A few days ago, I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal that really grabbed my attention. The author, a junior in high school, related that the hardest part of the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test was copying and signing a pledge not to cheat on the test. The reason: She didn’t know how to write. The discussion centered on her inability to write in cursive, but she noted that most of her classmates couldn’t print either–all they can do is type. She closed by saying (perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, but who knows?) that she was incapable of signing her name. I had seen various academic pronouncements to the effect that writing–the physical act of forming letters and words on a piece of paper with pencil or pen–would no longer be taught in the schools because of the ubiquity of computers, and assumed it was just more of the nonsense we’ve come to expect from our education establishment. It seems they were serious after all.
When I first began to write, I had to commit my words to paper and transfer them to the computer. Now, six years later, I do most of my work–first to last–on a PC, though certain passages still have to be worked out on paper, and final editing always requires a red marker and a paper copy of the manuscript. So–I’m no Luddite, in that regard at least. Still, it seems folly not to teach our children how to communicate in “writing” without the aid of a computer.
Writing requires something to write with and something to write on. Generally speaking, such things are simple, cheap and plentiful. Consider what it takes to express an idea via computer: Electricity (whether by battery or current) and all that goes into producing it–a machine that, if nothing else, is subject to the vagaries of weather and wear as well as access to the power source–and another machine (printer, fax, etc.) to free it from the first machine or, if transmitted immediately to someone else, still another machine, power and so forth to receive it. The assumption that all of these things (and others, I’m sure) will always perform reliably, or perform at all, is breathtaking. Does everybody have a PC, laptop or tablet? Can you pay your power bill this month? Has a hurricane destroyed the electrical infrastructure in your community?
And what about literature? How will the author–who hitherto relied on the permanence of a forgotten love letter, a lost diary or an undiscovered will–get on if people no longer commit such things to paper because they don’t know how. Rather than discover such treasures in an old chest or secret compartment, will the hero stumble on an ancient Mac or PC in the attic? Will the suspense turn on his ability to figure out the password? Somehow, I don’t think it will be the same.
Have they stopped teaching math, too, because of calculators?