Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Failing Handwriting at School

What surprised me about handwriting is the genetic component. No-one talks about that much. I disciplined my daughter at age eight for writing in her father's photo album containing photos of his trip from England to Australia made in 1966. On closer inspection I realised that the pencilled captions had been written by him - their handwriting style was identical at the same age! That taught me a huge lesson about the development of handwriting.

The only subject I failed at school (before year 12) was handwriting in grade 5. I was devastated and cried all the way home. I thought my parents would be upset, but they didn't seem to notice. My sister had failed maths at year 8 level and that was much more of a tragedy to them. I strove throughout school to win the approval of my parents and teachers. Learning wasn't about my future; it was about making sure I satisfied my parents and teachers and that they were happy and, most important of all, approved of me.

School damaged me. Decades later I'm still feeling the effects and reacting to the conditioning laid down in those years, but especially to the manipulation of motivation. And every so often I get one of those dreadful 'school' dreams where I'm back at school, trying hard to please people...

I was, and still am, an excellent student but educating my own children at home has convinced me that school didn't produce that - I began school with innate abilities and these are what made my schooling successful. I responded well to brilliant teachers (who wouldn't?) and scraped through with the dreadful ones. I took from school what interested me and polished that. I have largely forgotten anything that I didn't find interesting at the time or never used as an adult.

My family life looms large in my memory as a 50 year old - the holidays we took, playing with my brother in the back garden during the holidays, games with the neighbours' kids after school, the long summer evenings without a tv playing card games with my parents, Brownies and Girl Guides, the rock and mineral club. I can recall snippets of school - largely recess and lunchtimes and the odd few teachers but very few lessons. I realise that my knowledge and abilities today stem from what happened outside of school and my experiences as an adult, rather than the education I received. Some elements, such as the 'hidden curriculum', had more of an effect - although I tend to thing this is caused more from generational than educational factors.

Failing handwriting (back then we had to learn to write with nibbed pen and inkwell - not for any sane reason, just did) is a vivid memory of distress. I learned from my parents' reaction that no-one really cares how neat one's writing is so long as one passes maths.

However, at year 12 level it was stated on the matriculation exams that illegible handwriting would result in an automatic fail. I think most of us were getting close to that after writing five essays in a couple of hours...

So much of what we do in life is just plain silly. I still haven't worked out why we force ourselves and others to do silly things.

© Beverley Paine

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