Most of us remember a time in our early education when we practiced handwriting and cursive. Classes were spent tracing letters and perfecting slanted writing. Today, many adults possess useful handwriting skills, but they may be the last generation to do so. Children are only receiving longhand writing training from kindergarten through second grade, or ages 5-7. We talk with Jan Olsen, occupational therapist and President of Handwriting Without Tears, as she recalls the Whole Language movement of the 1970s which pushed for a greater consideration of content within writing, rather than quality of handwriting. Overtime, this has led to the reduction of time allocated to handwriting instruction in schools. Olsen argues that since the focus on language has switched, teachers are no longer being trained on the best handwriting practices. She says, “That’s the dirty little secret in education. [Teachers] don’t want to teach handwriting because they don’t know how.” Olsen also mentions the importance of continued practice, stating that our proficiency in writing is traced back to when we stopped practicing it. So, for example, an adult who only practiced handwriting through the age of eight has the handwriting proficiency of an eight-year-old. Olsen stresses the necessity of cursive writing, saying “There are still many times when being able to write in cursive, or to read in cursive, is an important life skill socially, educationally, vocationally.”
Margaret Shepherd, calligrapher, artist, and author of Learn World Calligraphy, believes that cursive is not only important for communicating thoughts and ideas, but also personality. She points out how signatures are very personal and unique, and suggests that the way we write and sign documents plays a large factor in whether or not other people will perceive them as important. Shepherd explains how professionals used to be trained in handwriting, and shares that the rarity of handwritten notes and messages today makes them all the more precious and useful when conducting business. She also speculates that just as technology and keyboarding have replaced long hand writing, in the future some other medium of communication will surpass typing. Shepherd hypothesizes that longhand writing on tablets will be used soon, as such instruments exist in our world already.
Jan Olsen, occupational therapist, President of Handwriting Without Tears
Margaret Shepherd, calligrapher & artist, author of Learn World Calligraphy.
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