Friday, July 10, 2009

Article #62 Penmanship Lessons

My grandparents' wedding announcements were pain-stakingly handwritten in beautiful cursive writing by a talented neighbor. It seems to me we have lost the art of penmanship in our day. Why take time today to carefully craft a hand lettered document when a computer program with a printer can reproduce documents faster and perfectly without any messy mistakes?

Some of us still remember penmanship classes in elementary school where you practiced loops and swirls to make your letters in cursive look like the textbook illustration. I recall how difficult capital letters like D, F and Z were, not to mention X. I worked long and hard to try to make my awkward left handed writing look exactly like the samples. There was a letter grade for penmanship on our report cards. All essays and assignments that we turned in were to be handwritten. I guess the teacher wanted to be able to read them, so students were encouraged to write legibly and neatly. Few people used typewriters for schoolwork, and computers hadn’t been invented yet.

In my grandparents’ time, school desks had a round hole cut in the upper right desk corner to hold a bottle of black ink for each student’s use during penmanship lessons. An old fashioned pen with a nib was dipped into the black ink bottle, then the student carefully made a few letters, and the process was repeated. The invention of the fountain pen, and later the ballpoint pen with its ability to store ink inside, greatly facilitated this process of cursive writing.

My grandfather, who was a typical mischievous school boy, told me how he liked to tease the girl in front of him by dipping the end of one of her long braids in his inkwell. I’m sure that got him into big trouble with his teacher and probably with the girl too. Grandpa had beautiful penmanship and kept accounting reports for his job as a section foreman on the Union Pacific railroad. He prided himself on his legible handwriting.

I raised four sons and they all disliked cursive writing. From an early age, they decided to print all their assignments despite my encouragement that cursive was faster. It wasn’t for them! Later when they gained computer skills, many of their assignments were typed instead of written. Check out your family, I bet you’ll find few younger members with admirable handwriting––it’s not a priority anymore.


  1. You're right, penmanship is hardly being taught--and certainly not encouraged--in most schools any more. I was glad to be able to tell my 6th graders than the SAT was adding a hand-written essay portion and that good cursive writers were typically scoring higher than printing writers. Mostly because it is faster.

    Maybe it won't go away completely.

  2. I certainly remember penmanship classes. And I used to have nice handwriting even though my teachers could never get me to hold my pen/pencil at the correct angle. Now that I'm old, I sometimes can't read my own writing, so I usually print everything.

  3. Yup! Yup! I used to love playing with my penmanship skills in school. It was fun for me to see how perfectly I could make everything slant, and how much flourish I could put to my writing
    I had very pretty penmanship, although not always easy to read...liked the flourish, rememeber.

    But, as age crept up and some oddball lump appeared on my right wrist, it became quite painful to hold a pen for much more than a I haven't written so much as a note to anyone by hand in years. It hurts both my hand and my pride somehow...

    My father's handwriting was was my mother's. She could fit more on a postcard than anyone on the planet. She wrote smaller than I'm typing now and every letter was legible.

    My boys have horrible penmanship. But, I love every letter and card I ever got from them in spite of how difficult they may have been to read.

  4. In 3rd grade, my teacher held up my penmanship as a model for the entire class!

    haha. Now, my handwriting is atrocious. Sometimes, I can't even decipher it.

  5. When I was teaching 1st grade I taught my class how to hold their pencil properly and how to form their letters correctly. Well, I remember one year when a parent complained to me that it was unnecessary to teach penmanship because doctors had messy handwriting and people will be using only computers to write anyway. Then I saw later that doctor's bad handwriting on prescriptions sometimes caused fatalities so there you go. I'm glad many prescriptions now are actually done with a computer. At least that part is good. I still think it's important to teach handwriting.

  6. This is beautiful photo of your grandparents, they look so nice.

    I too remember the handwriting practice. The book literally popped into my mind, another thing (I had forgotten until I just read this post) that made me fall in love with writing.

    Handwriting was no longer taught when I had second grade in the early 90s. I took it on myself to teach it. I also took points from final grades for sloppy penmanship. Some parents confronted me about it but, I stood my ground.

    Needless to say, handwriting improved drastically.

  7. I recall the beautiful penmanship of my elders. The art was lost on me. I am a lefty whose teachers treated me like a freak for doing things backward. Now I alone can read my writing.

    But I do remember the magic of cursive. Like a secret code.

  8. I remember practicing handwriting too. It was one thing I was not very good at. My husband and kids have "poor" handwriting, too.
    Istill occasionally handwrite a note. It's so much more personal. But my real problem is spelling now that I used to having the computer fix it for me.

  9. This was a sore subject in the last 6 or 7 years of my teaching. It was supposed to be taught in 3rd grade [I did when I taught 3rd grade, and the kids were excited about it.] Ten reinforced [keep it going] in 4th. But when the state tests began in 4th, those teachers were trying to cram so much stuff in that they weren't willing to spend the time on it. So the kids lost the skill. I taught 5th, and the 6th grade teacher required that they know cursive writing! Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place!! I find it to be a necessary skill.

  10. How I used to love to receive letters in the US Mail!! I loved writing letters to my friends, now we email and once in a great while, talk on the phone. Kids nowadays will never know that there is more to life than email, texting and cellphones.

  11. No...penmanship is long past..Mine is terrible as I was a natural lefty and my Grandmother insisted that I use my right hand.....