Education: Nation of Scrawlers

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There was no getting around it: in the U.S., handwriting was becoming a lost art.

It was a day of typewriters, shorthand, telephones and Dictaphones; "Don't Write —Telegraph" was a well-worked slogan, and undecipherable signatures passed for "character" in great & small (see cut).

Last week, an association of stationery manufacturers, with a selfish interest in writing, made public a poll of 600 teachers across the U.S. It was no surprise to them when 70% of the replies agreed that either the nation's penmanship was getting no better, or it was getting worse. In many schools, classes in penmanship had been abolished; in others, kids are now taught to print, but not to write. The day of the curlicue and flourish, and of arm exercises, seemed to be over. Examples :

¶ In Chicago's public schools, where the low quality of handwriting is a much debated subject, manuscript writing (printing) is taught only through the second grade. After that, cursive writing (joining the letters together) is pretty much left to the discretion of teachers. A student in suburban Winnetka who had been taught to letter but not to write, tried to open a bank account, was turned down by the bank, which ruled that block lettering was too imitable a signature.

¶ Seattle has not even bothered to appoint a new penmanship supervisor since the last one died, two years ago.

¶ In Los Angeles, teachers are no longer required to pass a penmanship test before getting a job. Complained a supervisor: "It's not unusual to see a teacher drilling her class in writing and a few minutes later doing blackboard work in an unreadable scrawl that is entirely her own."