Wednesday, January 23, 2008

National Handwriting Day

Today is National Handwriting Day. It’s celebrated on January 23rd because it’s the birthday of John Hancock. He was, as I’m sure you know, the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence and is famous for his large signature.

The purpose of the day is to "alert the public to the importance of handwriting". And frankly, I think we need something to remind people how important it is, because it’s becoming a lost art.

Years ago when I was in school, a huge emphasis was placed on handwriting. In elementary school, we received a handwriting grade. We practiced it every single day. Once we were taught to write in cursive, we were then required to write everything in cursive. If our handwriting was sloppy, it decreased our grade. If it was too sloppy, we had to re-do the paper.

Today, it’s a different story.

My kids spent very little time in school--in class or in the form of homework--practicing handwriting. They were taught cursive, but were never required to use it beyond the 'lessons'. Both of them, now 17 and 13, still print. Frankly, I doubt they even remember how to write in cursive, beyond writing their signature, and they’ll print that if they can get away with it. And sadly, even their print isn’t especially 'pretty'. In fact my oldest son’s handwriting boarders on illegible. But in his defense, he is left-handed and I think his teachers, who were right-handed, didn’t know how to teach a left-handed child to write (and I certainly didn’t know). But, I digress. That’s a subject for another time.

It’s not just my kids who are lacking in cursive ability and penmanship. I’ve talked to other parents about this. I’ve talked to teachers about this. It’s a growing trend.

According to this article in The Washington Post: When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.

So, why is this becoming a lost art? There are a lot of reasons. In the elementary schools, time that was previously spent on handwriting is now being gobbled up by other subjects, such as computer class, foreign language class (we didn’t take foreign language until high school), PE (we had PE in high school, but not in elementary school--we just played at recess--and yet, we were healthier than kids today are), etc. And let’s not forget the increased importance of year-end testing. The teachers are more concerned with other things. Legible handwriting is not 'tested' and required for a student to pass. What’s that you say? The teachers still have to be able to read the students' work? Sure they do, so the solution is simple--have them type their papers.

Obviously, computer usage/dependency plays a BIG part in this issue.

Even I rarely handwrite anything anymore. Given a choice, I prefer to type. It’s faster. When I write by hand, my hand can’t keep up with my brain. When you type, it’s easier to edit your work--to add passages, to delete passages, etc. The computer also offers me the convenience of spell-check.

These days, other than my signature, about the only things I handwrite are my grocery list and my checks, and with debit cards, electronic banking, and automatic draft, I rarely write checks anymore.

So, today I encourage you all to handwrite something!

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