The death of handwriting?

I hope not but I fear perhaps this article is right.

At the very least, concern for good penmanship is out the window. My kids have deplorable handwriting and I tried, I really did. Elder Brother had 4 years of Catholic school but his handwriting is chickenscratch. Buster, coming up in a public school, where “penmanship” is considered an unimportant subject that makes children “feel bad about themselves” is simply illegible. I have no idea how his SAT essay even got read.

My husband and I, Catholic school kids, have greatly benefited from those patient and attentive sisters who made us labor over cursive writing. I learned the mysteries of the rosaries by copying them over and over in my notebook and Sr. Alice Ann’s praise for my b’s and f’s sent me over the moon. At 47, we still have clear, uncluttered penmanship, and we are always getting positive feedback on it, “what beautiful handwriting you have, for a man,” my hubby hears. There is always something elegant, intimate and lovely about recieving a hand-written note, but that is particularly true when you can see that the writer has taken the time to really work on his or her presentment. I understood just how real my neurological problems were when I saw lapses in my penmanship that I could not easily control. I still work on it.

When Buster was working in the rectory and had some spare time on his hands, I bought him a penmanship book meant for adults. It did help his printing, but his cursive writing is just…well, it’s horrific. I have no hopes it will get better, at this point.

Good Penmanship seems like a “little” thing, but to me, it’s always been an indicator of personal discipline and self-worth. The subject that “makes children feel bad about themselves” has probably, in the end, made a great many ex-Catholic school kids feel pretty good about themselves. On a day when nothing is going right, or I feel cruddy about something I’ve done, I can still scrawl a note and look at it and remember one of the first compliments my hubby paid me. It occured the day we met, as I wrote my number on a slip of paper. “You have a nice hand,” he said, “Catholic school, right?” I looked up and smiled at him, completely understanding his meaning! Sigh.

Related: Cursive Writing, Individuality, RIP

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    I don’t know. Modern technology might have something to do with it. I know that I used to have fairly good handwriting (printing — I was never one for writing or reading cursive). However, after the last few years of using a mouse and keyboard all day long, my fingers simply do not work the way that they used to when trying to use a pen or pencil to form letters. In fact, I find that when I need to sign something, I have to wiggle my fingers and practice my signature a few times before actually signing in order for it to be recognizable as my signature. So, with kids using computers and gameboys and all sorts of handheld devices these days, its not unlikely that their finger muscles have been trained to work differently, so that the muscles that are used in writing do not work as well.

  • JMC

    I don’t know. In school and at work I use a computer extensively, all day long, but still nothing can take the place of the feel of a good pen gliding over high-quality paper. I write a lot of stuff by hand out of sheer preference. I also know quite a number of other people who feel the same way.
    Another point is, as long as people continue to home-school their kids, kids will learn penmanship, one way or another. Parents tend to teach as they were taught, and most of them were taught penmanship in school.

  • JMC

    Oh, by the way, what was that book on penmanship you gave Buster? I’d like to get my hands on it…

  • Joseph

    I,also, have not written cursive since the age of 23, for I thought the round hand I was taught was ugly, even when it was written well. I like having legible handwriting, and I have always loved the feel of a good pen on good paper, but who would cultivate penmanship for Post-It notes, or think it an avenue of self-worth if they did?
    And where are good cheap pens and good paper to be found? Certainly not in most office supply stores. The modern ink stick [they are not pens, I know what a pen is] never allows you to achieve the right feel of resistance to the forming of the letters that hits the sweet spot in the hand. They are too stiff, too mushy, too inconsistent in the way they lay down ink, and, above all, too poorly designed to get a genuine writing grip on them.
    It has only been in the past few years that any sensible ergonomics, in the form of Dr. Grip and its clones, has returned to the world of ink and paper.
    I mean good cheap pens. There will always be the vanity jewellery with ink in it for those who like jewellery. But there is hardly a good cheap pen left.
    All paper surfaces [except for Post-It notes and Mead Four Star school supplies--3m and Mead have always been intelligent about such things] also are made for laser printing and easy printer or copier feeding, with no consideration of any relationship to even an ink stick, let alone a real pen. To write on them feels like using old-fashioned school chalk on the old-fashioned, truly black, blackboards.
    I have used cheap Schaeffer cartridge pens since the 1950′s, particularly what used to be called the No Nonsense design. But now they are nearly impossible to find, except as “calligraphy” pens in the art supplies. The cartriges for them are even harder to obtain.
    My two wobbly ones, with nearly stripped threads in the plastic pen barrels, date from the early 1980′s. I I should throw them away, but the nibs [one ball, one flat and blunt] are finally in superb shape, having been worked to the proper degree of flexibility.
    Frankly, I think no one should write [or read] for “discipline” or “self-worth”, but only for love. If anyone must seek discipline, let them seek it from Mavis Beacon and learn to be ten-fingered and fast on a keyboard. That is discipline and achievement enough.

