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Volume 3 Issue 6

Why Neglecting Good, Old-Fashioned Penmanship Has Fueled the Dumbing Down of America

By Jeanette Farmer, Handwriting Remediation Specialist

Up until the last 30 years or so, good old-fashioned penmanship was central in gaining a solid education. Todayís reality, unfortunately, is a different story. When compared to the stress placed on its training in the "olden days," penmanship has largely fallen through the educational cracks due to its gross neglect. When it is one of the most complex behaviors the human can acquire, it is inconceivable that such educational neglect exists. If educators were aware of its powerful influence in "training the brain;" that it gives the child a head start on being smart; that it is central in developing the attention span, they wouldnít neglect it the way they do, and literacy rates would increase too!

However, for a variety of reasons educators fail to realize that neglecting handwriting deprives the young brain of its essential regulated stimulation. When children have handwriting problems today, the pat answer is to put them on the computer. Wrong! Computers can not provide the rhythmic, regulated effects that handwriting provides. Stimulation not only fosters further brain development, but it develops impulse control that stabilizes a foundation for learning. Over the last 30-40 years, the erroneous educational mentality created huge consequences that have significantly contributed to Americaís ongoing inability to educate ever increasing numbers of children today. It silently fueled the birth of the ugly, derogatory term, the "Dumbing Down of America." Indeed, other than playing a musical instrument, nothing done in the classroom (or the homeschoolerís kitchen table), can begin to compare with the impact that the rhythmic, repetitive manipulation of the thumb and fingers has on the young brain. Nothing sculpts the brain to hone the mind as handwriting can.

While public educators lack a basic awareness for why stressing penmanship is critical in developing fine motor control, i.e., impulse control or self-control, homeschoolers need to realize that gaining impulse control is instrumental in helping the child develop a strong character. The key to self-mastery, gaining fine motor control harnesses the emotional energy so the child can be functionally productive.

The graphic below portrays the hand connection. The left brain controls movement of the right hand while the right brain controls movement of the left. For 90% of the right handed population, the left brain, the "brain that goes to school," houses the language capacities. Movement inherently taps the language capacities which is why it is critical in educating the young brain.

Americaís ongoing deteriorating educational results has undoubtedly helped fuel the tremendous growth of homeschooling over the last couple of decades. Without doing a survey, I know that homeschoolers have a deep desire to equip their children with a solid education or they wouldnít assume such a demanding task. Kudos for such successful results!

As a handwriting remediation specialist armed with 29 years of handwriting experience, Iíve spent the last twenty years applying brain research to the handwriting process to gain a keen perspective on brain dominance. This enabled me to recognize the childís emotional state, portraying which hemisphere is dominant. Dominance distinctly influences the ability to learn. I developed a new handwriting conceptual approach that greatly enhances learning by "calming the dance of the emotional mind. Adding therapeutic music to different movement patterns creates a non- threatening, interactive format that profoundly impacts the young brain. In calming the "dance of the emotional mind," the child can focus and attend better. Learning demands the ability to focus and attend. It can also be used in a remediation capacity to "retrain the brain" for learning disabilities, for impulse control issues with ADHD or special needs children. The music is the magic in the process as it has the powerful capacity to "entrain" the brainís rhythm and pull it into the musicís rhythm, stabilizing how the brain is firing.

The following samples, based on the physiology of emotional contraction or release, portray some of the patterns used. While this does not replace the need for learning alphabet related-cognitively delivered handwriting, it facilitates the learning process significantly.

I drew upon major European research based on the work of Dr. Rudolph Pophal, a neurologist/ graphologist, who taught at the University of Hamburg for several years in the late 1940s and 1950s. He spent 30 years studying handwriting and how the fundamental nature of the brainís various motor centers impacts the movement style. Although he was instrumental in establishing handwritingís physiological/ psychological link in the brain, his research has never been replicated in this country. Unfortunately, for a variety of deeply intertwined reasons too complex to explore here, this fact is largely unknown to American educators, psychologists, or doctors. This provides insight into why penmanship could be dumped so easily or Ritalin so quickly prescribed.

An overview of information helps homeschoolers grasp the significance of why stressing the handwriting process is so critical. Our world today bears little resemblance to the world that todayís senior citizens grew up in. A host of societal changes, both positive and negative, over the last few decades have impacted the young brain over the last few decades. Estimates are that over 20 million children are "at-risk" -- unable to learn naturally without special education. In a recent lecture to the Coloradoís Children Campaign in Denver, noted Houston child psychiatrist Bruce Perry, M.D., clarified the societal influences that stress the young brain emotionally and intellectually to effect the learning process as the following:


- TVís highly detrimental passive influence

- Poor quality day care

-Vast increase in single parent families (50% of parents today)

- Sensory deprivation due to poverty and other auxiliary issues

- Premature birth/prenatal stress

- Poor nutrition - processed foods, allergies


While the middle three items above are unlikely to be significant in the homeschooling community, television, the ubiquitous monster found in every American home, certainly is. In the short span of 50 years, TV has silently, but drastically, changed the young brain. In Evolutionís End, Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence, Joseph Chilton Pearce suggests that TVís damage has little to do with content, although that is an issue in and of itself. While its influence on the mature adult brain isnít as detrimental, its pervasive influence on a young developing brain is a much different story. TVís damage is neurological for what it prevents. Time spent watching it precludes the intense neural activity that occurs in a childís work -- the "letís pretend" process of early childhood.

In passively watching TV, the brain is not actively engaged, whereas the handwriting process activates and engages the brainís lower levels to influence its higher level, especially the left brain. TVís net effect is in prolonging the right brainís processing style, delaying the emergence of the left brainís processing style, a natural stage of development called developmental readiness. This used to occur naturally by the time the child war ready for school. Without readiness in place when pressure on learning begins, it sets the stage for educational turmoil as the brain canít function as it is being asked to. This is apparent in results of a February, 2002, survey of 1,000 Denver teachers. They found that 40% of children are now arriving on the schoolís doorstep unprepared intellectually, emotionally or socially to enter school. TV is not the sole contributor in this dilemma. Emotional insecurity generated by day care is also a significant factor in its impact on the learning process.

In The Alphabet and the Goddess, the Conflict Between Word and Image, Leonard Shalin, M.D. He indicates that comprehending TV requires an entirely different hemisphere strategy than that used for reading. Being image-based, TVís alpha wave patterns fueled right brain processing whereas reading requires the left brainís beta wave functioning. As people watched more and more TV, the left brainís supremacy began to dim as the right brainís use increased, affecting the ability to focus and attend. Depending on the childís age and the time spent watching TV, it de- lays the emergence of developmental readiness, an essential developmental stage indicating the brain is ready to start the hard learning of the 3Rs.

Shalin states, "All forms of writing increase the left brainís dominance over the right. ...An alphabet being the most abstract form of writing, enhances left-brain values the most." In indicating that handwriting is an agent of change, he alludes to the influence of movement due to the physiological left brain-right hand connection. Movement creates intense neural activity. If the brain is not actively engaged, there is no processing; lots of activation means lot of processing. By activating the left brain, its sequential processing style essential for reading is brought "online," that dampens the emotionally reactive right brain. The process enables learning to proceed effectively.

Handwritingís inherent capacity to change the brainís operating system sets up the potential to gain an array of significant benefits that will be discussed in the next issue.



Jeanette Farmer "Train The Brain To Pay Attention the Write Way"


(Please see "Retrain the Brain" ad on p. 30)