How they did it in the old days.
As the year winds down, and the photoperiod shortens here on the 44th parallel, I find my free days busy with autumn chores—e.g., earlier today I hauled away two pickup loads of maple branches fallen in an early wet snow—and my free evenings at my desk, by the fire, wrapping up loose ends.
The loose ends I’m wrapping up this evening: a number of handwriting-related news articles I’ve collected over the past few weeks. So rather than attempt an inspiring essay, I figured I’d simply share.
First I find a piece in the St. George and Sutherland Shire Leader, of New South Wales, Australia, about a program in which occupational therapists help HSC (Higher School Certificate—basically, high school) students learn how best to hold a pen. Seems perfect penmanship translates into better HSC test scores. One such therapist is Jackie Peile.
“[Peile] said students who completed the course had seen notable improvements in legibility, speed, readability and endurance [and] a 40 percent decrease in pain.”
Ms. Peile attributes students’ bad handwriting form on the overuse of iPads. Meantime, school officials in New South Wales are thinking of doing away with written exams altogether “as students can no longer tolerate long writing sessions after years of using a computer for school work.” Oh, dear.
While we’re in NSW, it seems the daughter of former premier Neville Wran is charged with a drug-related murder. 9NEWS reports that twenty-six-year old Heather Wran and two others stand accused of stabbing a fellow to death, but the investigation could take a while. Authorities were estimating a three-month wait on forensic reports—and handwriting analysis. Perhaps someone didn’t know how to hold a pen.
Also from Australia comes this rumination by writer Mel Campbell on the history of handwriting in schools Down Under, including the awarding of “pen licences” and something called “Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS).” For handwriting, VELS specify that…
…by year three students should: ‘Write using joined letters that are clearly formed and consistent in size.’ By the time they reach secondary school, they should possess ‘a personal handwriting style that is legible, fluent and automatic and supports writing for extended periods.’
Kid clamps down on pencil.
It’s worth a read. In fact, so is an opinion piece Campbell mentions—Teaching the write stuff: the forgotten art of penmanship, by retired teacher Marnee Wills, in The Age (Melbourne). Wills cites studies that show writing by hand improves brain function.
Children who have the capacity to write fluently, legibly and automatically are better equipped to generate and evaluate ideas, judge responses and organise their thoughts.
Campbell herself notes that she’s begun writing drafts in longhand. “Despite my crabbed, half-cursive handwriting,” she acknowledges, “I’ve never felt more inspired.”
Moving 10,000 miles northwest, The Herald of Edinburgh, Scotland, chimes in:
[B]eing able to write clearly is a basic skill every pupil should possess. Not only does it allow them to communicate effectively, writing a sentence by hand has also been shown to aid cognitive development and understanding. Writing in longhand may not be as common as it once was, but everyone in Scotland’s education system needs to be able to do it.
From Canada, meanwhile, comes this report of a University of Ottawa professor sitting in a detention cell, awaiting extradition to France in connection with a terrorist bombing of a Parisian synagogue, which killed four people thirty-four years ago. Hassan Diab vows that he’ll “never give up” his fight to clear his name.
What does this have to do with penmanship? Well, the key piece of evidence is a decades-old handwriting sample—“five block letter words scrawled on a check-in card for the Paris hotel where police believe the bombing suspect stayed”—that French authorities say matches Diab’s hand. But they compared the block letters, which defense counsel insists were written by Diab’s wife, with samples of his cursive script. The Supreme Court has refused to hear his appeal.
Back in the USA, we continue our crime theme by letting you know that poor penmanship doesn’t pay. Down Houston way, the Deer Park Broadcaster reports the FBI is releasing photos of a would-be robber who passed a note to a teller at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank—a note the teller couldn’t read. The man fled the bank empty-handed. No one was hurt in the incident.
Police in Lakeland, Florida, arrested two eleven-year-old middle school girls for writing bomb threats that forced evacuation of their school for two straight days.. Officers told the Orlando Sentinel that one of the girls admitted writing the second note to “keep the momentum going.” Teachers recognized the handwriting. (Kids these days.)
Hey—did you know that about 7,000 Americans die in the U.S. each year from bad handwriting? It’s true, apparently. The sloppy handwriting, of course, belongs to doctors, and Leonardo L. Leonidas’s commentary in the Philippine Daily Inquirer details several tragic case studies. While I disagree with Leonidas’s claim that “the bad penmanship of many physicians is impossible to change”—heck, if doctors can perform brain surgery, surely they can form a legible “B”—I do expect the practice of writing out prescriptions by hand to go the way of the dodo very soon.
Whereas if doctors did practice penmanship, it might make them better doctors: mounting evidence continues to suggest that handwriting is a lot better for your brain than keyboarding or tapping out texts with your thumbs. It’s also better for fine motor skills, notes this recent piece for The Week by Linda Thrasybule:
Children who have poor handwriting are also more likely to have visual-motor problems — difficulty copying shapes, letters, and numbers. In fact, one study showed a significant relationship between visual motor performance and the ability to copy letters legibly.
Better reading, better spelling, better memory, better motor skills. Don’t chuck your pens just yet.
Also, people who know how to write by hand can more quickly decipher old documents—say, in genealogical expeditions. Here’s a nice write-up on the subject by Dee Gibson-Roles from the Asheville (North Carolina) Citizen-Times.
And handwriting can tell a lot about a person. Witness the infographic on this page for The Pen Warehouse in the UK.
Or have a chat with Ken Nelson. Mr. Nelson, 91, is a handwriting analyst and numerologist who has a lot of years’ experience in such things. Plus, he’s still got all his hair—as you’ll see in this little bio by Jim Stingl for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Nelson is brims with accumulated wisdom about such things as ascenders and descenders and the crossings of Ts. In fact, he can tell a lot by whether we finish the loops below cursive letters like g, y, and z.
“So many people leave them unfinished. They’re always looking for something to be completed or fulfilled in their life,” he said. They might need some graphotherapy, which Nelson said changes your inner self by improving your handwriting flaws.
Police have consulted on cases with Nelson, who is a longtime member of the American Association of Handwriting Analysts.
“The handwriting has to come back,” he says. “It’s a flourishing expression and it is beautiful.”
Now, that’s a declaration I can get behind.