I start writing this blog with a fountain pen on a pad of recycled paper. Some people would say that I’m old-fashioned, and that nobody uses an analog writing device so archaic. But I really love the feeling of putting my thoughts on paper before typing on a blank computer screen.
Many people today feel that learning cursive writing is no longer needed -- something not necessary for children to master in today’s digital world -- and some states have dropped cursive as a required class in elementary school. In a memo to schools in April, Indiana officials said schools can still teach cursive as a local standard, but students will be expected to be proficient in using the keyboard, the Tribune-Star of Terre Haute reports.
Ironically, the arrival of the iPad and other tablet-like devices, plus touch screen smartphones, is providing a means to use handwriting and technology together. New educational games for those devices could be used to teach cursive to children as a game. Applications such as Better Letters and ABC Tracing Cursive Lessons can help children, and adults, master the art of beautiful handwriting using a smartphone or tablet.
But many teachers and education experts warn that losing the ability to write with real ink on real paper could jeopardize children’s futures. We need to provide our children with the tools to work in this digital world, but we should not focus our efforts on using technology for tasks that are better done with pen and paper.
Recent studies suggest there is a big reason to maintain and learn this skill, which some people call a gift. Studies illustrate how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. Recently at Indiana University, researchers using an MRI machine discovered that children’s neural activity was far more enhanced when they practiced writing by hand after receiving instruction than when they simply looked at letters.
“It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time,” says Karin Harman James, the assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience who led the study.
In Germany, children learn to write using fountain pens, and they always have a stack of paper (recycled) on their desks to take notes. A private school in Scotland, in an attempt to save the dying art of handwriting, is insisting that pupils use fountain pens. The Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville Junior School in Edinburgh believes cursive is on the brink of extinction, thanks to text messaging and computers. "Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not insignificant bonus of developing children's self-esteem." says Bryan Lewis, the school principal.
Cheryl Jeffers, a professor at Marshall University’s College of Education, said text messaging, email, and word processing have replaced handwriting outside the classroom, and she worries they’ll replace it entirely before long. "I’m not sure students have a sense of any reason why they should vest their time and effort in writing a message out manually when it can be sent electronically in seconds."
Another reason to use handwritten notes is to get attention. In his TED presentation, "Political Change With Pen and Paper," Omar Ahmad, former mayor of San Carlos, Calif., and co-founder and CEO of SynCH Energy Corporation, says politicians pay much more attention to handwritten letters than email, fax, and telephone conversations.
An email or a text message is useful to send quick information, but a handwritten note or letter is a form of communication that can express more than words. And most people still love to receive them.