Tom Hodgkinson: Beautiful writing feeds the soul

Related Topics

When I was at university in the late 1980s, I had an American housemate, Chris. He was outstandingly bright. He was here on a year abroad as part of his degree, studying physics at Yale. But he had the worst handwriting I had ever seen. It was a horrible, ugly scrawl. Admittedly mine was not exactly on the Eric Gill level, but at least it was joined up and legible. Chris did all his work on a word processor, a novelty to us backward Europeans back then, who still wrote our essays on lined paper with a fountain pen. I felt sorry for Chris, though, because his childish writing made him look stupid.

Well, the reason Chris had terrible handwriting was that he hadn't been taught it. He was a victim of the daft progressive educationalists who believe that, in the digital age, handwriting, still less beautiful handwriting, should be consigned to the dustbin along with illuminated manuscripts. Today there are 41 states in the US which say that joined-up, or cursive, handwriting is optional, and that students should focus instead on typing skills.

Sadly this attack on beautiful handwriting has now infiltrated British schools. My eight-year-old son has writing that would shame an Edwardian four-year-old. The letters hover in mid-air, they slope backwards and they are of wildly varying size. It is very hard to read. When I quizzed his teachers on this, they explained that handwriting is not a priority for them, since only three marks in a hundred are given for presentation when the children do their SATs. Any teacher, therefore, would have to make a special effort to go off curriculum to teach their pupils to write neatly. The decline of handwriting, then, is clearly not the fault of the teachers, but of the system itself.

And if handwriting is not taught in primary school, it is certainly not taught in secondary school. When I asked one English teacher at our local comp her handwriting philosophy, she said: "I don't have one." They appear to believe that as long as the writing is legible, that is enough. By secondary school, it is probably too late.

And it's not just state schools. Posh schools ignore handwriting as well. I am amazed by the sloppy writing and terrible grammar of 25-year-olds of my acquaintance who have been to schools such as Marlborough and Bedales. What a waste of money. For all the iniquities of the Victorian age, at least schools in those days taught their pupils how to write nicely, as anyone who has seen a Victorian postcard will know.

To consign handwriting to a historical footnote is an attack on the very idea of beauty. It is a pleasure and a joy to read a nice italic script on an envelope. Grandparents love to receive carefully scribed thank-you letters from children. A handwritten letter from a friend is a gift. You can keep it, you can look at it, it will last forever – unlike an email. Beautiful handwriting simply adds to the amount of beauty in the world. It feeds the soul. It is polite to fellow human beings. And the idea that we will never need to use a pen because we will only write on a computer is absurd. I use a pen all day long for making quick notes. Pens work. They are portable. And they don't need charging.

Instead of handwriting, the children spend a lot of time at school on laptops. To see a class of eight-year-olds staring at screens fills me with sadness. Do they not have enough screens at home?

As is the case with those other controversial subjects that are not taught well in primary schools – times tables, grammar and spelling – parents have to step in and fill the gaps. We bought a handwriting teaching guide and some of that lovely multi-lined paper. I sat down with our eight-year-old for an hour one evening and by the end of it he was producing presentable writing with letters of an equal size. He was thrilled with the work he had produced. Now we are resolved to spend a few minutes a day on handwriting with the children.

Other families are not so lucky. Most parents would be too exhausted to sit down for handwriting lessons in the evening. It's boring, repetitive work. That stuff should be done at school.

As we grow into adults, we suddenly realise that we have awful handwriting. We decide to change it and that is why our course in cursive at the Idler Academy is always a sell-out. And spare us from that hideous bubble script. We want italic! We want truth! We want beauty! 1

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.  

The Only Way is Ethics: The birth of a royal baby will not top the news for long

Will Gore
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk