September 23, 2019

The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard

Timothy Birdnow

Handwriting is going the way of the dinosaur, and that is a terrible shame because the discipline of manually writing something down is far more effective in learning and remembering than any dry lecture or computer web page.

Daren Jonescu and I thrashed this out some time ago, and he wrote a wonderful blogpost at his site about the matter. Daren states:

The idea that the skill of writing one’s language in the manner in which adults have written it for hundreds of years is a dispensable frivol in a modern curriculum, while "How a Recycling Center Works” is essential knowledge, is more than just a sign of the times. It may be a sign of the end times. In the foreseeable future, there will be no one left who can read the Declaration of Independence in its original form—quite apart from the issue of understanding it. That document, and so many other extant testaments to man’s greatness, will thereafter be perceived as a mere picture, a collection of dainty lines and curves, and less comprehensible than Egyptian hieroglyphics. An important means of civilizational continuity will have been lost, as future generations will be forced to rely on "translations” to read their own language.

Daren is right and he further points out that the act of writing is something quite primal, the connection between the human hand and the human brain. Pecking on a keyboard is not the same, and the loss of the discipline of writing by hand makes for sloppy thinkers. You have to think carefully when actually scribbling your thoughts out. The ease of a keyboard means you don't have to take care.

Daren continues:

Here, I suppose, is where the devotees of progress will jump in to object that I am merely getting carried away with a romantic notion of "the good old days.” I don’t think so. I am far from being anti-technology, and rely on it every day, as we all do. Regarding the present topic, I rarely write anything by hand these days, apart from rough notes. But I fear losing the ability to handwrite, just as I fear losing the ability to perform simple mathematical operations in my head in the age of electronic calculators.

This math comparison is not just a rough analogy. The ability to use a calculator is a skill that may itself become highly developed; but it is an entirely different, and clearly lower, skill than the ability to manipulate numbers accurately with one’s mind. The first is mostly manual dexterity; the second is the skill that our great thinkers, from Plato to Locke, regarded as the natural precursor to the development of philosophical reasoning.

Similarly, the ability to produce preformed letters with a keyboard is a useful manual skill, and the technology that allows us to do it borders on the magical; but the ability to form the letters and words of one’s language in one’s own handis magic of a much higher order. We are barely aware of this as we learn the skill in childhood, but there is nevertheless something ennobling in the realization that we have the capacity to translate our thoughts and feelings through our own fingers into a complex of lines and dots that may be understood by men a hundred miles away, or a hundred years hence. Not knowing how to produce those lines and dots—the real windows to the soul—we would be reduced to relying on machines that can produce them for us on demand.

The keyboard is the calculator of writing, allowing us to produce without mental effort that complicated interplay of thought and symbol, nature and convention, which constitutes one of mankind’s definitive triumphs. The imminent demise of cursive writing will be more than the death of an obsolete tool. It will spell the end of humanity’s direct experience of the spiritualsignificance of written language as the most sublime interaction of mind and body, the mysterious bridge linking our animal bulk to our divine spark. And after we have burned that bridge, will we still have access to what once lay on the other side? Or will we be left, as increasingly appears to be the case today, to make do with the decaying remnants of our former commerce with our souls? Will language continue its slide into virtual disuse as anything but our economy’s hammer and nails, or a ritualized way of grunting and squealing?

End excerpt.

At any rate, Daren and I aren't alone in thinking this; here is a good article on this very subject.

The author states:

"When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component stroke by component stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor emerita of education at the University of Washington. Hitting a fully formed letter on a keyboard is a very different sort of task — one that doesn’t involve these same brain pathways. "It’s possible that there’s not the same connection to the emotional part of the brain” when people type, as opposed to writing in longhand, Berninger says.

Writing by hand may also improve a person’s memory for new information. A 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychologyfound that brain regions associated with learning are more active when people completed a task by hand, as opposed to on a keyboard. The authors of that study say writing by hand may promote "deep encoding” of new information in ways that keyboard writing does not. And other researchers have argued that writing by hand promotes learning and cognitive development in ways keyboard writing can’t match.

End excerpt.

The article also observes:

"The primary advantage of longhand notes was that it slowed people down,” says Daniel Oppenheimer, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. While the students who typed could take down what they heard word for word, "people who took longhand notes could not write fast enough to take verbatim notes — instead they were forced to rephrase the content in their own words,” Oppenheimer says. "To do that, people had to think deeply about the material and actually understand the arguments. This helped them learn the material better.”

Slowing down and writing by hand may come with other advantages. Oppenheimer says that because typing is fast, it tends to cause people to employ a less diverse group of words. Writing longhand allows people more time to come up with the most appropriate word, which may facilitate better self-expression. He says there’s also speculation that longhand note-taking can help people in certain situations form closer connections. One example: "A doctor who takes notes on a patient’s symptoms by longhand may build more rapport with patients than doctors who are typing into a computer,” he says. Also, a lot Berninger’s NIH-funded work found that learning to write first in print and then in cursive helps young people develop critical reading and thinking skills.

End excerpt.

Sadly the Progressive educrats want to rid us of the "waste of time" of cursive writing, so they can spend more time teaching kids about the dangers of global warming or the "evolving thinking" on human biology.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 08:56 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
Post contains 1218 words, total size 9 kb.

1  Indeed, nowadays, students use laptops during their seminars and classes typing everything at once, but never caring about their handwriting. Is cursive handwriting disappearing at all? Paper essay agency expert about childhood education also mentioned the value of spelling and cursive signature creation. Dale Mitchell wrote a breathtaking piece about the art of handwriting and how it disappeared from our daily routine, when we used to write postcards with subtle brushes of the special pen for calligraphy.

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