What does handwriting mean to you?
- 23 February 2022
Brody Neuenschwander wants to share beautiful images and thoughts with us again.
On many occasions, he has addressed the wider public through videos or films, discussing the history of writing and its evolution and future development. His latest masterpiece is the BBC documentary The Secret History of Writing. Now we are proud to introduce this little jewel. Brody writes with the Handwritmic ruling pen that bears his name and asks himself many questions designed to encourage us to think more deeply.
What does handwriting mean to you?
Is it as important to you as it is to us, the staff of Handwritmic, and to Brody, and his wife and friends? Do you envy somebody else’s style of writing? Would you like to possess better handwriting or do you see the subject as being unimportant in your life? Many people argue that there are other forms of communication nowadays. There are indeed many, and some are more important than handwriting, but this human ability is so complex that its meaning extend beyond a simple communication technique.
In 2016 we discussed all this with Brody, Ewan Clayton and many other calligraphers at the ACI conference, “The Future of Handwriting”, in Milan. You may want to watch the two lectures – Brody’s and Ewan’s are available on Youtube.
Have you ever tried recently to read a text by a child or a young student? If you give a fountain pen to a child, they will ruin it straight away.
A father bought a Pelikan fountain pen for his child at my desk at a fair and the child said, “Dad, did you buy batteries as well?” The father and I stared at each other – we couldn’t believe our ears.
A professor in the university passed his fountain pen to a student to sign an exam certification and they didn’t know how to direct the point of the pen on the paper.
Some teachers complain that the blackboard has disappeared from their classroom, that it’s because we’re now in the era of overly complicated things. It was too easy to make a mark on the board, and easy things are not praised. Why can the old technology not coexist with the new devices? Where is the problem? It’s the hurry. Teachers are in a hurry, and a lot of pressure is put on children to learn quickly.
There is no other way to teach handwriting either than on a blackboard. You can’t use a smart board because the digital pen leaves marks that are offset from its tip, so you can’t connect the strokes correctly. Moreover, imagine looking in the direction of the only source of light for five hours a day – sometimes the room has to be dark so children can see the different tones on the board correctly!
Why are all our children short-sighted?
These problems can be seen in some of the pictures that are published in this blog. Their eyes are at a distance of 10-20 cm from the desk, and the head is inclined so that they don’t have a front-on view. This means that one eye must work harder than the other.
Why not teach children better handwriting?
Why are spelling mistakes corrected by the teachers but not incorrect letter formation, the origin of illegible or ambiguous letters?
Our children read less, except perhaps in the more privileged families, they lose imagination and don’t acquire new vocabulary. Similarly, they write on limited occasions and only for a short time. This means they can’t become proficient writers.
Don’t you think form is inextricably linked to words? Calligraphers can work with form very freely as Hans Joachim Burgert has taught us. They create interesting and expressive forms every time they pick up a pen, but this is another matter. Why don’t teachers seem to see this relation? The way the written trace modifies the words or figures to the point where an ‘a’ is no more the symbol for its sound?
Some teachers see the way a child writes as unimportant. I once asked to a kindergarten educator why she didn’t consider doing activities to develop fine motor skills, and she said a particular child would be bored. That child was diagnosed dysgraphia in primary school and, now that he’s 17, admits to having a terrible relationship with their written mark.
Peculiar letter formation and the awkward links between the letters are in good company with the inability to write figures and math signs in a conventional way. This has a name: “relapse into illiteracy”.
I don’t think that this phenomenon will do our society any good – poor language means poor thoughts.
In these conditions, instruction will inevitably grow more and more technical, and the human being will lose contact with body and soul. As a consequence, they will grow more and more insensitive to other people’s problems and necessities. The world seems to be linked, but only apparently! On the contrary, we need to work together to face the big problems of our future.
A poem seen on a school wall. The hand is very typical of italian teenagers (it is probably by a girl): I think it shows the search for a new hand (teenageers reject the old cursive hand derived from copperplate). It is at the limit of legibility because of incorrect letter formation and spacing problems.
This is the translation:
They have the weapons
We have the flowers
They have the guns
We have the pens
We make love for the first time
They have fire
We have play