Why are we still teaching handwriting?

THIS column was inspired by my eight year old daughter. She has learned to print her letters in school and now she’s moving on to ‘joined-up writing’.

In the normal way of her age group, she turned to me and said: ”Why do I have to do this writing?”, to which I gave the time-honoured adult response: “Because”.

She persisted. “But why do I have to learn it? What good is it?” That did it! This called for a patient fatherly explanation. “The reason you have to learn joined-up writing is because…

“eh…

“eh…

And I couldn’t think of a single good reason. (I could think of something like: “You have to learn joined-up writing in case you become a doctor, so that the patients won’t know what you’re prescribing for them”.)

Mmm, what is joined-up handwriting for? Surely, the point of it is to speed up handwriting. But apart from students and the older section of the community, few people actually use joined-up handwriting any more. 

People will occasionally write down their names, fill in a form or make out a shopping list. But printing your letters is much better for this purpose.

For all longer correspondence, there’s computers. The vast majority of modern written communication is done on computers (and I’m including mobile phones here). 

If you want to record what somebody is saying, you can use tape or digital recording. Even if you want to record what somebody says in writing, ordinary handwriting is not up to the task – you need to have shorthand. And that is becoming redundant as modern voice machines can turn recorded speech into written text.

(The phrase ‘wreck a nice beach’ neatly summed up the problems faced by the first machines to ‘recognise speech’ but processing power and more complex software is solving the problem).

I get two and three page handwritten letters from readers.  The time they save in using joined-up writing is lost to me, because it takes me an age to decipher the script. If they had to print their lettering they might learn the value of eloquence through brevity. (Look who’s talking – Ed.)

Joined-up writing is actually a degraded form of communication. The whole point of having a set alphabet is standardisation, so that everyone can understand what is being said. If everybody has their own alphabet (which is the case with most people when they are writing in a hurry) then it misses the point.

I don’t know what proportion of the curriculum is given over to handwriting but it seems to me to be a bit of a waste of time. Technology has caught up with handwriting in the same way that calculators caught up with long division. The only difference is that there is an educational and skills advantage in knowing division while there is little point in learning joined-up handwriting. The vast majority of today’s schoolkids will do their writing on keyboards.

So why bother teaching joined-up handwriting? When are we going to stop? (Write neatly. now!)