Saturday, 17th May 2008
I am old enough to have lived at a time when there were regular “handwriting lessons during school hours, in preparation for our learning writing “in cursive script”. Time that could have been spent drawing, or writing fiction or poetry was wasted upon drills, scripting pages and pages of letters written between two blue lines, with the t, l, h and so on having to “reach” upwards a millimetre short of a red line, whereas the j, y and so on, had to move elegantly down toward another pink line but not actually touch it.
This, then, was the dark side of minding my ps and qs. It was a time of sheer misery that was made worse by teachers telling me I would never amount to anything, since I could not even use a pencil properly. It was not a question of dysgraphia, because I would write stories for hours, and my letters were always correctly formed and the end result was never sloppy; it was just an idiosyncrasy that attracted the wrong kid of attention from my elders then – and, ironically, compliments now.
To this day, I still cannot manage to join all the letters in my writing; just as I cannot touch-type. Oh, but I have a reason, not an excuse, for this one; I went to lessons when only my two index fingers could move – the other digits were swollen rigid with chilblains.
It often occurred to me that my handwriting is perfectly legible, whereas that of those people who write “properly”, is not. I suspect it was more a problem of teachers wanting to discipline me into conforming, than anything else. The could not believe I was not flouting the handwriting (or their) rules “on purpose” when I presented my disjointed letters yet again. Someone said that this could have something to do with the fact that I started out as left-handed, but was encouraged to use my right hand so as not to find it too difficult to live in a world that is not made for lefties.
This, I know for a fact, because it was only rarely that I did not have to tell the teachers of my daughter to seat her where her left elbow would be free – because children with a dominant right hand tend to hog most of the space. Many people do not heed the fact that left-handed people may write in either of two ways – either from the “top” of their current line, or like right-handed people, but with the other hand.
The former cannot be expected to write smoothly if they have to halt their stream of consciousness after every word for someone to check if they have written it neatly. Unfortunately, children with untidy handwriting are threatened with loss of marks in examinations – because the people doing the corrections have so much to do, they cannot be bothered with deciphering scrawls of hundreds of papers.
The benefit of the doubt, apparently, does not count here. I have met teachers who insist that “bad hardwiring” is a “symptom” of a “handicap”. This is a part of the fashionable trend of affixing labels onto every chid who doesn’t sit still for long periods of time, does not like leafy green vegetables… and writes untidily. It is a sad indicator of clever-clogs teachers who spout pop psychology at every opportunity.
On the market there are several “pre-writing” books which try to make learning how to write “easy” and “fun”, through the use of dotted lines in sundry shapes, over which a child has to draw in a flowing line.
Alas, some children find these exercises repetitive and therefore boring… and the people who are “supposed” to teach children writing would not like to use the alternatives – finger-paint, play-dough, sand, water, and shapes … because of the “mess” these create. So we are faced with a number of frustrated children who ‘have’ to learn how to write or face the ire of their elders… who may have to account for why the child “is not writing” in the first place.
Could it be that the methods being used to teach writing are not pleasurable enough to make children want to learn how to do it? Is there no time or motivation to coach children differently, because it takes too much time away from the all-pervading curriculum, which must be finished at all costs by the time school is out for the summer?
Could this be one of the myriad reasons why even one teenager per scholastic year leaves school next to illiterate?