When was the last time you wrote something by hand. For many of us, the only time we put pen to paper is when we’re asked to sign a document, but even then, digital signatures are frequently being used. Recently on NPR, this issue was explored with Tamara Plakins Thornton, a University of Buffalo professor who’s written a history of handwriting on the United States.
Thornton began by explaining that handwriting is endangered. “Signatures to us, at least in the recent past, did mean a way to express our individuality, our distinctiveness,” said Thornton.
Dr. Elizabeth DeWitt, a handwriting and curriculum expert with Learning Without Tears, agrees and offered insight into the importance of handwriting. “Handwriting is an essential piece in the foundation for reading and writing because of all the incredible benefits it has,” she said.
Thornton explained that signatures used to be a way for people to express themselves, and something people would take pride in, but that’s not the case anymore. Like signatures, handwriting education has fallen out of vogue as technology has crept in. “According to research, the skill of handwriting boosts cognitive ability, coordinates both sides of the brain, it uses more of the brain, sharpens aging minds, inspires creativity, improves memory, and has a calming effect on your brain,” explained DeWitt.
Teaching handwriting and signatures alike can benefit children at all stages of life. In her interview, Thornton said that she has noticed a few surprising places where signatures are no longer required. “For example, when I write letters of recommendation for students to get into graduate school … it’s all online now. And instead of even having to do a facsimile signature, I just type it in and check a box saying, yup, it’s me. And really, what’s being checked is my IP address, not me,” she said.
With technology replacing signatures, what can we expect of handwriting? “I don’t expect handwriting to end. I think the death of handwriting is greatly exaggerated. Handwriting, I think, is with us to stay. It just has a different niche. And I think what’s changing is that handwriting is not necessarily a place where we express our distinctiveness,” said Thornton.
To learn more about the benefits of handwriting, click here.