Do you make marks with your hands anymore? Small notes to youself? Grocery lists or little post-it messages for your colleagues? Or an actual letter to a friend? Did you grow up in an era when cursive writing was taught in school? Or have the digital ways taken over your life completely?
I have been having the handwriting debate within my head and with my friends lately. I was probably one of the last set of school going kids who were told the importance of a good handwriting, and was even graded on it. Teachers never failed to mention the best hand-writer in the class to set an example for everyone else. Non-cursive writing was not acceptable, and in fact, the older kids had the key to unlock the mysteries of strange connected marks they made on paper. If one didn’t write cursive, one was a “baby”.
Pencil was the only option available to children when they started school and writing. Markers, the only accessible pens, were strictly for colouring. I think it was believed that starting one’s writing life with a pen ruined their handwriting forever.
Grade five was a rite of passage for writing. Finally the students were allowed to write with pen. And not just any pen, but a fountain pen. With real ink and nibs. I remember my father showing me how to take care of the pen he gave me the day before grade 5 started- to refill the ink, to keep the pen clean and to change nibs when they got broken tips. I still treasure the real gold tipped pen he gifted to me on the occasion of my undergrad graduation- a pen I had grown up seeing, but it was too precious for me to use as a child. I have to admit though that I haven’t used it in a long time…
Back to When I got to Grade five- it was the most exhilarating time- to show off to our friends our new pens, of being admitted into the society of grown-up kids. Of course, ballpoint pens were not acceptable. They were considered trashy as far as pens go, bad influence that destroyed one’s handwriting!
I hand-wrote letters to my friends and family. I used to rush home to check for my best friend’s letter when my family and I had moved away to another town. It was usually pages and pages of handwritten saga of our current lives along with cutouts of interesting articles or hot dudes we wanted to share with each other. We even managed to sneak small pieces of jewellery in the envelopes on the occasion of the each other’s birthdays. I would read each received letter at least ten times, and it would make me smile every single time. The letters got collected in a special box. And every time I opened it to deposit the latest envelope I read through the rest of the letters all over again.
I would do the writing of my reply to her in a few sittings- usually entire evenings devoted to the task. Writing was just as much fun as reading. Thinking of how she would react to my words as I was putting them on paper would make me write with even more vigour. Long-distance phone calls were too expensive (and certainly not very accessible to children) and Internet was nonexistent to the general public. So writing by hand, putting a stamp and address on an envelope and sending it on its way was the only way to keep in touch. And in my humble opinion, it was the more satisfying way. One really was committed to stay in touch in this way!
Fast-forwarding to today, writing by hand is almost dispensable for most of us. Even children use computers for their projects. No one tells them the importance of writing to impress. It is not a measure of one’s character anymore. And, really, ink pens?!
But does it really count in someway deep down in our minds to mark the paper with our own hands rather than pressing buttons to do the job? Or worse still, to touch a flat screen of a smart phone to create our letters and words? Even more than the tactile sensation of holding a pen or pencil between our fingers, and rubbing its tip on the tooth of the paper, isn’t there more heart and brain involved in creating marks that are one’s way of communication with oneself or others? Research suggests that note taking by hand makes more stick in our brains with the help of physical and mental effort involved in the task. Older students today can be seen using their laptops to follow presentations of their professors. And it’s so easy for them to change tabs or windows to be available on social media every single minute, for every single comment or story that comes their way. I wonder how much is sticking in their brains with no physicality involved in the process of following the lecture.
Now, I’m a mother, and I have a responsibility towards my son’s learning, especially as we are an unschooling family. Hence the handwriting debate that I am having within and around me with my son starting to wield a pen and begin his writing journey.
Do I insist that he write with a pencil to start with?
Do I role model writing for him to see and absorb?
Do I emphasize a skill that’s losing out rapidly in our society?
Will it at be relevant for him to be able to write well by the time he’s a grown man?
I am going to go with Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes as of now. I grew up handwriting, and I know the pleasure of it-which I still enjoy (see this post). So I hope my son will know it too, and maybe find a friend that he would like to write to. And relevant or not, if it makes learning a little deeper for him to write his notes by hand, well, I’m in! And of course, he’ll choose his own path at some point, and then I’ll be happy to know that at least he had a choice.