Is Handwriting Worth Saving? (article)

JamesM's picture

Interesting article in the book reviews section of Slate magazine — The End of Pens: Is handwriting worth saving?

Nick Shinn's picture

At least until iPhones can print Post-it notes.

quadibloc's picture

Is it worth it to "save handwriting" by the efforts of some interested people continuing in each generation to practice calligraphy? Of course.

Is it worth it to "save handwriting" by continuing to require endless generations of schoolchildren to endure the drudgery of being schooled in penmanship? No, a thousand times no.

However, I am willing to require endless generations of schoolchildren to continue to be required to know how to at least do block lettering with a pencil when the electricity is off. Spencerian script with a fountain pen is right out, though.

There is so much each generation has to learn that it needs to survive that adding to that burden - the burden faced by every student, that is - to preserve tradition cannot be justified. Traditions of value can and do survive when only those who are interested cultivate them, without having to coerce everyone into the effort.

Nick Shinn's picture

We are a very work-oriented society.
Make that jobs-oriented.
Make that good-for-the-economy jobs.
Meanwhile, what skills come in useful when we are not at work, which includes 25+ years of retirement?
Making things, exercising one’s taste in decorating and dressing (for parties, not for work!) etc.
And what, perish the thought, if there might even be jobs in the trades or humanities that require hand skills?

I would also say that “good for the economy” jobs is a somewhat political definition.
Man-jobs that f*ck the environment, more like.

It’s great to see Neville Brody taking this on:

So I say, learning how to write nicely is absolutely worthwhile, and while we’re at it, why not give the kids some music, art and exercise in the core curriculum?

Why are we here? For pleasure or performance?
To make our own mark on life, or stamp out a standardized template?

John Hudson's picture

I'd be very much in favour of teaching handwriting to children not as a skill to be mastered, but as a subject of study in the context of art/cultural history. An introduction to the world's writing systems would be worthwhile too. Consider: this is one of the central technologies of civilisation, as well as a major aesthetic cultural achievement in many places, and the majority of people are taught nothing about it in school.

If individual students are inspired to want to practice penmanship, then they should be given opportunity and encouragement.

dberlow's picture

I agree almost completely John. I think a curriculum taught centered on modern global typography would greatly assist people in everyday job training, and drive some tiny but steady minority back to handwriting, perhaps with a greater and more enthused appreciation for the roots of everything word-oriented.

Create an educational watershed, where most people can go on to making better captions in their home media, reporting on the whales in print, or directing type at an e-publisher, which are around where the new center lies, vs. tattoo art, calligraphy, or just pad after pad of handwriting– all noble pursuits, but no longer attractive enough to the gathering mass communicating by word.

This type-ed pie-in-the-sky goes along with thinking that fonts have/had to be a little smarter, and browsers just a little poorer:)

altsan's picture

Obligatory (

My previous years of work in IT eroded my (never great) handwriting ability to the point of near uselessness. Nowadays I periodically need to quickly jot down notes on paper, and I've pretty much lost the ability to do so... at least in a way that's both rapid and legible. Block printing is quite unsuited to that task and is likely to end up even more illegible.

For rapid, legible writing, joined-up handwriting is essential. It doesn't have to be beautiful, or follow a rigidly proscribed form, but I think everybody needs to be able to use a serviceable "business style" hand. I'm pretty upset that I can't do it anymore. (I've been trying to studying the Palmer Method in my free time.)

OTOH, teaching it as a static, historical "art" rather than as an essential life tool is pretty much futile.

russellm's picture

It is a silly question.

True, the emphasis on a perfect and conforming style of handwriting may go or already have gone by the wayside. That's evolution. Which in its self is neither good nor bad. People make pragmatic decisions all the time about where to devote their time and energy and the simple fact of the matter is that perfecting hand writing as a vital form of communication is not really all that important these days. My own hand writing (never any good) is now almost entirely restricted to notes I take almost entirely for my own consumption. More of a mnemonic devise that an attempt t communicate. So while, in my opinion, there is no fear of any imminent demise of hand writing (as in being able to write a quick note or two when the batteries are dead) it probably won't be what it was when I was in public school... And thank God (er, technology) for that.

Interestingly, I think it is safe to say that there has never been a time when the art of calligraphy was more advanced than now.

JamesM's picture

> there is no fear of any imminent demise of hand writing
> (as in being able to write a quick note or two

I agree, but based on several articles I've read, many young people have difficulty reading/writing cursive because they never use it. If that trend continues, future generations may admire the artistry of calligraphy but have difficulty actually reading cursive writing. In fact it's conceivable that at some point in the future that cursive is viewed as an archaic writing style that is unreadable to most folks.

Nick Shinn's picture

That may be true for deciphering handwriting, but surely there is a continuum of cursive forms in wide typographic use, from italic through handwriting fonts, that will preserve their legibility.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I started first designing typefaces in vector format on a computer. It wasn't until I started drawing with plain old paper and pencil again that I realized how constricting a computer based vector editing software platform can be.

JamesM's picture

That's a good point, Nick. I'd certainly agree about italic. I'm not as sure about cursive handwriting fonts, though. If future generations have trouble reading cursive, designers may gradually stop using those fonts.

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