The handwriting-er-the typing on the wall

Mr. Milner was my grade four teacher and he had the loveliest handwriting.

On the chalkboard, I admired the way he wrote in flowing, classical strokes and perfectly straight lines. By grade nine, when I had him as a supply teacher in science class, I didn’t worry so much about perfection.

However, I could at least perform cursive lettering, which is more than I can say for my youngest son, who is about to turn ten and in grade four. Learning cursive is supposed to be part of the grade three curriculum in this province, but because of the lengthy list of higher-priority requirements that grows from year to year, deciding how and when (and if) it is taught is up to the teacher. In my son’s case, it seems it was left off the list last year in favour of more important things.

Therefore, I’ve decided to teach him myself, even though the question that springs to the youthful mind might be, “who cares? He’ll spend most of his time typing or texting, anyway.”

A young friend of mine in his early twenties admitted that he can only print. He said he wasn’t taught how to write in school either, but it didn’t matter much because he spent all his time clacking on a keyboard, texting abbreviations and now he seldom picks up a pen except to sign his name.

It’s no wonder my young friend doesn’t write—he doesn’t need to. High school kids take notes and work at school on their laptops. Corrections are a snap and students rely on spell-check functions to point out their mistakes. There are no such things as hand-written letters anymore. People correspond by text, social media and email.

And wealthier new schools have classrooms supplied with smart boards, so even chalkboards are becoming obsolete.

How different things are now than in 1985, when I was in grade twelve taking a typing class. It was a course for the “business” students, but the academic students often took it in preparation for university.  It was also a required course for the math-oriented kids in the new “computer science” classes.

We learned to type on an electric typewriter and we were tested on speed and accuracy. Every mistake meant marring a flawless document that one had to redo, or fix with awkward (and obvious) correction tape.

As a Generation X’er, I can’t help but feel that I am straddling two worlds. “Mind the gap,” I hear society say. It is quickly widening and I know I must jump into the speeding train of progress or be left behind at the station.

Today, I still write longhand in scribblers or journals to get my ideas flowing before transferring them to my aged laptop. The blinking cursor on a blank screen can be very intimidating if the words are not yet flowing.  Up until now, I’ve carried a small notepad in my handbag to scribble ideas when they strike. Now that I have inherited an iPad from my husband, I’ve been carrying that around instead.

It just isn’t the same as the romance of a blank page that quickly fills up with henscratches: The connection of pen to paper, the flourish of letters, the flow of bright blue ink from my favourite pen.

The other day my friends and I had a lively discussion via Facebook regarding desk planners. Were they even necessary anymore, given that most people use their phones and other devices to plan their lives? I lamented that I had not received a 2013 calendar for Christmas. My husband suggested I use the new iPad he received—a generous gift from his company, but he didn’t need it, since his smartphone is the centre of his universe.  “There’s a great calendar app on it,” he said. “Why don’t you learn to use that?”

I panicked. The idea of adapting my daily life to a new technology gave me butterflies in my stomach. I’ve been using it, but it doesn’t feel natural.

Unlike my kids. They’ve grown up in an utterly connected world. Communication and entertainment technology seems to be an intuitive extension of their hands and brains.

And yet, they can’t write.

The question remains, do we lose something as a society when we abandon certain lower-priority skills or knowledge in favour of what is practical? Is this progress, or is it the extinction of knowledge?


  • Robyn on January 15, 2013

    I can write thank you! 😛

    • Rhonda Herrington Bulmer on January 15, 2013

      Yes, you and your sister can, but your little brother can’t. Policies have changed in the last five years or so.

  • Suzanne LeBlanc on January 15, 2013

    School is there to fit children into the holes that employers describe. And so, most art is now relegated to extra-curricular instruction.

    Probably cursive writing is now seen as more art than as practical and necessary for the work world. Education of the whole child will more and more have to be taken over by the parent and the larger community. It probably always has been for lucky children.

    Lucky Caleb will be one of the few who retain the art. Maybe he will be one of the specialized people of the future who can read archaic documents from the 20th century?

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