Is It Right to Write?
Posted 10/30/2017 09:32AM

by John Srouji/Lion Staff


Middle School Civics teacher, Ben Posten, writes in all capital letters. Leila Beaver (7th Grade) leaves spaces between each of her letters. Junior Nick Yang and 8th grade teacher Jen Murphy connect their letters. Wolfe and Harper Hudepohl (5th and 4th Grades) have nearly identical handwriting to one another. Freshman Leah Eiland writes her letters as tall as they can be.

Handwriting can be a lot like fingerprints: Each one is unique. We are all taught to write letters the same way, yet no one’s handwriting is the same as someone else’s.

While handwriting has always been a fundamental part of school, with the rise of technology over the past few decades, its role has been minimized, and one wonders how much longer sixth grader Zora Payne will be adding curves to her letters.   

First grade teacher Allison Wood feels like less emphasis is put on teaching handwriting, and that in general it has been “kind of pushed handwriting to the side.” Even in the Lower School “students are mostly sending their assignments in through Google Docs.”

This came as a surprise to me. I remember writing everything by hand in elementary school. Even though handwriting is fading away, Ms. Wood still said “it's not a lost art necessarily, and it is a skill that is on the report card but not a grade.”

Ms. Wood recalls being “graded for my penmanship in middle school.” Upper school English teacher Mr. Newman says that he was even taught calligraphy one year in elementary school.

Despite the fact that handwriting is being taught less, lots of people still consider it very beneficial. Upper school English department chair Ms. Ohayon gave me plenty of reasons to practice handwriting. “You need to practice it if you are taking an AP exam,” she said. She also told me that it helps to make things feel personal if you hand write them.

Even students, who carry their computers everywhere, feel there are advantages to handwriting. Senior Maiya Moran said that writing out her notes “helps me memorize it.”

If we are turning in nearly all of our work by printing it out or submitting it via the internet, does it even matter if our handwriting is bad? Isabella Seminara (12th grade) said, “It makes you look unprofessional later in life.”

She also told me that her sister, who is in ninth grade, has “the worst handwriting because they stop trying to teach it.” Over the short span of three years, she thinks it has gone from being something essential, to something that still needs to be taught, but is often not necessary.

Even if your handwriting is neat and easy to read, there are other challenges to writing things by hand. Jack Gallagher (9) said, “I do the most handwriting when taking science notes and my hand sometimes cramps up.”

In spite of all that Google doc’ing, some teachers have not cast aside the traditional way of writing essays. Freshmen Lauren Warren and Sloane Vassar both said that they hand write essays in spanish class.

English teacher, Katie Johnson, has a creative method to help students work on their handwriting. “I make my students do timed writings to torture them,” she jokingly said.

Teachers have to pay attention to their own handwriting, of course, especially  “when they are writing on the board,” Ms. Ohayon said. Senior Mikalah Jennifer agreed. “It is extremely important,” she said.

When all of us do write, do we do it with print or cursive? Cursive handwriting has always been the standard when writing your signature, but it is not used for much else. Cursive does have some advantages, such as not having to lift your pen as often, but it is also difficult to learn. As years go by, it appears that cursive too is being taught much less often than it used to be.

Even now, it is very uncommon to see someone writing in cursive. “It is a very beautiful style of writing,” Ms. Ohayon said. “But I haven’t used it since 1980-something.”

I asked Isabella if she thought cursive was still significant and she quickly responded with “definitely not.”

Fifth grade teacher Jason Giannitti told me that it is up to the teacher to decide whether or not to teach their students cursive. According to him, a couple years back, teachers were required to teach cursive, but now most lower school teachers don’t even bother to teach it.

This could cause problems because many teachers in the middle and upper school use cursive when grading papers or tests. If the student can’t read cursive, how will they understand what mistakes they made?

Then again, even if you can read cursive, there are still teachers who have unreadable handwriting. According to Mr. Newman, with so many essays to grade it would take a long time to finish them all and write neatly. He encourages his students to ask him “to translate” if they can’t read his comments. He says he feels bad about it, but hopes he makes up for it with the amount and quality of the feedback. “It’s a bit of a Catch 22,” he acknowledges, “and that’s probably why Google doc commenting is the way to go for a lot of us with gnarly handwriting.”  

While handwriting poses problems for teachers and students, there are some people for whom handwriting comes easy.  And we still recognize nice handwriting when we see it. “People always compliment me on my notes,”  Freshman Nava Little said, “because my handwriting is good.”

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