I remember school days where using paper with wide solid blue lines, each delineated space then subdivided by a dotted line. Capital letters were expected to reach the next solid line. Until you did it right, you had to write with a pencil, but when your writing was considered adequate, you were awarded the privilege of writing with a pen!
The thrill of pens with many different possible inks black, blue, peacock blue, green aside, there wasn’t anything more boring than penmanship. Nothing more boring unless, of course, it was writing out spelling words over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and then having the paper returned with the places where lines had not been reached properly marked with a red pen.
Looking back on it, I also wonder whether there wasn’t a disciplinary purpose to this exercise: no matter how stupid and boring our homework was, we would complete it. This was excellent preparation for later tasks that came my way, like certifying students for graduation in the major, grading and checking my own footnotes.
My own handwriting has admittedly deteriorated over the years. My brother had the same education and spends less of his time on a computer as I do and he has better handwriting. However, my handwriting is completely legible and even distinctive.
I know perfectly well that how I write is a projection of who I am and how seriously I want someone to take me. Anything handwritten by me a journal, a post it, a form filled out at a health care provider’s office is written in a cross between printing and cursive, not pure cursive. But it can be read and the lines are straight.
Students are not expected to have any tolerance for learning that isn’t tricked out with bells and whistles to keep them fascinated at all times. Practicing your handwriting is dull: put it in the same category as diagramming sentences, something that is also no longer taught, so that even students at highly selective colleges have to learn the basic elements of sentence structure at the same time that they are supposed to be learning critical thinking skills and advanced subject matter.
Despite the increased emphasis on English composition in high stakes testing, the vast majority of standardized tests are multiple choice. Teaching students how to take these tests effectively, and making sure they have access to the content they need to do well, is a far higher priority than teaching the basic skills that present a young person as a mature human being. One of those skills would be handwriting an answer to a question.
Whatever the reasons behind the collapse of handwriting, students no longer think it is their responsibility to write legibly. Give a regular blue book exam and a dozen students or so will warn you that their handwriting is horrible as if that is something for which the teacher also has to take responsibility.
What do you think? Should handwriting be taught? And if students can’t do it, should there be remedial handwriting classes?