Recently, in the Ontario PLP forums, the question was raised whether or not handwriting is dead. As a teacher who admits to having terrible penmanship, I embrace the opportunity my students have to type any and all assignments. But as I posted these words in the forum, I felt guilty for some reason, thinking of the last piece of written material I have from my grandmother. It’s a 15 year old Christmas card that I keep in my bedside table. At the time, I couldn’t really understand why I felt this guilt. Last night, I got my answer.
This weekend, two different schools of thought appeared in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail newspapers on the issue of students texting versus handwriting. The Globe & Mail’s Erin Andressons, reported on the improvement in spelling and essay length from students who text, based on a Stanford University study. (Text appeal, GR8 news: We’re entering a new era of literacy. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/gr8-news-were-entering-a-new-era-of-literacy/article1397742/) Best of all, for those of us who can’t stand to read a u, i or lol in an essay, the students know by university age to drop the text-speak in their essays. Good news, right?
Interestingly, this weekend, the Toronto Star reporter, Andrea Gordon, posted a similar article but with a different slant and a very enlightening view! (The Death of Handwriting. http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/education/schoolsandresources/article/736263–the-death-of-handwriting) Her article starts off similarly enough with my favourite lines: “Kids can text in the dark. Their fingers fly over keyboards like Rachmaninoff at the piano. But give them a pen and most resort to printing. Asking them to write a thank-you note in cursive is the equivalent of handing them a slide ruler.” However, she clears a new path as she refers to the work of Dr. Jason Barton, a neurologist and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia.
According to Dr. Barton, when we recognize someone’s handwriting, it’s like seeing their face. His groundbreaking research points to the fact that while the left side of the brain decodes written language (text), it’s the right side that allows us to identify and connect with the writer, just like we would when we recognize someone’s face. Instantly, we set off a series of sensory triggers which bring up emotions and connections to that person. Texting does not to the same extent. That’s exactly why I keep Grandma’s Christmas card. Her right slanted, elderly penmanship takes me right back to being with her on the farm.
Like me, the Star reporter has kept her Grandmother’s letters. So while there’s still emotion transferred through texting, Andrea’s last line sums up what I felt uneasy about. “We are more connected than ever before but it’s a connection that threatens to leave no trace.” I will make sure I leave something written (neatly!) for my kids and grandchildren.