Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein is a long-time cultural critic, as a senior editor of the First Things journal and author of numerous reports and books about the state of American culture and education. One of his recent essays argues that parents and teachers of students who struggle to write should unplug their kids and have them work by hand.
Students write faster with keyboard and mouse, but would anybody say that student writing has improved in the last three decades? Certainly the test scores say no. The SAT added a writing component in 2005, and scores have gone down every year except two of them, when they were flat. The ACT college readiness scores in English have dropped six points in the last five years (67 percent of test takers reaching readiness in 2012, 61 percent in 2016). With all the tools available to amend grammar and usage and spelling, twenty-first-century students aren’t gaining. They are writing more words than ever before, yes, because of social media, but more hasn’t meant better.
That’s because they’re doing more with the wrong tool. The keyboard isn’t an advance on the pen. It’s a step sideways, if not backward.
…The pen moves more slowly, but that isn’t a drawback. Like other ‘slow’ movements (slow food, slow reading, slow art), slow writing aims for a fuller and tighter relation to the object, a nearness of mind to the language it utters. The plodding process of “drawing” letters instead of tapping keys and telling a computer to draw them gives words greater intimacy and presence. The handwritten word is closer, and that makes a writer more deliberate with words.
Bauerlein notes that Americans have always pushed the latest business-world tech into schools with promises of greater improvement that typically do not materialize. In the 1980s, people promised that using television and movies in schools would improve learning. Today, we laugh at that idea, but are making the exact same mistake with iPads. A multitude of research continues to collect showing that tying mental activity to physical activity — such as writing by hand, or drawing maps, or combining brain work with substantial free play and nature exploration — helps people flourish.
“The virtues of the computer—faster, easier, simpler—are vices when it comes to writing. The pen personalizes the labor of writing, reminding us that we are responsible for what we write,” Bauerlein says. Read the rest.