Posts Tagged ‘handwriting instruction’

scriptScript & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting

Kitty Burns Florey

New York: Melville House, 2013.

A friend on Facebook recently alerted me about a pen and writing show coming to Toronto: Scriptus.  “Dangerous?” she asked.  “Dangerous” does not begin to cover it.

I need another pen like I need a hole in the head, but my superabundance of writing supplies never seems to stop me from looking at/for more.  The rainbows of coloured stationery!  The many hues of ink!  The tactile joy of letterpress printing!

This obsession of mine would be a lot more fun if I could share it with my near and dear ones, but the children really are not all that keen on pens and writing.  Eldest (13) was never really taught how to write, and neither print nor cursive was taught with any rigour.  I learned my lesson and made sure that Middlest (9) and Youngest (6) at least learned the stroke order for making letters.  Middlest learned cursive in school last year, but has, of course, reverted to print since no one requires cursive of him.  Do I want to be the mother who makes her kids do handwriting practice at home?  Well, I want to be the mother of kids who will go into adulthood able to write cursive.  So … I bought the Handwriting Without Tears books and have made stabs at teaching them at home.  When we can.  Sigh.  Not often enough.

I can see why it has fallen to the wayside at school: there are always so many other things to do.  I’m beginning to think we may have to compromise: 15 minutes of handwriting practice in exchange for 15 minutes of screen time….

Like Philip Hensher’s The Missing Ink, Script & Scribble (originally published in 2009, reissued by Melville in 2013) traces not only the history of the development of handwriting, but its demise as well.  It is a wonderful mix of memoir and history, and I loved the balance she found between the two.  There’s a wonderful history of writing implements, and she’s introduced me to new and dangerous wonderful places to find writing goodies.

I found Kitty Burns Florey’s history of handwriting instruction in America to be particularly interesting, and she discusses the ascendancy and decline of the North American styles of looped cursive taught in schools:

The Golden age of script began with the Spencerian style of the mid-1800s:


This was supplanted by the Palmer method in the early 1900s:


which was, in turn, supplanted by the D’Nealian style:


and the even less ornate (and upright) Handwriting Without Tears in the late 20th and early 21st centuries:


Each generation’s writing got a bit less ornate, a bit less fussy.  Until today, when the majority of kids will not have a cursive hand to call their own (insert grumbling here).  I have to admit that although I love the Handwriting Without Tears philosophy and method, I find it to be by far the least attractive of the lot.  But given that handwriting is no longer part of the curriculum (insert more grumbling here), it’s the one I brought home.

Well, I’ve come away from Script and Scribble with a new bee in my bonnet: why do we even have to have loopy writing?  Kitty Burns Florey asks this question herself, and she goes to a handwriting doctor to get her loops fixed.  She feels they are too juvenile, that her writing, with its overly rounded connectors has “a disagreeably girlish look that almost cries out for those dopey little circles dotting the i’s.”

The prescription?  She practices with an adult instructional book on Italic handwriting, which more or less brings us back to medieval Europe and the hand of Italian clerks, and she watches her writing go from “embarrassingly clumsy to terminally cool.”  Medieval roots, yes, but look!  Look at how lovely, stylish and easy to read it is!



And, like HWT, the Getty-Dubay instructional system comes in a six-book set!

I think it’s terminally cool because it looks more like the cursive that is still taught in England and Europe, where loops and scoops were never part of the prescribed method of writing cursive.

And if I can bribe encourage Middlest and Youngest to learn this style of writing, they, too, will be terminally cool.


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