In honor of National Handwriting Day CBS Television News produced a piece called “Signing Off on Penmanship.” In this program journalist Traci Smith looked at both the history of handwriting, our modern struggles with it and why handwriting matters.
In one day, Smith reported, 294 billion emails are sent and 5 billion text messages. We are writing a lot, but, said Smith, the tactile, personal communication of our handwriting is nowadays reduced to grocery lists.
Smith interviewed Tamara Thornton, history professor at the State U of NY, Buffalo, who said that back in the 1700 and 1800s most people couldn’t write at all. If your handwriting was good enough you could actually make it a career and be a professional “pen man.”
Platt Rodger Spencer, Thornton said, was the first American pen man to create a national model of handwriting in the 1800s. The Spencerian penmanship model was very fancy, it was hard to get the shading just right, and so it was very slow and laborious.
When the typewriter was invented in the late 1800s it created an enormous competition for handwriting, Thornton went on. And a new pen man, A.N. Palmer, took up the challenge. Most adults today learned their penmanship by the Palmer method.
Palmer felt we needed a modern 20th century script for modern 20th century business conditions – something fast and efficient that could keep up with the typewriter.
Kathleen Wright, with Zaner-Blosen, one of the largest handwriting instruction companies in the U.S., told Smith that with the Palmer method it was recommended teachers spend at least 45 minutes per day of instruction and practice. But today, handwriting has to compete with the other subjects crammed into a student’s schedule, so it’s been simplified and now only 15 minutes a day is given to teaching both printing and cursive.
Smith said that most experts agree that if we just by-passed handwriting and started children on keyboards that kids would suffer. Studies show that for children handwriting is more effective than typing for stimulating memory and language skills.
Why does handwriting matter? Smith ended the program by posing that question to 4th graders who, she said, seemed to “get” that handwriting has a place somewhere. Three students gave these profound answers:
“You can’t just have a computer everywhere you go.”
“If you’re out of batteries or it crashes you can just pull out a pen and paper.”
“If you’re stranded on an island it would be a good thing to know how to write.”
And I say – let’s hope each of these tykes have my comfortable, easy to grip, fun-to-write-with, UGLee Pen – when they need it!