More Write

Since I have started the morning on the subject of writing, although the previous really was about composition, I may as well continue. I have commented before on my love affair/addiction to good writing instruments and good paper, the latter being defined largely in terms of how well the former operate with the latter. So to paraphrase what is to come, the pen wags the paper.

I have some colleagues who are of a similar mind as myself, and, of course, quite a larger number who are not and do their ‘writing” with ball point pens, or something equally dysfunctional, on pretty paper of close similarity to waxed toilet tissue. My intent is not to bash the latter, as they seem oblivious to the depravity, leading to the hypothesis that apathy to pen usage is a human mutation?, but rather to note that the former have been sending me links to article on the demise of penmanship.

Most of these articles, such as this one, [Link] tend to support the hypothesis as their tenor is that (a) cursive is disappearing/has disappeared from shul curricula, (b) the vast majority of primary and secondary shul students have atrocious hands (in the vernacular), and (c) who gives a lusty defecation anyway? The only saving grace of the piece is that it happily refrains from the irrelevant quotation of statistics of how well today’s children are at keyboarding.

Sadly, the actuality is that today’s children are abysmal at both. The measure of how good a keyboarder – typist in my shul days – is is how many mistakes they make in spelling and syntax. Compared to someone with one semester of ‘typing” back in the ’60’s, much less a secretarial graduate of an actual business shul, today’s children make two orders of magnitude more spelling mistakes and even more syntax mistakes. This despite all of them using keyboards since the age of five (or younger) and formal classroom instruction for the same period.

Of course, they are fast. About half as fast as a really good typist back in the ’60’s, and their mean speed, in e.g., characters per minute, is orders of magnitude greater than the same in those days when only 0.05 of the shul population ‘keyed”. That improvement is specious since when 0.95 have a speed of zero the speed of the 0.05 is not going to mean much. But as we know, one of the reasons they are fast is that they don’t know when they make mistakes, so abysmal is their knowledge and education, and they make many of them.

So given that they can’t compose or edit well, it should come as no surprise given all the other things they can’t do, like read a book or make change. That they can’t write either. That is, they can’t compose – we’ve already demonstrated that with their keyboarding ‘skills’ – and they can’t make letters, words, sentences, or paragraphs in cursive either. But then neither could the kids back in the ’60’s.

Oh, there were people with lovely handwriting back then. Most were very well brought up young ladies who knew how to compose and pen – write for short – little notes or even love letters. But a lot of them flunked out of college or made the steady slide from majoring in English or something liberal artsy to Education to Home Economics because while they had wonderfully graceful, elegant, beautiful penmanship they couldn’t write fast enough, in some cases think fast enough, to take notes.

Note taking is an art form that builds on the writing art form or skill. Generally those who do very well at penning, or very poorly, are not good at note taking. To be a good note taker you have to be able to listen, think on what you hear, and put that down on paper in a form that can be read later. If you pen too prettily, you pen too slowly and lose too much unwritten; if you pen too poorly you cold notes are indecipherable. Note taking trims the tails of the distribution. Survival of the fittest, or something.

This is why I was quite happy when a colleague sent me this article. [Link] It’s from the English media – scant surprise that it isn’t from the American media – and is written by the Italian academic and author Umberto Ecco. Professor Ecco is unknown or hated by today’s children because he writes books of such complex composition, at least in American translation, as to challenge even those who like to read. So for todays young they are as dense as Russian nineteenth century novels were to my age cohort. Scant wonder then that so many of us embraced nerd disciplines during the Containment era.

But what is refreshing about the good professor’s article is that it actually balances the discussion by noting what is useful and valuable about penning and how today’s children are less for the absence. Not that it will do any good. Serfs seldom appreciate how close to clavery they actually are.

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