26 January 2016
It saddens me to hear that a number of schools are ceasing to teach pupils handwriting, blogs John Bowen.
I understand that the generations coming through make use of portable devices to write upon, but I don't agree that these things make the art of handwriting redundant.
I am of an age where we were taught to write with pen on paper. On lined pages where we would use two lines for a capital or tall letter and just the lower line for smaller letters, scratching away with a pen and ink as we developed our own styles around the standard form.
As we mastered letters and how to assemble them into words, we began to learn sentences, paragraphs and beyond, and we began to understand grammar. There was a lot more to understanding our language than just writing out words, but the ability to write helped a lot in communicating.
In my early years at work, computers were beginning to make an impact. Computers then were big things that we didn't ever see, but we had to cater for the people who fed the information and for about four years most of the writing that I did was to complete forms where there was a space for each letter (or number) and all letters had to be in capitals.
When that job came to an end and I moved on to one where I was drafting contracts for one of the ladies in the typing pool to turn into a document that we could send out. I had pretty much to teach myself to write all over again because I had not written a sentence, let alone a paragraph for so long. It took me almost three months before I could manage legible joined-up writing on a consistent basis and since then I have tried to keep up a regular writing regime.
The advent of the word processor was to some extent a boon in that it became so easy to redo something that you didn't like the look of. And the ability to check your spelling and grammar were other benefits, but these things are not foolproof. As we used to say in the early days of computing, garbage in, garbage out - and as someone who writes a lot (25,000 words is a slow week) it is easy to miss some of the silly things that can occur. Why else would so many people turn off predictive text?
Language is a living thing and it evolves all the time. I don't want to stop that, but if we lose the basic skills of forming letters and words, I don't believe that it is going to help. Over the past 30 years or so I have encountered so many young people coming to work for me who cannot do any basic mathematics because they have used calculators from an early age and have little or no understanding of how numbers work. They trust entirely anything that comes off a spreadsheet even when there is a blatant error. I see the loss of handwriting as bringing the same problems with words and it saddens me.
Change is inevitable, but not everything that we do brings progress. Each generation of children represents the future of our various civilizations, and I don't think that we should deprive them of basic skills. Sooner or later, we will regret doing so.
John Bowen is an FM consultant