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I remember the first time a student brought a laptop into my writing workshop. His eyes were on the screen as he was taking notes and, even worse, he was hiding behind the screen. I asked him to shut it down and have not allowed laptops into the workshop since—unless a student has a disability that requires the amplification of the computer. Otherwise, no. And here’s why:

The workshop is real, it is dynamic, it has three dimensions, perhaps more. And, most importantly, it is interactive. We read, we talk, we talk to each other and make warm, solid eye contact.

Please understand, I am not a cyber luddite, not at all. I am in love with my iPhone and iPad. I am writing this blog post on my computer. I use a Kindle app, look up words on my electronic dictionary, donate to Wikipedia every year, and occasionally ask a student to look something up on her smart phone in the midst of a class. But I also still have notebooks, pens and journals. They slow me down. Hand to paper, I think differently. I don’t want to skid along all the time, I want to pay attention. And what I’ve found over the years is that my students really appreciate the opportunity to write by hand in their journals too. In just a week or two, they are showing off the rich, thickening pages in their hand-made, hand-written books. Every writing project begins there before it is transported to the computer; one technology does not preclude the other. In the silent, serene space between their hand-held pens and paper, there is no hurry and no fear of making a mistake. Nothing is written in stone (as in a cuneiform stone), nothing is permanent, it’s all process. And writers, especially beginning writers, need this gentle freedom.

And so it is a bit alarming to hear that instruction in cursive writing has been abandoned as part of the “common core” curriculum changes in America’s schools. What are the implications for writers? They will grow up only knowing how to print! Or, they will only use the computer which has many other drawbacks, most significantly the illusion that everything we enter into the computer is final and perfect. It is not.

Yes, we want to be slowed down, but print is too slow! Cursive—which means “running”—was invented to create fluidity in writing (and to spare delicate quill pens).

There has been the suggestion—once again, in educational circles—that italic script is a possible compromise. Certainly it would be for writers. That is the only hand-writing English children learn in school and they learn it right away; it spares them shifting from print to cursive in third grade, part of the pedagogical problem, apparently.

I’ll weigh- in on this debate: let’s think about italic. It’s clear, it’s simple and it’s fluid, a writer’s dream. I learned it myself when I lived in England though I have retreated to cursive in recent years. I’d pick it up again in a heartbeat. I love those nibs.  Read More 
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