Friday, October 15, 2010

Some idle thoughts on handwriting

I was recently reading a story out of The Wall Street Journal entitled "How Handwriting Boosts the Brain." The author reports that researchers say there are good cognitive benefits to handwriting. It turns out that kids in general are losing those benefits because they are not learning how to write by hand in school or at home. You can thank the ubiquity of keyboards and texting devices for that. Even adults who may have learned handwriting and penmanship in school seem to be losing out on the benefits as they give up handwriting for keyboards. However, not all is lost. According to the article, "but in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice." It seems the old is new again. Plus, it also seems that adults learning to write by hand later in life can gain some benefit. In fact, according to P. Murali Doraiswamy, a neuroscientist at Duke University, "as more people lose writing skills and migrate to the computer, retraining people in handwriting skills could be a useful cognitive exercise."

Reading the article took me back to 7th grade Catholic school. Yes, I am a Catholic school survivor (no, not that kind of survivor though, thank the deity of your choice). Back then, I had to practice penmanship in religion class. Penmanship was a big part of the grade. We kept a separate notebook where we took dictation from the Catechism-- questions and answers that had to be neatly and carefully written out. I had some very elegant script back then. Now some may view that as old fashioned rote memorization, but as I wrote the original draft for this post in my journal I could not help but think that the Brothers were on to something.

Even though I am a heathen now, you can ask me any question today about Roman Catholic practice and doctrine, and odds are very good I will know the answer even if I have to pause for a moment to translate it into English if needed since the lessons were in Spanish. In addition, the practice of penmanship made me very comfortable with writing by hand. In addition to keeping a personal journal, which I have done for years now, I still write out a lot of my drafts by hand before I type them out. This post started out in my journal. I don't always move things out of my journal to the blog, but I have often explored ideas on paper before taking them online. And some things do remain in the privacy of my journal. Overall, I do feel that I can think better, more freely when I write by hand. Don't get me wrong; I can draft very well on a keyboard but given a choice I still prefer to write by hand. My handwriting is not as elegant as it was in 7th grade. This is mostly because I tend to write faster now, but it is still neat and legible (enough so that people who notice do praise it now and then). Cursive writing and penmanship overall have served me well for writing and expressing my ideas. I may have evolved into a blogger, but keeping a journal in paper is still my passion and outlet. And I would not be able to keep a journal without good handwriting. So, who knew? It turns out those lessons and drills were good for my brain too.

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