Est. May 2008

19 August, 2013

Obsolescence

Some anthropologists maintain that the only thing which makes human beings unique from other animals on planet Earth is written language.  If this is true, there are some recent stories which may be cause for concern.

The first tale is that of the slow but gradual decline of the teaching of penmanship in our schools (see here and here).  Some schools are phasing out the teaching of cursive writing, while others have already done so.  Reasons for not teaching penmanship range rather narrowly: some say it takes too long to teach it, thus cutting into other academic pursuits; others say that the advent and increasing use of electronic devices makes teaching penmanship useless.

A second tale is that of a lack of ability in our young people to assemble a coherent, grammatically correct sentence with few or no spelling errors (see here).  This tends to be more directly attributed to modern technologies and their uses, such as text-speak, texting, and writing programs which include software which checks your spelling and grammar automatically.

What’s happening, though, is that those young people who have either not learned or have forgotten how to write cursive (as opposed to printing) and who are beginning to realize that spelling and grammar count in things like college admissions tests, job applications, and the like are finding themselves at a distinct disadvantage – in short, they’re coming across as woefully unprepared for ‘real life’.

Michelle Yoder, a pediatric occupational therapist and owner of her own clinic, noticed that the lack of learning of penmanship had an effect on both gross and fine motor skills; penmanship, actually ‘plays a part in developing’ both.  Penmanship also ‘helps stimulate the brain in a variety of ways that can have long-lasting implications in a way that typing does not. The very act of how much of handwriting used to be taught -- through repetition of letters and sentences -- helped ingrain skills and information in the brain[.]’

So it seems learning penmanship has its perks.  Some other perks: some of the schools which phased out penmanship are bringing it back: Englewood Public Schools (NJ) superintendant is bringing it back to his schools, and:
North Carolina joined schools making a motion to require writing and reading of cursive in late May as well. Alabama, California and Georgia took action to require cursive education in some capacity, according to a 2012 report by the National Association of State Boards of Education.
And even technology, which, according to some, still offers too many shortcuts to proper spelling and grammar, is helping students:
Here is the undeniable upside to all of this digital communication, whether on phones or laptops, in social networks or blogs or classroom projects: Students are writing.

“In the past, it was trouble getting students to even write,” said Kourtney Michael, a journalism and English teacher at Raytown South High School.

“But now they are learning that communication is power. They have an audience. They are learning that every word has meaning and there is power in that.”
I'm old enough to remember the advent of calculators, and how schools refused (at the time) to allow us to have them.  By the time I was in high school, that ban had been lifted - but only for science classes (where trying to do the mathematics of certain things would have taken far too long).  And my parents never allowed me to take a calculator to school.  Why?  Because I needed to learn how to do the math.  Punching buttons into a machine isn't learning how to do.  Plus, what happens if/when the power goes out or your batteries die and your electronic crutch (my parents' designation of things like calculators) is useless?

This is similar: learn how to write, how to spell, and how grammar works - you never know when the power's going to go out.

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