Do children still learn how to ‘write’? This is a question that the team here at Ashburton Museum have pondered for a while now.
While it makes sense that children become familiar with a keyboard as soon as possible, I am a little concerned writing is becoming a lost skill.
Last century, when I was a child, writing and printing were two separate things. Achieving both was an important part of the school curricula. Well I remember the routine.
Drawing in the air, then scrawling on blackboards, when we had mastered the letter of the day we could return to our desks and practice with a ‘black beauty’ – a very thick pencil, able to be grasped by our stubby little fingers.
Not only would our teacher check our penmanship but also our posture, making sure we were sitting with back straight, straight arms and at a correct distance from the paper.
Correctly forming the letters, as per Department of Education standards with no arty individuality allowed, was as important as correct spelling.
Slopes and curves
As students we would agonise over the slope of our words, the curve of the letters and the spacing between each letter and words.
We would have to write over and over again, such weird sentences. My favourite and the only one I can remember being, Icabod is itchy and so am I.
As we got better we were tested for speed and had to write the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog as fast (but as neatly) as we could over a set period of time. All this was taught, as well as grammar, punctuation and spelling. It was a tough life.
As primers we were handed a pencil and allowed to print. Writing (or joined up printing as we called it) didn’t become compulsory until we hit the standards.
Unhappily, at the same time our wonderfully forgiving pencils were taken from us, we were expected to use ball point pens. It all became quite messy and untidy for a while.
I was grateful, as in my Mother’s day they progressed from pencil to ink, so when I was about to start standard one she got me a bottle of ink and some nibs to be ready for the New Year. I can only imagine the inky carnage that would have ensued if we hadn’t ‘moved on’ to biros.
For a while it was considered that writing was more ‘mature’ than printing and people struggled to write. Now it seems it doesn’t really matter if you print or write; just having something that isn’t from a computer is enough.
Even if you do write most have developed their own style over the years and there possibly isn’t anyone who writes as their primary school teachers would have wished. However, back to my question – do children get taught ‘writing’ as I was?
More and more I come across people for whom writing seems an unknown phenomena.
Many refer to writing (cursive script) as ‘joined up writing’, which makes no sense as, for us ‘old-schoolers’, writing IS joined up.
This is a major concern for me, as I wonder if we are spawning a generation that will be unable to undertake research?
In the Museum archive the majority of material is written. By far the largest collection of written material is from the Council collection.
Within the many letters, notes and reports are a wide variety of styles. Some handwriting is almost beautiful – large copperplate script with hardly an ink blot to be seen. Other examples are scrawled, often badly spelt and brief.
Interestingly, many of the letters to Council are written by women on behalf of their husbands, dispelling the myth that many of our ancestresses were illiterate. What a shame it would be not to be able to read them.
Loops and crosses
While the loops and crosses may look, to some, as a new, undecipherable language, don’t let fear or confusion deny you the breadth and wealth of history that ours and other institutions hold. Archives staff are always willing to assist and with a little patience you too may be able to read joined up words!
By Kathleen Stringer
- A page from Vere Fosters Copy-Book No.5, published by Blackie and Son Ltd., Dublin. This company produced a series of books focussing on particular writing styles, including ‘civil service script’ and numbers. Always educating, the books taught ‘proper’ values as well as handwriting.
- A page from the Mt Somers Road Board Minute Book. It’s fairly easy to read, nice open hand, good spelling, but perhaps a word on the twelfth line would get novices stumped.
- The twelfth line from the Mt Somers Road Board Minute Book, featuring the ‘long s’, old fashioned even in 1878 when this minute was written. ‘This troublesome feature sees two s’s written as a single f or p.
- I bet these children knew how to write. Allenton school classroom, 1932.