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Celebrating National Handwriting Day in a Digital World

There's a special place in this woman's heart for Jan. 23—and the importance of handwriting (which she said is more important than one might think).

By Valerie Weil

Wednesday, Jan. 23 holds some special interest for me.  

No, not because it’s National Pie Day (but that does have a spot in my heart), beacuse Jan. 23 is John Hancock's birthday.  

What other day would be more befitting for the Americans to claim as National Handwriting Day!  

Remember, it was John Hancock, the former friend of King George III, who signed the Declaration of Independence with a large, flourishing signature so that the far-sighted King of England would be sure to see it even without glasses.  

Well, if you're going to commit treason in the colonies, you may as well be big about it. Today, John Hancock's bold move created a day for celebration in America for the right, freedom and ability to write.

OK, I know what you're asking: "Who celebrates something like National Handwriting Day? Really. Come on."    

Honest, it is a real day provided for national observance since 1977 to recognize the importance of handwriting. Teachers everywhere and the National Council of Teachers of English and Literacy, psychologists, Crayola, The History Channel, Forensic Document Examiners, handwriting analysts, The Writing Instrument Manufacturing Association, Zane-Blouser, and others, all encourage us to take a moment to reflect on handwriting.

In this digital age, is it necessary to continue celebrating Handwriting Day? For that fact, isn't handwriting becoming obsolete? The basic answer to these questions is a resounding NO.

Each and every day, you write something down. Maybe it’s as simple as an appointment reminder on your calendar, a note to self—even a digital signature at the check-out counter. Unless you have no interactions with people at all, you will write something down every day. We're not talking about penmanship here, we are talking about putting the pen to paper and making some form of communication marks.  

Mom ever leave a note for you on the table? Friends ever send you a birthday, get well, or congratulations card? Carpenter ever take measurements? Doctor ever write on your medical chart? Policeman write a ticket? How about class notes or assignments? Even in this digital age—where email is replacing the postage-sent handwritten letter—it is important that we learn how to "make our mark" with care.

Just think, if children no longer learned to read and write in cursive, they would never have the opportunity to read the Declaration of Independence, or grandma's notes and signature on a birthday card. Think it’s not that big a deal? Think again. Sad as it may seem, a nursing student in Arizona sent a patient into shock because she could not read the medical chart notes in cursive telling her the patient was diabetic. She said she only used printing. This was a college student. She is an American, who speaks our language. She is a medical professional with the life of a patient in her hands. What if it were you?

Printing was developed in the early 20th Century when public school became mandatory. Until then, all privately taught students learned to "write" from the beginning. But as public schools presented a challenge for educators to those who had never before been exposed to writing or fonts used in the books and newspapers, the "balls and sticks" method of learning letters in printed form was developed to begin handwriting education. Once the students learned the basic strokes and their letters, they could move on to the much-faster paced connected cursive writing.

It is such a shame that the importance of handwriting is no longer given adequate time in the elementary schools. Those schools that have forgone cursive penmanship in the curriculum beyond second grade, or printing, have found that the students motor coordination and manual dexterity has dropped significantly. So much in fact, that without this fine motor skill practice, the educators have noticed a significant drop or "slow development" in other areas such as abilities to create art and play musical instruments.  

Students that do not take their own handwritten notes do not learn how to compartmentalize their thoughts for retention. Recent research at the University of Washington reveals that areas of the brain having to do with learning, language, and working memory “light up” during cursive writing; and these areas of the brain do not with keyboarding or printed writing.

Educators and psychologists are working with the national associations, school boards, and the public to correct this. It seems that it really is important to get more time in the classroom for handwriting in the developing students, and not just keyboarding lessons. Mexico eliminated cursive handwriting from its national curriculum 20 years ago, and has recently reinstated it for these same reasons. Americans are beginning to catch on to the importance of handwriting.

To commemorate National Handwriting Day on Jan. 23, the website Campaign For Cursive will be launched. It will be an informational clearinghouse for all administrators, teachers, art media manufacturers, psychologists, handwriting examiners, and the like to provide and share information regarding handwriting, research, and more. Its purpose is to provide information on the impact of handwritten communications on society today, its impact on our developing school children, and the impact it will have in future of electronics, authorization security and signatures.

So, how will you be celebrating National Handwriting Day this year? Maybe you could take a moment and write your local school board or congressman about how you feel about keeping handwriting in the classroom—at least through the fourth grade. It may be the most important thing you do for future generations of students. Make a note to self.

For additional information, contact American Handwriting Analyst Foundation president, Sheila Lowe, at Sheila@sheilalowe.com, 805-658-1090

Editor's Note: The author is a local resident and Canon-McMillan Patch reader.

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