E-mailers, text messengers, and skeptics be damned. Handwriting–American style–is born again. So say about one hundred and fifty teachers, administrators, psychologists, master penmen, and researchers from across the country who occupied the Newseum in Washington, DC for the 275th anniversary of John Hancock's birth. This enthusiastic and glorious gathering across the street from the National Mall viewed any notion of an imPENding slip-slide of handwriting instruction with universal disdain and took a FIRM GRIP to preSCRIBE solutions.
Weighing in on everything from the vagaries of colliding L's to neural correlates from fMRI's, summit participants were eager to bring legible handwriting back to America. Emphatically modern, they advocated technology and embraced keyboarding instruction, yet they insisted that American schools revitalize both manuscript and cursive writing in grades K-6. Report after report presented compelling research that supports the rebirth of handwriting instruction.
These handwriting rebirthers advocate powerful, safe, and gentle techniques–no more knuckle rapping for ill-formed lettering!
Handwriting historian and master penman Michael Sull kicked off the conference with scintillating history of the democratization of handwriting in America. The formal, elitist, fancy European style used by John Hancock gave way to a child-friendly, faster, and uniquely American style developed in the 1800's by Ohioans Charles Zaner and Elmer Bloser. More amenable to individual interpretation, the Zaner-Bloser style is now the most popular in American schools where handwriting itself goes through more ups and downs–and frequent reversals–than a first grader's pen. Reversals include much attention in the 1950's and 60's when handwriting and spelling were important, to too little emphasis in the 1980's and 90's when the focus shifted to composing. Ever since then handwriting (and spelling) have tanked.
"We are in a hurry to do away with basic skills because they can be replaced by technology. What happens when technology doesn't work? Cursive writing is still part of a good education." Dr. Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators.
"To say that kids don't need to write because they don't do it anymore (due to texting and keyboarding) is a common myth." Dr. Tanya Santangelo, handwriting researcher, Arcadia University.
"Twenty-five percent of children really need some help." "If handwriting is a problem, children have trouble composing." Dr. Jane Case-Smith, The Ohio State University.
"In an era emphasizing evidence-based instructional practices, it is puzzling why neither handwriting nor spelling is included in the Common Core State Standards for Writing K to 5."
Dr. Virginia W. Berninger, University of Washington
Boys and men, despite your reputation for sloppy penmanship, take heed. Pens and penmanship are all the rage in 2012 for men. To wit, Industrial Facility's full-page ad in a man's magazine currently proclaiming, "Handwriting is communication in its most elegant form." You need to know and tell that IF's hip hand-writer's tool is definitely in. Enhance your own "John Hancock" with their new handcrafted polished ebony, 18-karat gold rib, "pleasingly tactile," $1,078 Pentagon pen. Get to work preschoolers; penmanship is advantageous for future needs.
Check out www.hw21summit.com for more information and research. There will be continuous updates over the coming weeks and months including research papers and PowerPoint's.
(Dr. J. Richard Gentry is the author of Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write-From Baby to Age 7. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and find out more information about his work on his website.)