Miss Lessie stood in front of the class and said, “boys and girls I want you to get your writing pads out.” Today we will work on the letters ‘C,’ ‘E,’ and ‘A.’ Students quickly grabbed their pencils designed especially for young boys and girls and watched intensely as Miss Lessie, (all teachers were called by their first names preceded by ‘Miss’ regardless of marital status,–way ahead of the cultural times),demonstrated the correct writing technique. The writing pads were large with two inch spaces with a line at the top and bottom divided by a line with dashes. Lower cases letters came to the dash and upper case letters to the top line. Students would spend a minimum of 30 minutes each day learning and practicing the correct letter formation. In addition, all writing throughout each day must apply the techniques taught. This would continue until the end of the second grade or ‘after Christmas’ (the school year was not divided into semesters, rather into ‘before Christmas’ and ‘after Christmas’. The class in handwriting, under the direction of Miss Etherlene, continued in the third grade when students were introduced to cursive writing and received a grade for “penmanship”.
In 1993 I walked into a ‘Directed Studies’ class in Charlotte, North Carolina and had an immediate flashback to my first grade class. The teacher who was directing a ‘therapy’ class for a learning disabled middle school student was doing exactly what Miss Lessie had us doing in those early years in our writing class. The young teacher, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, informed me of the importance of handwriting and the development of neuro pathways in the brain. The research was conclusive, and outstanding results were being made with students with special needs. Students who were non-readers or poor readers were now being mainstreamed into regular classrooms as a result of intervention using writing as a means of therapy.
How well I remember the many fads or bandwagons the educational establishment has pursued without clear direction. We all remember when the school systems across the country were going to switch to the metric system only to see it abandoned after a year. Then there was the reading debacle where ‘whole word’ instruction would replace phonics. California lead the charge mandating reading would use exclusively the “whole word” approach to reading. It was only a short time when reading comprehension plummeted as a result of students’ inability to ‘sound out’ words and the lack of word attack skills. We were all excited when Texas Instruments declared the year of the hand held calculator and gave thousands of these instruments to elementary school students.. In short order fourth graders arrived in Middle School unable to do mental math as a result of the calculators.
Today’s school children get about one-fourth the handwriting instructions as in earlier years and many never learn cursive at all, thanks to the rise of computers and new education guidelines that de-emphasize penmanship. Based on the studies in neuroscience (brain function) that say putting pencil to paper stimulates the brain circuits involved with memory, attention, motor skills, and language in a way punching a keyboard doesn’t should be cause for alarm. There is the assumption we live in the computer age, and we don’t need handwriting anymore. That’s wrong.
There is a trend in our schools to take away teaching handwriting altogether. This causes me great concern. Such a move would have a real negative impact on children’s development. Removal of handwriting as a classroom discipline would fly in the face of sound research to the contrary.
Parents be sure your children’s school places emphasis upon manuscript handwriting in Kindergarten to Second Grade followed by cursive writing in the Third and Fourth grade. This process should be followed with keyboarding in the traditional manner. The benefits are too great to allow this important skill be dismissed from our schools
Three cheers for ‘Miss’ Lessie