[AI] writing wrongs

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Mon Sep 13 02:56:59 EDT 2010

Though this article implicitly speaks about  Braille, the intention of this cross posting is to draw your attention towards the dwindling use of Braille, ,  among vi people especially among blind students, like print in case of sighted people.  


Take extra care when writing those thank-you letters.  Handwriting still matters
- even in the digital age, as Richard johnson discovered

School used to be all about writing, whether it was the exercise books we wrote
in, the notes we passed round, or the lines we stayed in to do.  But not any
more.  Now it's all about the typing.  Learning your QWERTY is almost as
important as learning your ABC.

I was fine with that.  My six-year-old daughter is part of the first generation
that is truly computer-literate and I really didn't want her learning
copperplate writing.  I could see that spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation
were important, but handwriting?  Like a Victorian?  By the time she's at
university, surely handwriting will be about as relevant as needlepoint.

So when my daughter came home last year with cursive handwriting homework, I was
nonplussed.  Cursive was originally developed to make it easier for children to
write with a quill.  By joining up the letters, it kept the quill on the
parchment and minimised ink blots.  But my daughter writes with a laptop.  I
explained as much to her teacher at the next parents' day.

But her teacher explained something to me.  Research suggests that the process
of writing information down on paper, by hand, has a more direct effect on the
formation of memories in the learning process than typing.  Taking notes in
class is still the most effective way to learn.  It's a better way to store the
skills for written language in a child's brain than pressing keys.  There's
nothing old-fashioned about handwriting.  Handwriting is where it's at.

Maybe my hostility to handwriting came from the fact that I don't like my own.
It's scruffy and ill-ordered.  But it never bothered me until the day I saw the
loops on my daughter's ys and the uplift on her ts.  She had inherited my
handwriting genes.  If I was going to help her, I needed to get help myself.

Remedial work

Angela Webb, chair of the National Handwriting Association (NHA), has one heck
of a pencil case.  She's got pens with disjointed heads, pens for left-handers
and pens for writers who have difficulty maintaining their grip.  Luckily for
me, she's also got spare pens - the ones I brought along appeared to have run
out of ink.

Angela has offered to cast her eye over my handwriting.  She starts by asking me
to write my name and address.  Easy.  "One measure of legibility," she said, "is
to ask how well we can identify a word if it's taken out of context.  I assume
that's meant to say 'London'?"  It was.  "If we took it out of context, would we
know it says London?"  No, not in a million years.  I'm lucky my post doesn't
get delivered to Lada.

"There are five things you look for in handwriting" says Angela.  "Legibility:
if you can't read it, there's no point in doing it.  Comfort: you've got to be
able to write comfortably.  Speed: so you can get everything down.  You've also
got to be writing automatically, because if you're thinking about your
handwriting then it deflects cognitive resources away from the content of what
you're writing.  And you've got to be able to sustain your writing over a period
of time."

I write, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," uninterrupted for two
minutes.  I'm fast, but difficult to read.  Webb says that I know how to form my
letters, but I'm not joining them properly.  Especially my lower-case r and the
lower-case n.  To save time, I'm not bothering with the joining strokes (between
v and i, for instance), which are so important for legibility.

My daughter's lucky she was born a girl - boys don't write as well, as Gordon
Brown can testify.  They are prone to scrawl, which goes some way to explaining
their underachievement in writing tasks.  Bad handwriting has been shown to
limit exam success by as much as 40 per cent.  So I want my daughter to write
well - and quickly.  According to research, students who write quickly by hand
achieve up to a grade higher at GCSE regardless of academic ability.

But Angela doesn't want to ditch computers - she believes that children should
be taught to touch-type early on.  She just feels that particular types of
composition are aided by the physical act of handwriting.  "Authors often write
their first draft by hand.  Whether it's to do with the pace of thought, or some
kind of stimulation the physical act has, we don't know.  But it's a fact."

The French would doubtless agree.  They love their handwriting.  Teachers in
France believe that fluency with a pen "unlocks the mind" and they spend more
time on writing than reading between the ages of three and eight.

In this country, we teach children the formation of letters and the appropriate
joining strokes.  But after Year 4 we leave them to their own devices, just as
the written workload starts to increase.  That's when the bad habits set in.

Practice makes perfect

Angela sent me away with some homework.  And, if I do it, one day I'll have
handwriting I like.  At the moment, my handwriting says I'm a busy man who
doesn't mind how my writing looks.

But as proper writing becomes rarer, spending some time improving your
handwriting is a good investment.  In the future, sending a handwritten letter
or postcard will be a display of affluence and class, which is why sales of
fountain pens are on the increase.

It will take time.  Anything that has motor involvement has to be learned.  So I
will have to unlearn the old motor pattern and learn a new one.  I've got to
copy a sentence every day for a month and build up my handwriting muscles by
towel scrunching.  I'll use my fingers to "walk" up the towel, "scrunching" as I
go.  I just hope my daughter appreciates it.  But I'll be sure to tell her.
I'll write her a letter that says what I want it to say.  I do care.  And I
don't live in Lada.

Socrates got it wrong when he predicted that writing would replace memory and
cause the human soul to dissolve if it was translated into "ambiguous
inscription".  We got the same warnings about the typewriter, the telephone, the
computer, the fax, the email and the text.  But our souls haven't dissolved.
Or, if they have, it's not down to the latest method of communication.

Technical telepathy: 09969636745

Saints are not always saints; sinners are not always sinners.

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