Handwriting is a skill we probably already
no longer need in our texting, emailing, wordprocessed world, so it’s hard to
argue why we keep teaching it to children. And yet we do, sort of. What’s
worse, I find myself hoping we won’t stop any time soon, we might even rediscover
handwriting, we might see a “slow page” movement like slow food, leading us to enjoy
the moment of writing itself.
The teaching of cursive writing, the writing we each develop into a unique handwriting style, is already being phased out in elementary schools in the US, replaced by keyboarding proficiency. In Australia, cursive writing has hung in as part of the national curriculum, although each state decides what to teach. In Queensland, kids learn what’s called “Queensland” script, which is really just printed letters joined together. It’s not handwriting at all as most of us know it.
We called it running writing when I was at school. You learned it after printing, like a new language. We practised it a lot as I recall. I was never any good at it but I love it still, the capital D that looks like it was made for words like Delight and Delicate, the beautiful S with its supreme loopiness and potential for curlicues, those hills of small ns and ms that could just keep going. Oh God, I am starting to sound nostalgic. Quick, put on a Radiohead CD and get out an iPad.
I confess I have a conflict of interest when it comes to handwriting; I write novels by hand. Not in a beautiful script, mind. I look at anything written by my grandfather, who was taught in an English public school, or my son, who’s taught himself various styles of writing, and it’s art. My writing is not art; it remains cramped, small, illegible even to me at times. I could have been a doctor with writing like mine. And I didn’t always write by hand. I typed my first novel on an Apple Classic II. Quite the techo, I didn’t even print until I had a finished manuscipt. But I soon found a computer file too linear for the way I work.
Since that first novel, I have written three more, all by hand, initially on cards of different colours, now in a particular kind of notebook that I love for its narrow lines and plain cardboard covers. I write with a fountain pen. My favourite is a Waterman coated in a maroan enamel covered with little gold diamantes, given to me when my first novel was published. It only has one drawback – it no longer writes. I had an efficient little Montblanc that came with a leather notebook case, but I left it on a plane and like everything left on planes, it immediately vaporised. Now I write with a flash Visconti, also given to me, made with cellulose using a refound technique.
If handwriting is dying as an art, perhaps we shouldn’t mourn its passing after all. I imagine the rationale for doing away with what they now call “old” script in schools is that it’s hard enough to teach kids one set of letters, let alone two. And since few of us end up with a hand that even vaguely approximates that beautiful script we were taught, why try to teach it at all? Joined up printing will do.
But before we altogether consign handwriting to the land of outdated technologies, we should take a moment to consider this. The very first Macintosh computer, not the one I typed my novel on but the one that preceded it, was a winner, its creator Steve Jobs said later, because of its beautiful typography, which was unlike any other computer before it. Jobs had sat in on a calligraphy course on the way to dropping out of college and had seen the art of handwriting, the art in the science, he called it, which had inspired him. So next time you type an email, thumb a text, or flick a page, just remember the technology you’re using, the technology with which we are fast ridding the world of writing by hand altogether, is only available because the guy who dreamed it up was in love with handwriting.