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Is the writing on the wall?

Spotted somewhere in my travels today, an article in the Washington Post on the death of handwriting education in America.* The tone of the article is generally that of a lament for the days when children slaved over lessons on forming cursive letters for two to three hours a week in class and America was a land of beautiful script.

I do not share the reporter's longing for the halcyon days of proper penmanship. For me, handwriting was an impediment to writing. Cursive was like writing with six pounds of lead strapped around my wrist. Typing, even before I took a typing class and became a (mostly) touch-typist, was pure, unadulterated liberation. I can think at about 180 words per minute. I can type about 60 wpm, giving me a 3:1 overrun between how fast stuff comes out of my brain and how fast I can get it down on paper when I'm on a roll. I sometimes have to jot side-notes so that I don't forget the third and fourth things I thought of while typing out the first and second.

At my best I could probably hand write at half that speed. A 6:1 mismatch. In my pre-typewriter days I would get frustrated with writing and it showed, in the form of short compositions that contained just the barest skeleton of the idea I was supposed to be getting across. Then, in my sophomore year in high school I started typing my work. In the spring semester I took a typing class. My GPA went up half a point. In my junior year I got my first real PC. Armed with easy on-screen editing (goodbye correction fluid!) and a spell-checker, I pushed my GPA up another half point. By escaping the shackles of handwriting I finally reached the potential that my teachers had, for years, been telling my parents I possessed. From entering high school as a middling student, I graduated in the top 1/8th of my class, and was accepted to all three engineering schools I applied to.**

The article posits that learning cursive leads you to writing in more complex ways -- expressing more sophisticated ideas and using more advanced words. I don't buy this for an instant. Writing in script doesn't make your writing any better. Writing a lot makes your writing better. Reading other people's writing makes your writing better. It's the same recipe for photography and archery. Take lots of pictures. Shoot lots of arrows. Study the works of the masters who have come before you. We should not confuse practice with practicing in a particular way. Recurve and compound bows both put arrows on target. Typing and handwriting both put words on the page.

If cursive's days truly are numbered I, for one, will not shed a tear when the last day is marked off.

* The original W.P. article

** How I flew my career as an engineering student into the ground and wound up a history major is another story for another day. It has nothing to do with cursive and everything to do with calculus.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 11th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on the typing thing. My mind way out thinks my ability to get it out on paper. Most of the time my mind out thinks the abilities of my mouth!

But, I have to give thanks to my Mom...The only meddling she ever did in my picking of classes in high school was to insist on a touch typing course. And I am eternally grateful for my ability to type. Actually, my data entry skill is the most profitable skill I have.
Oct. 12th, 2006 01:53 am (UTC)
My trip through typing class was at my Mom's insistence too. Sometimes Mom does know best!

There's a funny item in the Jargon File (OK, there are lots of funny entries in the Jargon File, this particular one is applicable) on a unit of talking/thinking speed: the miliLampson. :-)
Oct. 12th, 2006 04:51 am (UTC)
Handwriting is a huge impediment to writing, and I've my 10 yo as proof. He'd be much better able to bang out stories AND EDIT THEM EASILY if he were allowed to type the damn things.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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