This happens to me more often than I should probably admit. I’m at the grocery store, say. Looking at my list. Squinting at my list. T-H—is that an H? And after that, what? U? R, maybe? Trout! Do I need trout? Why? Oh, it’s not trout! It’s truth. Now why on earth would I have put ‘truth’ on my grocery list?
You see, I can rarely read my own handwriting. Fortunately, I rarely need to. These days I can even type my grocery list into my phone.
So the question is: In today’s increasingly digital world, do kids really need to learn to write by hand?
Even though we wonder if they’ll ever use the skill, there are some good arguments for teaching small children to print and older ones to write in cursive.
According to some research, learning to print letters helps develop the neural circuitry used in reading. Some studies have shown that kids who learn to print and/or write in cursive are better readers, better spellers, and enjoy more academic success overall. Writing by hand may help improve memory as well, even for adults (so maybe if I practice my handwriting a bit, I won’t even need my list). At least one study showed that college students who took notes by hand retained more than those who used a laptop.
I’m all for teaching handwriting, but I also tend to be wary of arguments that suggest new technologies are somehow bad for us. Socrates, in the Phaedrus, was very critical of a new technology that was beginning to catch on at the time—writing. He didn’t like writing because it weakened our powers of memory. If we wrote everything down, we would soon forget how to memorize things. Socrates was more or less right about that. But what we gained almost certainly made up for the loss. No, I can’t recite The Iliad, but because we now write things down, I can read pretty much any book I want any time I want. That’s a trade I’m willing to make. And who says I can’t still work to develop my memory skills? Just because I can read Homer doesn’t mean I can’t memorize him as well. (Though, if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll start with a few sonnets, maybe a limerick or two just to get warmed up.)
So all I’m saying here is that not teaching kids to write may not be as devastating as some people might make you think. Who knows, there may be some as yet undiscovered advantages of learning to think with your fingers.