwriting component that used to be a third and fourth grade staple, they failed to inform the College Board people that a whole generation of test takers will be unable to copy the honor code in a way that will make it legally binding.

Many of these kids did not even know how to sign their own names. One girl asked me to please show her how to make a cursive “z.” Another kid cleverly ignored the brewing controversy in the room and just wrote his name slanted.

Now, it’s true. There is virtually no job in existence that requires handwriting. The days of writing your final paper in cursive and in pen are simply funny memories to be told around a glowing iPad. But there is something not just sad about the death of handwriting, but also frightening. Our handwriting distinguishes us. There is personality in it. From little girls drawing hearts over their “i”s or kids practicing their signature, we develop it and make it our own. We study it. And now, it seems like we are on course to stilt it in grade school. Our personalities now come across in Times New Roman, or Papyrus, or God help us all, Comic Sans.

Not too long ago I was in the Apple store and I was talking to one of the workers who was probably around twelve years old. He was explaining to me how tablets are taking over everywhere and how hard it was for him to learn how to use a stylus.

“I mean, I had been using a keyboard for so long that I needed to learn how to write again.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The genius at the Apple store had to learn how to WRITE with a PEN. He had to LEARN that!

If my experience at the PSAT testing is a harbinger of the future then we are all going to hell in a neatly packed Bradbury-esque basket. Writing has progressed from stone to papyrus to paper, but there was always a chisel or ink or a pen available. Students can tweet and post and create apps and games, but if the power goes out and they need to leave a note, will the next generation even know how?

Handwriting is a dying art. But it shouldn’t die out.

And call me crazy, but frankly, I’m a bit worried.

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8 replies

  1. wonder how they do it in Silicon Valley?

  2. Totally agree, and that is why I insist on teaching handwriting AND cursive to my 2nd grade class.

  3. I’m probably in the minority here, but my wife and I completely disagree on this topic. I teach high school and she teaches elementary and I’m sorry, but with budget cuts these days, I truly believe learning to write cursive is an extreme waste time (unless you plan on becoming a doctor writing prescriptions – excuse my sarcasm). I’m not saying they shouldn’t learn how to write, but cursive is useless. I’m almost 40 and can longer read cursive. And your argument regarding creativity is flawed. There are countless ways to express your creativity (or personality) without having to “dot your i’s with a heart”.

    • True that. But this is definitely one way in which to be unique. Even if you disagree though, the bottom line is that by eliminating handwriting, there are other things that will need to change as well. (For starters, the College Board will need to change aspects of their archaic exam – a definite plus). But perhaps it should start with eliminating those budget cuts in the first place.
      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Here’s your check at the end of the week. Mark an x sign and cash. Simple


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