Pencils Down

August 08, 2006 1 min read

At one time, “neatness counts” was as common a classroom phrase as “raise your hand,” and penmanship ranked right up with math and spelling on the weekly educational roster. But in an increasingly digital world, the skill—or art—of neat handwriting may be going the way of the ditto machine. Some educators are bemoaning penmanship’s fall from grace in the face of increasing testing demands and ubiquitous computer use. The concern is especially strong among occupational therapists who work in public schools. “Handwriting is the number-one way elementary school students provide feedback to their teachers about what they’ve learned,” said occupational therapist Sandy Purvis. Penmanship also “improves the ability to connect the mind to the body to increase focus and attention,” she said—skills that would benefit nearly any student. As students get older, good handwriting translates to legible notes, cleaner SAT essay answers, and nicer thank-you letters after college interviews. But all the genteel benefits in the world may not be able to secure penmanship’s place in the classroom, especially for students beyond the third grade. “It’s pretty clear that as time goes on, people are doing less and less writing by hand, " said University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman. “I suppose it only makes sense to spend less time practicing handwriting and more time practicing other things.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.