Whatever Happened to Penmanship?

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
09/29/2011
       
Whatever Happened to Penmanship?

These days, with the rise of email, text messaging, and word processing, it seems to be more important to learn how to use a keyboard than a pen. As a result, the teaching of handwriting has a low priority among educators these days. They believe that handwriting is passe and that in the future everyone will be using a keyboard to do their writing. But students still have to use handwriting in taking notes in a class or lecture hall, although the more affluent students are using laptops for note-taking. But handwriting will still be required for signing things, jotting down ideas in a pocket notepad, writing postcards, birthday greetings, thank-you notes, and other minor communication chores.

But have you noticed how easy it is to make errors when writing an email? Indeed, emailers use all sorts of spelling shortcuts that save time and effort. As long as the email makes sense, no one, except us seniors, seems to care about accurate spelling. Yet, spelling is still considered very important. Remember what happened to Dan Quayle when he supposedly misspelled potato? He added an e, which was not technically incorrect, but archaic (The Oxford English Dictionary lists potatoe as a variant form, the most recent usage cited being from 1880: "She found the parson in his garden … making a potatoe pie for the winter.") but he became the butt of every comedian on television. It literally ruined his political life. And, of course, there are still spelling bees in which young students show off their spelling prowess. But there are no penmanship contests. I wonder why.

These days, with the rise of email, text messaging, and word processing, it seems to be more important to learn how to use a keyboard than a pen. As a result, the teaching of handwriting has a low priority among educators these days. They believe that handwriting is passe and that in the future everyone will be using a keyboard to do their writing. But students still have to use handwriting in taking notes in a class or lecture hall, although the more affluent students are using laptops for note-taking. But handwriting will still be required for signing things, jotting down ideas in a pocket notepad, writing postcards, birthday greetings, thank-you notes, and other minor communication chores.

But have you noticed how easy it is to make errors when writing an email? Indeed, emailers use all sorts of spelling shortcuts that save time and effort. As long as the email makes sense, no one, except us seniors, seems to care about accurate spelling. Yet, spelling is still considered very important. Remember what happened to Dan Quayle when he supposedly misspelled potato? He added an e, which was not technically incorrect, but archaic (The Oxford English Dictionary lists potatoe as a variant form, the most recent usage cited being from 1880: "She found the parson in his garden … making a potatoe pie for the winter.") but he became the butt of every comedian on television. It literally ruined his political life. And, of course, there are still spelling bees in which young students show off their spelling prowess. But there are no penmanship contests. I wonder why.

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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)

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