Somewhere in my travels, many moons ago, I read that Mike Nesmith had once suggested that maybe our children becoming less literate wasn't a bad thing. The recovering Monkee was saying that a generation of children who never learned how to read might not be the worst thing. Instead, he proposed, a new literacy could grow out of the needs and conditions of the modern world. The ability to respond to a barrage of images might just trump that of being able to decode an arcane system of graphemes and phonemes.
Okay. Years passed and I became an elementary school teacher and that notion seemed to slip away like so many "cool ideas" of my youth. I taught kids how to read and write in a systematic fashion that enabled them to communicate their thoughts and comprehend those we transmitted to them. There was no magic to it. It was good honest work. Except for that penmanship thing.
When I was a kid, I had lousy handwriting. Over time, I have managed to create an orthography that allows me to be understood by the children who are forced to read what I have scrawled on the board. I have made an effort to make y's that don't look like g's. That's forty-some years of practice, why should I expect more from a second grader?
"Your best penmanship" may soon be "your best font." In 2011, the writing test of the National Assessment of Educational Progress will require eighth and eleventh graders to compose on computers, with fourth graders following in 2019. Loops and curls will no longer hold sway in America's classrooms. Now that I am back in the computer lab full-time, I have started to teach Kindergartners how to type. With all ten fingers. I wonder how long it will be before the standard becomes the ability to type with just your thumbs.