There is a lot of concern among teachers at the moment about the future of writing. These kinds of discussions seem to come up at the beginning at every school year, and as our school year (here in Australia) has just begun, so too have the conversations. Teachers worry that children are losing the art of written communication, that social media is diluting, if not destroying, the written word. They lament the loss of kids’ handwriting. They see that handwriting lessons at school are often the only time a student actually uses a pencil or pen. They know that kids don’t get the opportunity to practice their handwriting because most other things are done using computer technology – be it tablets or laptops, game consoles or ipods. Teachers (rightly) recognise that typing is becoming a more important skill than handwriting in enabling kids to communicate effectively online. And online is where the majority of all written communication is occurring.
Personally I don’t see too much of a problem with it. It’s just another morphing of reading and writing in the contemporary context. Fear is what usually drives concern. There is a fear that if children can’t use a pen to write, they will lose the ability to meaningfully engage with society. But writing is no longer about just using a pen or pencil. And to engage meaningfully with society in the 21st century, it is imperative that children are able to communicate effectively online, both formally and informally.
Throughout the ages fear has always accompanied change. Way back in 370BC, Plato recorded a conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus where Socrates, a great thinker and philosopher of the time, lamented the loss of intelligence among the masses if the populace was taught to read. He thought that “learning to read would result in the “appearance of wisdom, but not true wisdom.” Just over a thousand years later, the invention of the printing press brought the similar fear of a “dilution of the intellectual capital of the time.” Another thousand years and television was the culprit. People called it the ‘idiot box’ and feared that too much viewing would lead to the simplification of the mind. Luckily, none of these fears have been realised.
In fact, each metamorphosis that reading and writing has undergone has resulted in a greater, more stimulating, encompassing literacy with which to educate, including teaching children to write. It’s exciting to see look back over the bigger picture and see the changes. And see how we, as a society, have survived those changes. And thrived.
I love teaching writing to children and young adults. There is something incredibly powerful about encouraging a young person to enhance their communication skills.