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17 August 2011

The pen is (still) mightier than the cursor

Enrolment — reassuringly bewildering
I’ve just got the enrolment pack for my son’s primary school.

It’s reassuringly bewildering — does every parent think that?

There is information about things that weren’t a concern when I went there 41 years ago. (Yes, he’s going to my old school.)

There are two computers per class – Macs no less – and a couple of pods of laptops that classes can book for projects. (How many laptops in a pod? I've no idea, but when I find out, I’ll let you know.)

There’s stuff about sunhats in summer and telephone trees in an emergency.

There’s familiar stuff, like the Scholastic Book Club (hey, neat, I remember that!) and order forms for lunches. (Phew, I get a day off lunchbox duty!)

Finally, stuff about what he’ll be learning
On the last two pages, I came to something really, reassuringly familiar — and vitally important: two pages of the alphabet, upper case and lower, with the penstrokes of each large letters carefully numbered to guide the learning child.

With computers on tap, I am relieved that handwriting is still on the curriculum, taking its place alongside lessons in using the internet.

My 11-year-old niece can write a beautiful thank you card. But she says she finds it easier to text or type.

In the event of a catastrophe…
The keyboard, mouse and keypad have taken an inalienable place in our world but the place for handwriting hasn’t gone away. When the network fails or the battery dies, the only tools we have for recording information will still be pen and paper. When milk costs too much to buy, let alone the $800 for an iPad, you’ll still be able to afford a Bic and a Jotta.

Life and death
The importance of clear handwriting as a tool for clear communication cannot be overrated. It’s a matter of life and death – just ask a pharmacist, struggling to make out the 5’s from the 2’s on a scrawled prescription.

There’s something eloquent and obliquely revealing about good handwriting, that you just don’t get from choosing a nice font.

I will study the alphabet in the enrolment book carefully. I look forward to using it to show my son how to bend the unruly pencil to his will.

The pen is no longer mightier than the cursor, but its day will not be over for a long time yet. Maybe never.

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