Impossible exercises


This entry is related to Handwriting and visual perception. Literacy has stagnated for more than a century in the West. In 1906, Edward Johnston was requested by the London County Council Education Committee to report on the pens and copy books in use at the time. ‘The ordinary blunt and pointed pens give indefinite and uncertain strokes […], he wrote.
Johnston’s own handwritten models follow: two in regular script and an italic script.
He then adds:
‘I would recommend that whatever pen or copy be chosen the child should be given examples of actual (simple) handwriting or facsimiles of actual handwriting which are copyable (with ones similar to the pens need [sic] for writing the model).

I asked my son to copy this contemporary handwriting model.

‘I can’t’, he replied.
‘Why?’, I asked.
‘Because it’s impossible, I don’t have the tool’.
It’s not that he couldn’t copy a letter ‘a’, but being trained in formal writing, he could clearly see that the exercise was impossible. The letter was a computer design.


Johnston’s final words in this report are: ‘Lastly, the teaching of good writing has been found a pleasure rather than a burden to children.’ (Johnston, 1986)

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