With the influx of modern technology, it's perhaps hardly surprising that the art of letter-writing is dying out. Why send a letter when it's quicker, cheaper and neater to write an email?
However, this doesn't make the demise of letter-writing any less saddening. The personality inherent in handwriting and the beauty of artisan writing-paper are too magical, in my view, to lose; plus, being a teacher, which is basically the same as being a professional stationery whore, means I am naturally interested. It appears that there are many others that feel the same way - hence the celebration of National Stationery Week (beginning today and ending Sunday).
The week will see several competitions (including the chance to win a £500 stationery hamper), stationery itineraries, and even the chance to download "I'm a stationery addict" badges from the National Stationery Week website. Plenty of national retailers are also participating, both online and offline, including The Stationery Box, The Paperie, Rymans, and Paperchase. National Stationery Week is also working in partnership with Words For Life and the National Literacy Trust to reach out to children in particular.
It's easy to see why today's children might not have a natural love of the physical act of writing. I clearly remember having the internet at home from the age of 12, in 1998 - and it's a little sobering to think that several of the students in my Year 11 class were born in 1997. Despite having the web at home in 1998, I also remember clearly in 1997 there being no computer-linked projectors in school, and having to give a presentation on precious stones using an overhead projector and acetates. Equally, a project on famous authors in 1996 was carried out with a joint reliance on Encarta and library resources (as in books!), with not a webpage to be seen. Many of my students, by contrast, run to Wikipedia at the first chance they get, have serious problems in citing any sources correctly, and will walk through fire to avoid hand-writing anything. My youngest students were born in the year 2000, which makes me feel hideously old even though I'm only 27 - and this provides clear context as to why many of them feel the way that they do about hand-writing assignments (their first question is often "can it be typed?").
However, more encouraging is the fact that a love of reading and writing itself has not died. Every year, alongside the students who require remedial help, and those who just don't care (even though they have already shown that they could write well if they wanted to enough), I have the privilege every year of teaching enthusiastic and talented students who bring extra-curricular reading to class, write perceptive, convincing and moving essays, and, furthermore, have beautiful handwriting (sometimes, at least).
It's true that handwriting has little place in my curriculum (even though my youngest students are 12-year-olds, who are potentially still impressionable in this regard), and that I spend the vast majority of the year honing vital skills such as synthesising information to create new pieces of writing, analysing texts, and distinguishing successfully between different formats, audiences, and purposes, as well as trying to foster a genuine love of reading and writing through the use of a variety of texts and activities. However, I do know that of course being able to do these things is all very well only if others are able to read what you have produced. If my students' handwriting is poor, I do try to call them on it and see what I can do to help - but currently resources for teenagers and adults to help improve handwriting are extremely scarce, and perhaps National Stationery Week could include improvement in this field among its goals. In the meantime, I will be supporting this special week - and perhaps making more room in my curriculum now and in future for the art of handwriting.
Favourite shops (France)
Mélodies Graphiques, 75004 Paris
Neuilly Dessin, 75017 Paris
Galerie des Joueries, 78100 St-Germain-en-Laye
Favourite shops (UK)
Anthropologie (various locations; London and Edinburgh)
Paperchase (various locations)
Monocle (Portman Square and 2A George Street, London)
Tinc (various UK locations)
Favourite shops (online)
First three Chapters....
8 years ago