Wednesday, November 28, 2007


For years, one of my pet peeves has been the steady decline in what my mom calls "a good hand". In her generation, penmanship was as important as stoking the wood furnace in the middle of the schoolroom. And it showed. Just check the handwriting of the average person over the age of 70. You will see a glorious, intelligible, graceful style that flows like a stream downhill. (Sudden thought: If our Founding Fathers had penned the constitution with the typical handwriting of today, would anarchy reign because we couldn't read what they wrote?)

The handwriting of the average middle-schooler today is, well, atrocious. And don't give the argument that this is a direct result of the move from notebook paper to a keyboard. This skill has seen a steady decline that borders on neglect. In the '60's, primary students were getting an average of 45 minutes a day working on handwriting. Today, the average is 10 minutes and only 12% of their teachers have ever taken a course in how to teach it.

And now we know that insisting on good penmanship is more than just a personal preference. There is growing evidence that handwriting fluency is an important building block of learning. Studies are showing that when kids struggle with handwriting, it filters into all their academics. Spelling becomes a problem; math becomes a problem because they reverse their numbers. I'm so encouraged that the folks who produce the SAT have added a written essay question. The thought is that with something like a writing test on the SAT, there will be a trickle-down effect to middle schools and eventually the third-grade classroom.

A great quote from the Newsweek article from which I gleaned the above info: "If we stop teaching penmanship, it will not only hasten the day when brides acknowledge wedding gifts by email; the bigger danger, they'll be composed even more poorly than they already are."

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