As someone who has always loved the promise contained in a pen and a blank sheet of paper and whose doodles to this day regularly consist of experimenting with my signature, I was immediately drawn to Kitty Burns Florey’s Script and Scribble. Florey went to school under the strict gaze of nuns, and her handwriting reflects that. It’s the complete opposite of current times, where children are taught how to write, of course, but are no longer taught to truly master handwriting. These days, typing skills reign supreme, and beautiful handwriting is becoming a lost art.
Script and Scribble is a short book — less than 200 pages — that takes readers through a brief history of writing. As people’s needs changed, so did the prevailing handwriting of the time. Burns Florey focuses quite a bit on Spencerian script, which dominated the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the standard style for business and official documents (and which is still used in the Ford and Coca Cola logos). Spencerian script, though beautiful was eventually fazed out in favor of the less flowery Palmer Method, which was dominated US schools until around the 1950s. (Side note: I always wondered why my grandparents and others of their generation had similar handwriting styles. And there you have it…the Palmer Method.) Many other methods have come and gone since then, and these days there isn’t really a standard. Children in primary schools are probably learning from a mix of different styles, and those styles are all fairly similar. Burns Florey argues that children and teachers are so bogged down by things like standardized testing, handwriting is the least of their concerns. When she was younger, good handwriting was always stressed. These days, once children get the grasp of it, that’s it — it’s not something teachers continue to instruct their students on.
It’s an interesting book, but it could be really uneven at times. For instance, there’s a big section on graphology that went on much longer than necessary. The author would at times linger on anecdotes about family and friends (which was fine — the anecdotes were on topic — but I would have preferred something more research-based). But the thing that really got me were the editing errors. I rarely comment on typos or formatting issues, but this book had everything from the benign misplaced quotation mark to the much more obvious cropped-off illustrations. It was shocking how many mistakes went to print, actually. I hope those problems were fixed in the paperback edition.
Those problems aside, I did actually like the book. I loved learning about quills and fountain pens (now I want one!), as well as the debate brought up in the last chapter over whether handwriting was still necessary. My classes are almost entirely paperless — I read and respond to my students’ essays electronically — but even so, my response to “Is handwriting necessary?” is OF COURSE IT IS!
Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting was published in January 2009 by Melville House.