Monday, November 13, 2006

The fountain pen of wisdom

Yesterday I read about a school in Edinburgh that still insists that its students use fountain pens. (I know of one school here that does the same.) Bryan Lewis is the school's head and he says:
Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not insignificant bonus of developing children’s self-esteem.
I'm not too sure that a fountain pen boosts a child's self-esteem in a way that a ball-point pen wouldn't. Lewis sees the decline in hand-writing as just another manifestation of the decline in education.
Lewis believes handwriting is just one of the skills that has suffered as a result of the "progressive" teaching approach introduced in the 1970s.

"Modern teaching methods overwhelmed the curriculum in the late 1970s and early 1980s," he said. "They proved to be no more than an excuse for the lowering of standards of basic literacy and numeracy under the guise of freedom of expression.

"From that time generations of children were no longer taught to write properly, to recognise the importance of spelling, to read with expression and understanding and to master numbers."

Lewis claims that Scotland's school children are "reaping the whirlwind" of the liberal education ethos.
I don't buy it. I'm willing to go along with him on grammar, spelling and reading skills, but hand-writing isn't in the same league. I'll grant him that's a good discipline, but not necessarily related to the use of correct spelling and good grammar. So long as a kid masters basic legibility that's all that should matter. Everything else is demanding for the sake of being demanding.