Lately (well last five years anyway) there has been quite a bit of media frenzy regarding whether traditional penmanship and writing skills are now becoming obsolete in this day and age of computers, PDAs and styluses (stylii?). One article (Jason Fry, “Mightier than the Pen“, March 05 2007, Wall Street Journal), suggests that the said new forms of communication are sufficient to replace traditional methods (writing and penmanship). Reasoning is that throughout human history new forms of communications have replaced older forms of communication successfully and this is no exception. Also, as Jason suggests, these new forms break down the creative boundaries for child who has embarked in his/her educational journey thereby increasing his/her imagination in ways not envisaged before. Another common argument presented is that (the physical process of) writing, due to outsourcing of this task to computers, itself does not add to human competency (of which survivability in the woods was traditionally a measure of ).
As a high-school student, I absolutely abhorred the idea of writing in all forms (essays, analysis, creative writing, poetry for women and all that “boring” stuff) so I am not sure Id be the right person to comment on this issue. But I suppose that is what blogs are for.
Ignoring the issues of availability of computers and word processing tools, bad (font) typing, eye-strain, difficulty in entry, should a child with access to a computer and wordprocessing tools, first develop handwriting skills or bypass this process in their favour?
I am not so sure it is a good idea to dispense with the basic writing skill (cursive or not). While efficiency can be definitely gained by using computers (via touch typing, voice recognition, styluses etc), there are other benefits that only handwriting, if not a clear and neat one, can offer. Briefly, these include:
- Motor Skills: Handwriting, that most adults take for granted, requires dedicated effort to master and maintain. Learning to type is a process of taping fingers at discreete locations on a keyboards; Handwriting reuqires careful and controlled motion to produce continuous and fluid patterns.
- Orderliness of the mind: Wordprocessing facilitates the noting of ideas in a sequential manner. This forces organising thoughts in an orderly and flowing fashion.
- Internalising Skills: This really falls into the “Terminator” line of thought about maintaining/improving skills internally rather than (unnecessarily) depending externally on machines for basic skills and ideas.
At the end of the day, where can we draw the line regarding dispensibility of core skills? Do we need reading abilities? Text can be synthesized into voice. Computers can solve some of the most complex mathemtical problems so why do we need algebra? If Matrix (the movie) has anything to say, we could all be feeding ourselves via tubes attached to our bodies. Talking about dispensible skills, how about this automatic beer dispenser:
Having said all this, perhaps a bit of organising my thoughts on paper would have helped?