Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Whither Penmanship?

There’s a really campy movie that was produced in 1956. Based upon the 1954 novel by William March, The Bad Seed was also produced as a play. I’ve read both the novel and the play, and I've seen the movie two or three times. Knowing the plot line has never ruined it for me, but if you think it will do that for you, consider this your spoiler alert.


The “bad seed” exists within -- and becomes an appropriate moniker for -- Rhoda Penmark, the story's pivotal character. Although Rhoda behaves like a lovely little girl much of the time, her mean streak is also pretty obvious. As it turns out, she inherited a homicidal gene from her mother’s side of the family. And in addition to killing the building caretaker (who seems to be aware of Rhoda’s evil side), she also is guilty of killing Claude Daigle, a classmate.

And why did she kill Claude Daigle, you might ask?


(And Rhoda clearly believed that she should have won.)

...Remember penmanship?

I do.

I even remember that it was called the Palmer Method.

I remember penmanship being a part of third and fourth grade curriculum, and I remember excelling at it. I could mimic the strokes easily, and so I had it down. Always an A+ on that particular line of my report card.

But what I never told my teachers back then was that I couldn’t wait to be done with penmanship grades. I couldn’t wait because I wanted to experiment. And so, beginning in the 5th grade or so, I began exploring my options. I tried all kinds of possibilities, often imitating the penmanship of those who seemed to have found a unique and expressive world when they put pen to paper. It was probably my sophomore year in college before I found a penmanship that suited me.

The penmanship I’ve used since I was 19 or so doesn’t resemble the Palmer Method in the least. It’s more up and down than slanted. There’s not a whole lot of fanciness to it. But my energy is apparent. My penmanship reflects my personality.

… I heard on NPR recently that schools are no longer teaching penmanship (which we also used to call “real writing”).

I understand their decision, I guess.

After all, with computers being the place where people write, why teach such archaic strokes of the pen? I mean, typing is pretty much everything a kid needs to know these days, right?




There’s something truly satisfying about “finding” your penmanship. There’s something about that moment – of knowing you’re there – that tells you that a part of you has settled at last.

...There’s also the issue of signatures.

This part I really don’t get.

These kids growing up today. Kids who are not being taught “real writing”… How the hell are they supposed to sign their names?

...Of course, Rhoda Penmark signed her name in quite a unique way, didn’t she? Killing a classmate over a penmanship medal.

I’m not saying I want the topic to engender all kinds of competitive angst.

I just want to believe that kids can know from “real writing.”

I want them to experience what I did – finding my penmanship.


Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Great post Katie, and certainly current. My older two kids learned to write in cursive; my youngest had a brief go at it in the 2nd or 3rd grade, after which she was no longer required to use it. (I recall being told I HAD to write papers in cursive or they wouldn't be accepted.) Her signature is in cursive, but she doesn't like to sign that way. Like you I wonder what will come next. . .some sort of document eye scan that requires no writing at all.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an article a few months ago about the fact that schools will no longer be teaching cursive writing. I understood the reasoning but, like you, feel there is something important about the skill, and something equally important about "finding one's penmanship." My, how times have changed. Now the kids are "finding" their texting. *sigh*

Sioux said...

I'm a third grade teacher, the year that used to be the cursed "cursive year."

When the state tests came along, and then became extremely high stakes testing, we put off teaching cursive untill AFTER the state testing was done in the spring. Otherwise, the kids (who were so excited about learning cursive) would use it on the writing pieces they had to do on the state test, and their writing wouldn't be legible and their scores would plummet so their teachers would lose their jobs and be forced to become overweight pole dancers who worked for Dove chocolate "tips."

You get the idea. The results wouldn't be pretty...

Then, over the years of pushing it off until the end of the school year, it just disappeared. I completely concur. I had A+ penmanship in school, but was so glad later to develop my own cursive "style" which is definitely unique but bordering on illegible.

The Palmer method...Ah, good times.

Anonymous said...

We called it 'real writing'. I was taught it aged 7 (1st year juniors) I was taught to use loops and flourishes and loved the way the pen (leaking or not) danced across the page. Then, aged 8/9, we were told we had to start writing differently. This was called, "Marion Richardson" (I did not like this lady's form of writing - looked just like single letters joined here and there, no loops, no hooks, no flourishes...For the next two years I was required to write in this neat but truly boring and bland way. On to Grammar school (the top secondary school here) aged 11 and I returned to writing as I wanted to and my loops and flourishes exist to this day.

