Finland recently announced a halt of the teaching of handwriting from 2016, with typing lessons taking its place. ‘Fluent typing skills’ are more important to the Finnish nation than loops and scrawls and cursive, said one of the members of Finland’s National Board of Education. Apparently typing is much more relevant.
For me this heralds a taste of dystopia, with children who will never know the pleasure of a well formed W or a flirty F looping across a page made entirely of paper, within my own lifetime. As Nikki Gemmell has written in the Weekend Australian of March 21-22, along with shoes that work with Velcro and not laces and knees that have never known a skinning from riding a bike sharp around a graveled corner ; I add fingers that have never been used to count and add and fear these children will grow up to be the new human, all enormous head and withered limbs. But I am certain that they will have an App for their smartphones that will inform them of the imbalance between their head circumference and that of their shoulders. That will then see them going to gyms in droves, rowing on machines that would short circuit at the hint of a river in the neighbourhood and building up shoulders that will rarely be put to any real use.
Handwriting is how I form first opinions I am afraid, having moved from judging people on their appearance since I outgrew the teenage years; and I know I will get clobbered with keyboards for saying this. The freedom of someone’s loops, the minuteness of another’s letters – these to me indicate the presence of certain characteristics in the writers. As clearly as if they had been standing at my shoulder telling me what they were like. I cannot deny that I am occasionally wrong, but I am correct often enough to continue to use this method of reading people, pun intended.
But the keyboard and the screen are gradually replacing the fountain pen and its ink well or cartridges, the biro which we were never allowed to use in school for fear it would ruin our handwriting and claw our young fingers and even the scented fluoro gel pens with which many a young student has scrawled their answers much to my disgust and their dismay when I add my cursive comment at the end of their labours – ‘Use a black or blue pen please if you wish to get graded!’ with an angry exclamation mark sporting a circle where the dot goes at the bottom of the upright dash. What if I had only a key board at my disposal? How would I make my exclamation marks exclaim my dismay at the use of the fluoro gel pens or my love in a note to a special person where that dot gets drawn as a tiny but well formed heart?
Teachers know the value of writing. It has been proved that students who take notes by hand retain facts better than those tapping every word down on a keyboard. The ability to write in cursive is no longer a core skill according to countries other than Finland; the US for one and Australia where I live, both merely need children to be able to print the individual letters. How long before we see children here whose fine motor skill development will have to be boosted by some strange machine or sets of exercises that will replicate the muscle actions that they would have naturally carried out if only they had been taught the ancient skill of handwriting! How will we make fun of doctors’ scripts if all of us are only able to communicate via the typed letter? I can see the death of at least one joke right there.
A handwritten love letter
But teachers are not the only ones who know the power of a distinctive style of writing a letter. I remember a certain persistent young man who sent letters to me from when I was about eleven and he a few years older till when I was nearly eighteen. I just have to see a loop under the letter R from the Bengali alphabet to signify RU and I am immediately sent back to the giddiness of that ill-fated and heady romance without fail. I doubt if the uniformity of a letter typed on a keyboard will ever be able to do that to me. I pity the children of Finland and of tomorrow.