Extra Credit

Handwriting is key to education

cursive2It’s been nearly two decades, but I remember that dreaded part of the school day when the teacher asked me and my fellow classmates to take our pencils out for the daily penmanship assignment.

As I frivolously drew a chain of circles and lines at the top of the page — this was a warm-up we were required to do without question — the only thought on my mind was how much I hated writing in cursive.

Satisfaction would have come to 6-year-old me if he could have traveled to the future a la Marty McFly to see the lack of cursive writing in adult world. But, looking back, I mourn the “deathblow” the computer keyboard has dealt cursive and handwriting in general.

Unaware to my younger self, writing by hand triggers neural circuits in the brain that are vital to cognitive development and the retention of information. This is why we remember more when we take notes by hand (pay attention college students).

It might be quicker to take notes on a computer, but studies show areas of the brain linked with memory are not as active when we type — if they are active at all.

In a New York Times article about what is lost by forsaking handwriting, writer Maria Konnikova reports that students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard, not because a computer might distract the student but because writing by hand allows them to better process the information and commit it to memory.

What does this mean for the future of education where Common Core standards do away with penmanship and as more and more schools favor tablets over paper and pencil?

Well, education does need to adapt to the new digital world we live in as more archaic learning methods are replaced — there’s no bypassing that — but, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater because writing by hand is still needed even if it means it’s taught at home instead of in the classroom.