Interesting because as I have developed, and confidences has risen, so has my script changed so that where once it slanted backwards, then straight, then forwards, it now does all sorts of things depending on what mood I am in!

Long live loops and flourishes!

Marlena Cassidy said...

I learned penmanship in grade school as well, but I got straight Bs in it, the only Bs I ever got in school. It used to cause wars in my household because my father was very strict when it came to getting As, and he couldn't believe I was cursive-challenged.

Around sixth grade I found my own style of writing and have kept it to this day. There's a certain sense of relaxation when you find your style, like coming home and slipping into something nice and comfy.

Though it's funny. My cursive L has found its way into my non-handwriting style and it confuses people who aren't expecting cursive to pop out at them. They forget what it looks like.

Jules said...

Know this is a post!! I am a hand writing nut and like you I love exploring the strokes. So I have to ask, if these kids aren't taught to write and cannot sign their name, are permanent name tags next? :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Martha Mawson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martha Mawson said...

Our father once commented to me, during the rise of the email and word processors, that he was sad to see the end of not just penmanship, but lovely hand-executed lettering. Somehow, I can't imagine that a child who has never been taught cursive would be able to teach him/herself calligraphy or stylised lettering. You can get or a buy a font for nearly everything. But lost is the glee of watching ink and nib, under your command, make even the most beautiful cursive letter even more beautiful. Computers may have rekindled "letter writing", as they has, but it has killed the pen and paper. For that I am very sad.

Martha Mawson said...

That'll teach me not to preview - "they have", not "they has". Sheesh!

Linda Medrano said...

I think that's a shame. One of the most treasured archaic thing is a hand written love letter, done in a unique cursive style. I have several of them and I will keep them forever. No "printer" will ever make anything close to as beautiful.

cj Schlottman said...

I, also, was taught the Palmer Method, and after several experiments over the years, I have returned to it! I love the written word - I mean words written down on paper. Our children - and many adults - need to be able to take pen to paper and create a love note, a thank-you note or a just plain letter to a friend or loved one I'm not advocating that everyone use the Palmer Method, but I am saying that we should all be able to write a decipherable sentence - in our own chosen style. We have nurses at work whose penmanship is so lousy, I have to go to them and ask what they wrote down!


Theresa Milstein said...

Killing for penmanship sounds trivial. ; )

Since I'm the only neat writer in my house (which declines further each year, for some reason), I don't care much. People moaned the decline of the calligraphy pen, I'm sure. I am actually excited for the people who are bad writers - the computer will make it easier to communicate ideas and get good grades. Why feel bad for poor penmanship when the ideas are outstanding?

Donna K. Weaver said...

That movie reference really brings back memories. I was a horrid little girl, always getting into trouble, doing outlandish things. I watched that movie when I was 7 and worried I was a "bad seed". But I got a conscience and was a straight arrow by the time I was a teenager (much to my parents' delight).

Plus I neither killed anyone nor conspired to. Aren't you glad to know that? ;)

Laura Barnes said...

I'm all about computers and subjects that are relevant to children. Especially because I have messy handwriting. My thoughts could never keep up with my hands. And I never enjoyed penmanship. But I think there is something to the idea that writing uses the right side of the brain while typing uses the left. I do find that sometimes I have a different angle of creativity with an actual pen and paper in hand. I hope that this is an art that isn't lost.

Thanks for finding my blog! I'm a new follower.

Jemi Fraser said...

Yikes - that's a wild motive!!

I remember the thrill of discovering I could write differently too - depending on my mood and the style I wanted to create. Still have several style I use :)

Michelle Fayard said...

One thing that has long intrigued me is if handwriting is supposed to indicate facets of our personality, what does it mean if we only type? And what did it mean, say in Victorian times, when everyone was taught to write the same way? Did people lose some of their personalities as a result? This could make for an intriguing story line, if only I wrote in the genre. :)

P.S. I've left a response to your comment on Laura Barnes' blog,

Jayne Martin said...

That's so sad that kids aren't having that experience with penmanship anymore. I feel exactly the same way as you, to. I'm always flattered when someone compliments my handwriting. I worked hard at coming up with my own unique capital "J" that's often mistaken for a "G".

The world is discarding some awful good stuff these days. I'm so glad I was born and grew up when I did.

Deb Shucka said...

This is a great exploration of just some of what we're losing by not teaching penmanship. There's some research out there that supports its importance for brain development, fine motor development. Having taught it a bunch over the years, I have to say those times were some of the most satisfying - kids love the challenge of cursive and the first time they can actually write their signatures is a time for celebration.