  • Ellen

    I had 8 years of Catholic school and my handwriting is not good. I can print quite legibly and that’s what I usually do. As long as I can read someone’s writing, I don’t care much for the style or elegance of the letters.

  • rightwingprof

    Grad school ruined my penmanship …

  • Mary

    Even with 18 years of Catholic school, my handwriting is not good — I’m left handed, and the nuns made all of the kids place their papers on the diagonal, pointing left, on the desk. The result was that the leftys all wrote with their hands above the line they were wrting – very awkward, and counter-productive. As an adult, tried to re-learn with the correct position and gave up.(I also have the problem the first commenter noted.)

  • Gracie

    I remember Sister Gaudentia making us redo our paper if the small case “t” didn’t make it up halfway between the 2nd and 3rd lines of the tablet. My children have deplorable penmanship and they were raised in Catholic School also. It just wasn’t stressed as much when they were in school. By then, the nuns were scarce.

  • BobinMD

    A was so kind to help me register, so allow me to post my first comment.

    Once again, A has posted a wonderful commentary on Christian life. My conversations with my children about “faith” have been memorable also.

    We all feel we could be better Christians, but here is a “heads up”.

    Satan loves to whisper into your ear: ” Yer a lousssy Christian”…or… “And you call yourself a Christian? Look what you just did”…or…” act like a good person, but what about your “thought life”!

    Point is, the enemy loves to plants seeds of doubt in you about your Christian self, and your faith. Don’t listen, and don’t let him get away with it.


  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    Sneaky way to improve penmanship: Suggest kids learn calligraphy.

    It really works. handwriting gets better and kids get to show off new found skills.

  • TheAnchoress

    #3, GMC, the name of the book is Write Now by Barbara Getty. I have provided a link to it in the body of the post!

  • March Hare

    I learned handwriting by the Palmer method, prefered by Irish sisters in the ’60′s. We HAD to use a fountain pen (good old Schaeffers) and I think that makes all the difference. However, my handwriting was considered poor all through grammar school. It wasn’t until I realized I had to be able to read the notes I took in high school that my penmanship improved! And, to this day, I prefer fountain/cartridge pens (or quality roller ball pens which use the same type of ink), to the point where I bring my own to work.
    My children, all Catholic school proteges, learned the D’Nealian method. Interestingly, their handwriting has also improved as they got older, except for DD#2. She’s the only one who has ever received an “A” in handwriting!
    And for #4 Joseph: look for Schaeffer ink cartridges and $4 cartridge pens (at least, they were $4 a couple of years ago) at most office supply stores (e.g., Staples) or in craft stores with the calligraphy supplies. The Schaeffer calligraphy pens use the same cartridge size as the cartridge pens.

  • newton

    I learned handwriting in school, and I have never forgotten it.

    Even when I have become so used to the computer keyboard, I still feel good when I can write a note in a piece of paper, either in block or cursive, and someone can understand my written words perfectly. The sig.other actually asks me to do the Christmas cards or any other missive that requires good handwriting – his penmanship is terrible… and self-taught.

    That tells me a lot about the status of handwriting today among adults than anything else.

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