We live in the 21st century and therefore the digital age; the text message and the keyboard reign supreme as methods of written communication. Yet children across America spend hours upon hours learning cursive handwriting. Why? The forms they have to write demand that they print their letters. If they want to write something, it’s probably going to be written on a computer and printed out later. Is teaching handwriting still necessary?
The answer, of course, is not as simple as you might initially think. Schools have an obligation to teach the three R’s – reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic – and without handwriting, kids would lose an essential skill. If schools only taught writing and ‘rithmetic with computers, the next generation would be lost without a Word processor and a calculator.
And yet there’s no doubt that time is wasted in schools by preparing children for realities that they will never have to deal with, while ignoring the many realities they will have to deal with on a regular basis.
But let’s look at the arguments and counter-arguments to figure out whether the emphasis on handwriting is truly necessary in the modern age. By the end, hopefully you’ll be able to draw your own conclusion on where you stand on the issue.
Point #1: Few things are handwritten in the 21st century.
Why learn penmanship? It’s a dead art, just as using candles for lighting has become outdated. Sure, there is art in penmanship – as there is art in candlemaking – but ultimately that doesn’t mean it should be a standard part of a national school curriculum. If schools are strapped for resources as it is, there’s no reason to burden them with teaching an outdated method of communication. (In fact, along those lines, why don’t schools teach morse code?)
The truth about handwriting is that it’s becoming less and less necessary in the 21st century. We communicate via phone or computer and we even do our schoolwork on word processors. The small notes we make to ourselves only have to be legible; the only cursive we’re really required to use is that of our own signature.
Because few things are handwritten in the 21st century, it follows that there should be less emphasis on handwriting beyond basic skills.
Besides, usefulness is not the prime directive when it comes to choosing school curriculum in the modern age. It is useful to learn how to start a fire; which class teaches that? Mathematics is useful, too, but it is vastly aided by calculators; its applications only serve those who pursue mathematics seriously for work in the real world.
It is useful to be able to read and write, but cursive and extensive penmanship curriculum is clearly not part of the 21st century.
Counter – Argument: Handwriting is an Essential Skill
Let’s look at the counter-argument: the idea of handwriting as an essential skill. After all, the term handwriting encompasses more than simple penmanship; handwriting is how people have been writing up until the 20th century. We do so much of it that we forget just how important it is to our daily lives, from the scribbling of notes to co-workers on pieces of paper to creating posters for protest rallies. If we can’t write with our hands, we essentially can’t write.
True, preparing students to be typists in the next century is an important process. The vast majority of the words produced will be on computer simply because it’s more efficient – and it’s an increasingly large part of our lives. But as you’ll see in the next point, that’s not necessarily always a good thing.
Point #2: Without Handwriting, Our Linguistic Wits Have Dulled
LOL. WTF. OMG. BRB.
English has moved from Shakespeare to Morse Code, and the only writing many of us do in our daily lives better resembles a carefully-budgeted but substanceless telegraph than a full cogent thought. Without handwriting, our wits have dulled simply because it’s become too easy for us. Surely the challenge of handwriting makes us better, more thoughtful writers?
With less emphasis on the act of writing itself, there has been less emphasis on its quality as well. Grammar suffers: people use “you’re” when “your” is required and vice versa. People don’t know when to use an apostrophe when writing “it’s” or “its,” and the essential attention that homonyms have required is too-oft corrected by our word processors. If calculators have made us poorer mathematicians, surely cellular phones have made us poorer writers.
Counter – Argument: Technology is Here to Serve Us
People don’t eat raw meat anymore for a reason; they discovered fire. And people don’t look at the sky to discover anymore; they use telescopes. Technology is not only here to better us, it’s here to serve us and improve the quality of life on a national and worldwide scale. If American education is going to place such a strong emphasis on primordial skills, then why don’t they teach about starting fires, building huts, or navigating by using the night sky? The education system’s emphasis on handwriting – and therefore its reasoning – is disingenuous at best. The reality of the matter is that schools are simply teaching handwriting because that’s how schools developed in the 19th and 20th century. It’s a status quo that won’t change with the times, proving just how outdated the American education system really is.
Yes, it’s important to know how to read and write, and do both well. But the quality of writing should be about its content, not the style of its penmanship. In the digital age, penmanship is a given; it’s as simple as choosing a font. This is not something to be feared but something to be embraced as technology makes communication, daily living, and civilized life much more pleasant, convenient, and comfortable.
Which conclusion did you reach? Hopefully you saw that there were valid points on both ends, and that the issue is not as simple as declaring handwriting dead or alive. But whatever your thoughts, it’s important to remember that education needs to be an active part of our everyday lives.