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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Back to handwriting?

I don't write much by hand these days, and when I do it's a chore. Even writing a few lines on Christmas cards seems like hard work.

Markham Heid, a health and science writer, makes the case for handwriting in a Washington Post op-ed. In particular, he wants students to write essays by hand.

It's not just a way to foil cheating using ChatGPT and other artificial-intelligence programs, Heid writes.

Handwriting engages the brain in ways that improve learning and memory, he writes. "And those added layers of stimulation might be beneficial even when a student is merely copying an AI-written essay by hand."

“Handwriting forces those areas responsible for memory and learning to communicate with each other, which helps form networks that can make it easier to recall or learn new information,” Audrey van der Meer, professor of neuropsychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told me.
. . . there’s evidence that, even for older students and adults, writing by hand is a more cognitively involved process. For example, some work has found that writing by hand leads to better processing of ideas, and that students produce more original work when they complete assignments in longhand.

"When you’re writing by hand, you need to know where you’re going with a sentence — what you want it to say, and the structure it will take — before you begin," writes Heid. "Typing on a computer requires far less forethought; you can dump out the contents of your brain and then hammer it into shape." That's "less challenging for the brain — and challenging the brain is central to education itself."

Of course, many students haven't learned how to write in cursive, and teachers may not want to return to the challenge of reading bad handwriting. (Google is developing an AI model that can read sloppy handwriting.)

Linguist John McWhorter doesn't see much point to making students learn cursive. It's as useful as knowing how to decipher Roman numerals, he argues in the New York Times.

I learned cursive in fourth grade using a (required) Scripto cartridge pen. When the ink didn't flow, we'd flick the pen and send ink blots flying on the page -- and sometimes on our classmates. Not till junior high school were we allowed to use ballpoint pens. New technology!

"When I was in school . . . That was a long time ago," I told a fifth-grader a few days ago.

"I can believe that!" he said.

"Yes, well, you didn't have to say it out loud," I replied.

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