Well written, by hand

June 12, 2008

We had to take a semester of typing in high school. Computers back then were readers of stacks of punch cards, but the idea was that those students bound for college would need to know how to type to do term papers, and the other students would be able to use typing as a job skill. I got up to 90 words per minute for a short period.

One of my majors was mass communication. I wrote a lot of radio news scripts, and I wrote constantly for the Daily Utah Chronicle. Utah’s debate team was quite active, too, and we typed our evidence cards so they’d be easier to share. By my junior year, almost everything handed in was typewritten.

After one lousy year of grad school I took a job as press secretary for a U.S. Senate campaign. It was a shoe-string operation, and I typed all our press releases myself — plus the few prepared speeches. Three years later we had computers to use for press releases and speech texts in the Senate. My office was the first in the Senate to completely automate the process. By the time I moved to the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, we had PCs on everybody’s desk (ahead of our time, I know). At the Department of Education a couple of years later, we even had a crude e-mail system.

Moving to American Airlines was a shock. As counsel, I was expected to write everything in long-hand, so the secretary could type up the final copy. Having been wholly keyboard for way over a decade, I couldn’t make the switch. I had to find a surplused, still-barely-working typewriter to give stuff to the secretary. By the time I left four years later, everybody had PCs on their desks (and at least half the secretarial positions were gone, too). That was my last experience with long-hand as the norm, until I got to the Dallas Independent School District.

Our kids didn’t learn cursive long or well. Younger son James doesn’t do much in cursive at all (thank you notes are a problem, of course). Older son Kenny has keyboards on everything, and probably types better than I do. I didn’t worry much about it.

Now comes a comic strip based on a blog with the claim that writing in cursive improves literacy and numeracy.

Is that true? Does writing improve literacy and numeracy?

That would explain a lot about my students’ inabilities in both areas, and it would suggest we need to do a lot more writing, and a lot more note-taking. It would suggest that our drive to technology has damaged our skills in an unexpected way.

What do you think? Does anyone know if there is an actual study on the topic? Comments open.

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