From 1989, two professors of education at the University of Washington, Virginia Berninger and Robert Abbott, carried out research on the knock-on effects of good handwriting. They examined beginning pupils at eight state schools in the greater Seattle area, and took a sample of 700 children, of whom 144 had been identified with writing problems. The problem children were divided into groups, and subjected to a variety of remedial approaches. One group did very much better than the others, and not just in writing. Berninger and Abbott found that the group with improved handwriting also had improved reading skills, better word recognition, better compositional skills, and better recall from memory. They began to enjoy learning more: they certainly took more pleasure in writing. They were just much better students. Would the same have been true of skilled keyboard operators? Berninger and Abbott didn’t think so. “Handwriting is not just a motor process; it is also a memory process for letters–the building blocks of written language.” And what happened to these students later on? “Older students who have done poorly from the beginning come to think of themselves as not being writers, so they don’t like writing and avoid it. As a result, their higher-level composing skills don’t get developed,” Berninger says. “We think that if we intervene early with handwriting and spelling instruction, we can prevent problems with written expression later.”
And what if there is no intervention–no teaching–no effective engagement with pen and ink on paper? What problems arise in later life? What diminishment of a human being takes place?
Writing this book, I’ve come to the conclusion that handwriting is good for us. It involves us in a relationship with the written word which is sensuous, immediate, and individual.