by Erica Ly
Elementary school may seem like a decade ago to university students. You might have forgotten some of the more precise dates you learnt in social studies, or the parts of a fly in science; however, you probably remember the classes spent on learning cursive.
It could have been a dream come true for you to learn to write in such flowing letters that ultimately helped you write faster in class, or it was your worst nightmare and your m’s and n’s ended up looking like a never ending cascade of mountains because, “how many bumps are there in a cursive m and n again?” (That’s two bumps on an n, and three on an m.)
As children who went to school during the 1990s and early 2000s, our daily classes were entirely made up of handwritten notes in print and cursive and, for myself, the “incredible” transition in Grade 6 when we were forced to write entirely in pen and learn that what you put on a page is as permanent as heaps of useless white-out that you rip your pen through after three layers of mistakes. Computers were only used in computer class, not to mention that the focus of the curriculum was on learning to use basic software in Microsoft Office and Dreamweaver here and there. Only a small portion of the grade was scored on your actual WPM or “words per minute”.
Watching my four-year-old cousin across the dinner table scrawling her fingers across her iPad and colouring with “paint buckets” on apps instead of crayons and paper, I know my reality and hers simply don’t match.
Elementary children today are learning the importance of becoming technologically literate and are becoming products of our digitalized society. As a result, gone are the cursive classes and instead here to stay are laptops and iPads being brought into the classroom to replace notetaking. Without a doubt, children are learning to type faster than many adults in the working class, but is that enough of an excuse for the trade-off of being unable to take handwritten notes as quickly? Is the act of typing notes really more beneficial compared to hand writing notes? Is this merely something we should overlook in such a technological world, similar to the modernization when we went from landline phones to cell phones?
For one, cursive may seem like just like a stylistic font to some, and not anything to worry about when it comes to the removal of the time spent to learn it. However, to a generation of adults and grandparents, this is the window into their past. If children are unable to write cursive, how can they be expected to read it? The letters from great-great-grandparents written in the stylistic font would become illegible to an entire generation. The past that museums and galleries are always trying to preserve and recover may be disappearing in front of our very eyes. What happens when our current generation disappears into the past as well? As everyone is used to reading only perfectly shaped letters, don’t even imagine having your grandchildren read your notes or any handwritten memo if you don’t have Helvetica or Arial size twelve font writing.
Another common argument is that typing notes is faster than writing. The equally common answer from scientists is that when you are trying to type that quickly, you are simply regurgitating information you are hearing, and not actually understanding anything. Something that handwritten note forces you to do a little more as you write.
From an alternative perspective, as a student who has taken Psychology, I can attest to the fact that lectures are packed with detailed information that must be written word by word due to the nature of the biological and chemical terms. In those situations, typing is the best decision for the class. However, there are some courses where it simply doesn’t make sense to use an electronic device instead of handwriting.
For instance, what in the world are you doing with a laptop (not talking about the stylus and pad) in first-year math? My professor writes incredibly quickly and flips those four boards up and down like nobody’s business. Even through taking notes by hand is relatively slow with the inclusion of small reminders and tips in the margins or drawing diagrams and graphs, it’s the way to go.
I felt the agony first-hand when one time I ran out of lined paper during a particularly rushed class in MAT133. I rapidly turned to my laptop and pulled out Evernote in hopes of it being a little more hectically-rushed student-friendly compared to Word, but it was just the same. Switching tabs to add graphs and inserting complex equations was the largest pain on the computer compared to handwriting.
At least after a frantic class with messy handwritten notes, I can decipher my subscripts from my constant variables, and rewrite them to my colour-coded liking. On my electronic page, I can’t even tell my exponential fractions apart from my regular fractions, with a bunch of “/”, “^”, and brackets everywhere, in my attempt to type quickly without going to formally insert equations at every line.
There will always be a debate whether handwritten notes or typing is better for students of today and the future, and then there’s the larger question of whether elementary classrooms should include more technologically-based learning.
That being said, is it that impossible for students to have a taste of both worlds – the past and the future? It is definitely an asset to learn to type quickly starting from a young age, and how to take good notes on a computer, but there is a limit to which students should be expected to learn to use the computer from that age. There is an increasing number of children who are diagnosed with early stages of cataracts from being exposed to blue light from electronic devices, now more than ever before. Cataracts used to be a medical concern for aging adults typically after the age of fifty, so isn’t it alarming that it’s a concern for eight-year-olds?
Why can’t students continue to learn both cursive and typing skills in moderation? They aren’t exactly substitute lessons, so there shouldn’t be a reason to give up one for the other. Just like landline and cell phones, we can have both. There is so much we can learn with the possibilities of the future, and situations elementary students have to experience now that we didn’t have to when we were their age. Likewise, we don’t have to overwrite the past with what we expect to be “a better and modernized future”. The past contributes to our present, and in terms of something as beneficial as handwriting, it should be carried out with us into tomorrow.
Are you disappointed or overjoyed at the elimination of cursive for younger generations? What do you think about the great handwriting versus typing debate?