Joined-Up Thinking

“Finland has become one of the first countries to ditch joined up hand writing classes for young children in favour of teaching keyboard skills.” Daily Mail 1/8/15

Interesting choice of word “ditch”. To ditch means to leave behind, get rid of - to do away with the unnecessary. Admittedly, it was the DM’s choice of word rather than the education officials in Finland (whoever they are) but it immediately rang an alarm bell with me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the purist, holier-than-thou crew that extol the virtues of some mystical connection between hand and brain – even though I happen to believe there is one. As a writer I admit I’m always at the keyboard. I couldn’t live without one, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a biro too.

For me the idea that learning to write by hand is now suddenly irrelevant to our modern lifestyles simply because we use computers is just plain wrong. For a start the article claims that a third of adult respondents had not written anything “properly” (ie by hand) in the last six months. Well, that also means that two thirds had (written properly, I mean, assuming there was no one who didn’t know or wasn’t sure if they had written anything by hand).

The computer is designed to do a lot of our thinking for us. We Google everything we can’t quite remember mainly because we know Google will remember it for us. It was the computer that first made it possible for anyone and everyone to write a book – gone were the endless manuscripts (manu as in manual) and typed-up copies that made writing so hard most would-be authors gave up around about Chapter 3. Computers did away with 75% of the perseverance needed. Before computers writing was very, very hard work.

Why? Because when you write things by hand you have to think carefully before you start. You have to frame the sentences as well as the story. You have to get it right first time or start all over again. There’s no fall-back position with a pen, no cut and paste, no spell check, grammar correct, thesaurus. It all has to come from your head. In short you have to use brain power - writing by hand is a brain gym.

So this is why we would be very unwise to follow Finland’s lead and fly-tip cursive in some forgotten corner of our computerised world. We need to write more by hand and encourage our children to do the same: not because of some arcane wish to return to the sepia days of writing letters, but because it means we would all have to think more about what we are doing and how we are doing it. It’s not just about stringing words together, it’s about joined-up thinking too.

VA Richardson