I acknowledged that there were trade-offs with less emphasis on handwriting. And, perhaps the most significant is the reduction in the supply of beautiful penmanship such as that exhibited by Tim.
Unfortunately, Tim’s analysis isn’t nearly as persuasive as his handwriting is beautiful. Let me first offer a general critique of Tim’s argument.
Tim claims “So if I understand Josh’s whole argument correctly, he wants schools to limit to a greater extent the time they spend teaching handwriting” and proceeds to list an array of negative consequences that flow from reduced basic handwriting skills. The problem with this is Tim offers no analysis whatsoever of how much handwriting instruction needs to be reduced for children to reach such a level of handwriting ineptitude that all of these negative consequences result. Is 70 minutes per week not enough: if not, why? While I probably favor the elimination of cursive instruction, I certainly never advocated the complete elimination of handwriting instruction; given that fact, it’s not clear at all to me that after 25 minutes per week in class, for example, the marginal benefit of additional handwriting instruction is particularly high. Tim needs to argue that it is if he wants to justifiably claim all of the benefits that he’s claiming.
Josh’s opening salvo in the symposium, explaining why the demise of handwriting is “awesome,” can be found here. And I apologize for the “Tim” not coming out too well up top; I’m not used to signing just my first name.
I think I should be clear on my position from the start: I am not a technophobe. I have two iPods and a Blackberry. I own and frequently use a laptop. I do a lot of typing. I typed this whole post. I do not advocate that college students be required to handwrite their theses or even simple 5-7 page papers. I do not think we should spend hours each day in the classroom learning proper Palmer technique or calligraphy so as to make our penmanship more artistic or romantic. I’m even on board with the printing press, which I think is a pretty neat invention.
I want to make a very simple point: Josh, the demise of handwriting is not “awesome.” It is not awesome because handwriting is intimately tied to learning proper composition* in young children, and it is a personal means of communication that cannot be duplicated through the medium of a computer.
*Composition here meaning the ability to structure an argument or a story—more likely a story for this age group.
When the Aughts commenced, the demise of handwriting had already begun. Nonetheless, schoolchildren still handwrote most of their papers, typing was unheard of during college lectures (let alone exams), and emailing thank you notes was generally deemed rude. Now, nearly every student in all of my law school classes types their notes and emailing thank you notes is generally an acceptable practice. Think of the last time that you handwrote more than a paragraph—I actually cannot recall the last time I handwrote so much: It quite possibly was over a year ago, when the end of the Aughts seemed as if it were in the distant future.
For sloppy handwriters like John S and I,* this is a boon. Those “N”s** that mired the penmanship section of my elementary school report card have become completely irrelevant. Young children need not be patronizingly told that they ought to become doctors by adults that, frankly, have no sense of their medical knowledge. For those like Tim and presumably Pierre (whom I suspect is a masterful calligrapher) who pen beautiful characters, handwriting’s demise presents an unfortunate situation.