|An essential skill, or an out-dated ordeal?|
I approve of this. It seems to me crazy to spend so many long, dull hours of childhood practising joined up writing, as though preparing for life as a Victorian clerk. Keyboard skills are more relevant, more useful and enable quicker brain-to-page communication. Most people's need for cursive ends when they finish taking their handwritten exams - another aspect of our education system that looks backwards rather than forwards. After that, yes, it's nice to be able to handwrite love letters, or cards expressing sympathy. But in every other way, the computer is king.
At the International School where my daughter learned to write, she started out forming letters separately, then learned cursive, then switched to keyboards in Y4. My son transferred back to the UK in Y3, and was plunged into old-fashioned cursive lessons, striving for years to be granted a pen license. Meanwhile children we knew in the Dutch system missed out the first stage of lettering, and only learned to form letters for joined-up writing, a system that seemed quicker and easier.
Hand-writing school work affects the way that children are taught to think about writing. I would advise my children to start with a second paragraph, adding the introduction to their essay or story later on. They'd look at me as though I were mad; of course they had to start at the beginning and write down to the bottom of the page. All the word-processing skills that I use every day - cutting and pasting in particular - were unavailable to them. They reminded me of my first job in journalism, when we were expected to make seven carbon copies of a sheet of A4 paper, and then write 35 lines with no errors. We had to handwrite stories sometimes - as reporters do now - when were were out on the road with a deadline pressing. But since the dawn of the 1990s, most of my journalism was done on a word processor or computer.
When I was a child I found hand-writing difficult to master. My hand could never move as quickly as my brain, and sometimes I lost letters or words in the scramble to capture my thoughts on the page. I was often scolded for the untidy presentation of my work. There were no word processors to yearn for, but if they had been invented in the 1970s they would have transformed my schooldays, assuming we were allowed to use them.
When I trained as a reporter I learned Teeline shorthand, and have been using a scrappy version of it ever since. I moved from typewriter to word processor to laptop with pleasure and appreciation. I have scarcely used handwriting for the last twenty years. When I started an Open University degree, one of the most difficult things to adapt to was those pesky handwritten exams again.
Some people believe that cursive aids the creative process, giving the writer time to form their thoughts. My experience has generally been the opposite. And yet. Last week I was clearing a cupboard and found a notebook with my very first attempts to write a book. I'd taken it to a cafe in a shopping centre and sat and written while my daughter and niece looked around the shops. I started off in third person, past tense for a page and a half. Then I shifted to first person, present tense and found that worked better. I'd written pages and pages. There was something intimate and exciting in seeing those pages, especially knowing six years later, that they were the beginning of a new career and a trilogy of books.
So, maybe I am too quick to condemn cursive. Maybe I should pick up a notebook and give it another try. Do you think there's something special about joined up writing? Or should we all follow the Finns?