Recently I have been teaching a small boy the ancient art of handwriting. Make the small Ts bigger! Careful with those zeros, they’re looking like sixes! Well done, it looks very neat! Yes I know it’s hard, but keep going! And so on. Thank goodness for pencils. But there is a problem here. Is handwriting really that important any more? It was in a comment on that posting from fellow Samizdatista Michael Jennings that the handwriting question recently presented itself to me.
Oh, I am sure that educational experts can correlate handwriting with achievement later on, just as in former times Latin went with being clever. But the fact remains that even highly-educated adults, and perhaps especially highly-educated adults, now hardly make any use of handwriting. We sign our signatures. If we are very pre-computer (as I still am in lots of ways) we write hand-written shopping and to-do lists, but more and more, people surely use electronic organisers for such things, if they use anything at all. And I find that the only stuff I remember now is stuff that I have blogged, because blog postings remain legible and are properly and accessibly stored, unlike my hand-written lists. If we are adolescents or young adults, we still use handwriting to take exams, in great intellectually sterilised halls, into which no information may be taken other than in one’s head. But is knowledge retention now the skill that really matters? Surely knowing how to use computers to acquire knowledge is at least as important.
Recently a friend told me of her worry about her young sons neglecting their homework, but instead becoming utterly engrossed in some immensely complicated and long-drawn-out computer game. My hunch is that they are learning at least as much while obsessing for hour after hour about this game as they would if snatched away from their computer and forced to trudge through yet more school work for a few more tedious minutes each day. But is that right?
I do not need persuading that reading remains an absolutely essential skill, with typing, in one form or another, having become almost as valuable. But: what use now is handwriting? I do not ask this in a sneering, it’s-useless way, as a merely rhetorical question. Maybe handwriting really does still have crucially important uses. If the teaching of handwriting is every bit as valuable as it ever was, I would love to be told this, and told why, so that I can proceed with my own current teaching duties with renewed enthusiasm? But, is it?