If you want to gauge in earnest just how divorced education has become from the simple practice of handwriting, here is an experiment. On the first day of a college course in elementary composition, try starting the class with a “little freehand writing exercise.” From the general demeanor of the room (mere stupefaction if you’re lucky), an observer might imagine you had asked them to recite the Gettysburg Address in Aramaic. Friendly whispers will ensue, followed by the sound of respectful paper-tearing as a handful of apparent antique-enthusiasts furnish their classmates with a sheet or two. The exercise will then proceed in peaceable fashion
This is an embellishment but not entirely an exaggeration. In my own classrooms, and to the credit of my students, I have yet to see a mutiny—even when I declare a ban on laptops for significant stretches of the semester. Like most of their peers across the nation, these young scholars are required to arrive on campus with a computer (and the university provides thousands each year for those who cannot afford one). Only a hardened neo-Victorian would bemoan this arrangement. But personal computing and Web-research and furtive meme-hunting (I understand; lectures get boring) need not be incompatible with a modest foundational fluency in taking notes in pen and ink. When we lose that fluency, we lose a great deal else besides.
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