Friday, August 26, 2016

Write - By Hand!

Once, during my Windsor Castle sabbatical in 2005, it was my turn to write the customary thank-you note to that day's outside speaker. Preparing to do so, I politely inquired at the Saint George's House office about access to a printer. I had brought a lap-top with me (purchased it for the occasion, in fact), and so could compose such a letter easily enough, but I had no means to print it out prior to mailing it. My concern was ever so politely dismissed. Why wasn't I going to write the note by hand? That option, obviously, had not occurred to me. It was explained to me, however, that a hand-written letter would be more appreciated. And so I wrote it by hand - probably the last real "letter" I ever composed by hand!

I still took class notes by hand - as recently as my course at the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome in 2012, which also entailed a hand-written in-class exam!. But, beginning with my undergraduate class papers in the late 1960s, typing became the increasingly normative way of putting thoughts on paper for presentation to others - a process infinitely accelerated (and increasingly expanded to include material composed for myself alone) by the acquisition of my first computer in 1995. Other than my signature and an occasional brief reminder note to myself, I hardly ever write anything in script anymore.

My penmanship was always poor. So perhaps that is not such a lamentable loss. In elementary school, where penmanship mattered and was regularly graded, writing well was a struggle. I was once told I had a very immature hand-writing. If so, it has likely deteriorated even further as I have matured in years! (To be honest, neither has my typing improved much over the years!)

I thought of all this today as I read Jessica Kerwin Jenkins' review of Anne Trubek's The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting in this coming Sunday's NY Times Book Review. Now I obviously haven't read Trubek's book, but my impression is that the reviewer is more strongly invested in highlighting the value of traditional penmanship than the book itself is. For example, she faults the author for "underplaying the contemporary research that shows handwriting's role in cognitive development." Apparently, "a child drawing a letter freehand activates the neurological centers that reading and writing do in adults, while using a keyboard produces little effect. Children composing text by hand generate more words more quickly, and also express more ideas. Students who take class noted by hand better retain that information," etc. 

Who knew? Apparently the French - who "surveyed the evidence and began teaching connected script even earlier, at age 6."  Good for them! Of course, the French have always taken their civilization and culture more seriously - and more worth fighting the good fight to preserve!

Back when some of my younger relatives were in elementary school, I was appalled to learn that in their school system they routinely printed rather than wrote in cursive. But I assumed my reaction was my usual mixture of nostalgia and traditionalism - by no means to be minimized or disparaged for that reason, but hardly to be invested with arguments from contemporary scientific research!

Not being a scientist myself, however, I continue to lament the loss of cursive script (both my own personal infrequent use of it and our society's increasing  loss of it) more on cultural grounds - that time-honored mixture of nostalgia and traditionalism that recognizes a real cultural calamity when it sees one and can only worry what the wider negative cultural and civilizational implications will be.

No comments:

Post a Comment