OPINION: A pen isn't just for Christmas - so why don't we all write more?

Rachel Moore says we should write more throughout the year, and not just at Christmas time

Rachel Moore says we should write more throughout the year, and not just at Christmas time - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A Christmas card dropping on to the doormat is a sharp reminder that handwriting is all but dead.

Beautifully shaped calligraphy is as rare as hen’s teeth, and, with the sending of festive cards a dwindling habit, even the worst scrawl is on its last legs.

Apart from greetings cards, and the odd old-school shopping list scribbled on the way out of the door on the back of an envelope – these are rapidly being replaced by the notes section on mobile phones - when do we ever pick up a pen?

Why would we? Touchscreens and keyboards are quicker, neater and more convenient. And who can ever find a pen when we need one?

Yet, there is real joy at seeing perfectly formed writing, crafted with the flourish of a fountain pen. It smacks of real care, effort and a personal touch that 12-point Calibri can never replace.

But once it’s gone, it’s gone, like any long-lost skill squashed by technology.

With fewer Christmas and greetings cards sent ever year, with social media announcements that charity donations will replace cards this year, emails and ‘personalised’ cards by commercial operations that print and send cards to the recipient, the last need for handwriting is disappearing.

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I wonder how long handwriting will be taught in schools. Eliminating it from primary school curriculum would save teachers the frustration and battle of trying to get each of their 30-odd pupils to hold their pencils and pen in the same standard way to shape their letters.

Four-year-olds turn up in reception class more competent in touch screen and keyboard use than social skills and toileting.

Outside the classroom, when will the skill of writing be needed? Much like algebra, the formation of an oxbow lake and the reproductive cycle of a frog, all learned for education’s sake and promptly forgotten in real life (IRL, if you’re down with the kids.)

A survey a couple of years ago confirmed that 18-24-year-olds hardly ever used a pen and preferred emojis in texts, messages and emails.

Emojis have long been infiltrating work emails, and still make me wince, particularly when sent by a stranger, a grown-up, who has decided signing off with a blushing or smiley face is appropriate in a professional setting.

I can’t remember the last time I hand wrote a letter. My handwriting has always been appalling. School longhand was replaced by Pittman 2000 shorthand in journalism school back in the 1980s and rarely used. When it is it’s terrible.

Like mobility, mental arithmetic or any neglected motor skill, it is a case of use it or lose it. Most of us lost it long ago to speed typing, whether it’s show-off touch typing or two-fingered freestyle.

So, I’m surprised it’s taken so long for a head teacher to stick a head above the parapet and suggest 16 and 18-year-olds should be spared handwriting GCSE and A level exams and switch to keyboards.

Exams are torture enough and disconnected with real life, so it feels wrong to heap more stress on to students to use a means they rarely use to record their answers.

Also, the whole thinking process is different, depending on if you are typing speedily or writing laboriously. From opening the paper, students are already handicapped by a disconnect between how they usually think and write and how they are forced to produce an exam.

Nostalgia for pride in neat writing over the efficient keyboard but feels like it’s hanging on to the twin tub ignoring the more convenient easy to use front loader or using a gas light rather than electricity.

A bit dumb.

The head teacher at the elite Malvern College says GCSE and A-level students should be able to type their exam answers because handwriting is to “tiring.” Personally, I’d have gone with something a bit more scientific and positive in favour of the keyboard than risking the inevitable reaction to poor little snowflakes who find pens heavy and using them exhausting.

Sixteen and 18-year-olds becoming tired by wielding a pen isn’t the strongest of cases. Nevertheless, he has a point, however flimsy his justification.

And fighting to decipher illegible handwriting is the bane of examiners lives.

Exams by keyboard would boost fairness and accessibility because everyone would be using the same tool.

He said: “I’m sure all good schools will continue to have an important focus on handwriting.” Sadly, this would probably mean only private schools, with handwriting going the same way as Latin in state schools.

It will be a sad but inevitable day, and marks progress, fairness and standardisation.

But what we gain in standardisation, we lose in individuality. Our handwriting is unique to us. Our characters can be analysed by our writing. Easy to read typed prose will never have the same charm or power.

And writing with a pen is cathartic. It makes you slow down thoughts and think before every word. It has to be right first time.

JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter by hand, a remarkable achievement.

Where would we be without the copy and paste and delete functions?

So, if you want to spread a little joy this year, set aside an evening to write that pack of cards gathering dust since 2015 instead of sending an email. It’s a dying art.

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