Handwriting, a Foundation for Communication and Thought

During a year of homeschooling, my children practiced penmanship. The positive impact on everything from legibility to understanding and reinforcement was impressive. A year back in public school and my son’s handwriting has regressed.  And he no longer writes in cursive.

Look at our country’s founding documents and ask whether today’s students are capable of such exquisite handwriting and thought.  Of course they are. Those patriots also filled responsible and respectable jobs in their teens when today’s teens can’t sign their name ( Cursive is about more than penmanship, N. Borges). Not only do they not know how to write in cursive, they struggle to read cursive.

So what’s different?

Declaration of Independence with 56 Signatures

Schools no longer teach penmanship. Cursive is optional and if it is required, it is offered only for a year.  Yet experts realize there are real benefits to handwriting as related in this recent New York Times article.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

 “And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”   (What’s lost as handwriting fades?).

My son’s handwriting is atrocious and I needn’t look far for a reason because my handwriting was horrible. Even today, so much of his school work through middle school and on exams remains handwritten. So my son practiced cursive for home school several times a week using a $13 program called Presidential Penmanship (Link).  He was 11 years old.  You can see his progress below

Lesson 1,  pretty rough

Lesson 12 is better.
Handwriting improves with practice and they remember the content.

I began dictating stories which they had to listen to and write correctly. This was effective and powerful;  the children could recall the story from memory and learned to spell, punctuate, and copy good writing. Memorization and recitation are also excellent, though I did not require it as often.

As the quality of handwriting improves, other things do as well.  Children remember what they write and other subjects improve.  In our case, the presidential quotes were inspiring and shed light on our history.

Though I value handwriting, I’m not a Luddite who spurns technology.  The children also used an affordable typing program, Mavis Beacon (Product link), which improved their keyboard skills by increasing speed and accuracy without looking at the keyboard.

This summer, my son must practice penmanship at home because the quality of his handwriting is unfortunate for everyone, his teachers and him.  Many friends commiserate about their sons’ handwriting and I don’t know how the teachers decipher what they write.

My teenage daughter said a boy in her honors class has to type because he can’t hand write due to a disability.  This comes as no surprise.

If reading is the foundation for learning, hand writing is the foundation for communication and thought; and this is true especially in the formative years.

I read Dr. Ben Carson’s speech this weekend which he gave at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast.  He talked about education and how Alexis de Tocqueville visited our fledgling country in 1831 to understand its early success.  He was impressed with our three branches of government, but was “blown away” by our educational system.

You see, anybody who had finished the second grade was completely literate. He [de Tocqueville] could find a mountain man on the outskirts of society who could read the newspaper and could have a political discussion . . . could tell him how the government worked.  (Link to book)

In his book on education, Carson discusses “a sixth-grade exit exam from the 1800s – a test you had to pass to get your sixth grade certificate. I doubt most college graduates today could pass that test.”

When I look at the signatures on the Declaration of Independence, I am forced to reconsider the role handwriting plays in education.  And I wonder why many high school graduates today do not have the basic understanding of a second grader or sixth grader in the early 1800s.

 

 

Jun 9, 2014

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

Stay Up to Date

Become a better reader and writer today and try the TreeHouseLetter for free. Always learning with a bit of fun.

Latest Posts

“Good Luck and Smooth Sailing” in the Year of the Cat

3 min read Lunar New Year Vietnamese Zodiac, Cat vs Rabbit Year 2023 Writing tip, lyrics, backstory on Al Stewart's hit song * AVAILABLE ON PODCAST on SPOTIFY * Chúc mừng năm mới 2023!! Happy Lunar New Year! * It's the Year of the Water Cat according to Vietnamese...

New Year, New Habits: THL on Instagram

2 min read Writing community Marketing platform 4 Instagram posts * It's a New Year with new habits: I am on Instagram! I know, it's hard to contain the excitement but please take a minute to check the posts below before you click over. They are drawn from...

How to Capture a Life in 400 Words

3 Min read The Obituary AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Writing an obiturary is a sobering task. I'm not sure if it is harder to write one for someone you know, because I haven't had to do that. My husband wrote his parents' obituaries and my father had written...

Punch In, Punch Out: the Profession and the Side Hustle

3 Min read 1 Book rec Writing Originality and Passion AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * So you want to write? Do you like words? I finished reading Murakami's book Novelist as a Vocation which was published in 2015 and translated to the English in 2022. As of the...

“Pithy and Practical” – Time in Memoir

4 Min Read Time as a Literary Element The Divided Self Christmas and the Solstice Readers Call to Action AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Not to toot my own horn, but I'll let my cousin do so. She wrote in her Christmas card that she loved the TreeHouseLetter...

Which Part of Speech Makes Up Most of the English Language?

4 Min read Toolbox, Parts of Speech 1 Book rec, grammar guide Word nerd alert Ages 9 to 99 * Let's talk about the parts of speech. As for the seven words in that sentence, the first two-- let's talk--are a sort of conundrum. They're not spoken at all, though I am...

Giving Thanks for Dissent and Cookies

3 Min read True Story On Gratitude and Dissent 1 Cookbook rec AVAILABLE IN PODCAST SPOTIFY APPLE PODCASTS * Giving thanks this time of year is a practice in gratitude. Gratitude is vogue, hip, lit. It's handy and eternal, an ever-ready virtue, making an appearance at...

Topics

Become a better reader and writer today and try the TreeHouseLetter for free. Always learning with a bit of fun.