I can't write. Yet I have degrees in English and Psychology. I really can't write even though I have an M.ED. and a "writing certificate." I teach Creative Writing, but I cannot write. If someone were writing an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for me there would surely be a behavioral objective written to address this deficit. Student fails to form letters correctly when printing or writing. The objective would read: The student will write lower and upper case letters of the alphabet replicating formation with 90% accuracy. I would sit quietly in my IEP meeting with my Special Education teacher, my parents and some other important people. And I would wonder where they came up with the number 90. The number interests me. It is something concrete. I understand it. I might overhear someone say, "Jeff can't write." I know that. I've been told that before. So why bother. I hear the word "dysgraphic" but I don't know what that means.
Fortunately for me, no one has written a behavioral objective to improve my handwriting. While I know I am dysgraphic, there is no one except perhaps a "literary" critic telling me I can't write. My personal physician needs to have an IEP objective to improve his handwriting, but I don't. The legibility of a physician's handwriting can be crucial to the well-being of the patient. But how important is it for me?
We all know people who have deplorable handwriting. Try reading a quick note from your supervisor who may have many illustrious qualities -- other than handwriting. Then ask: Is that `ten orders of bolts for the superstructure' or `been ordered by the dolt to go to the supper structure'? Some have contended that poor handwriting has become a national problem. Maybe we should create a National Education Plan, an NEP. Set it in law. In a few years, we may be writing messy notes to each other, suggesting the need for such a national objective.
I recall a former student who told me that he could not write. Since my entire curriculum was based on writing, I immediately recognized a potential problem. "I can't write," Chester said. I did not press the issue. I continued with all the prewriting tricks and activities in my repertoire. Still, nothing but the almost daily intonation, "I can't write." Finally I took a calculated risk and said, "You know what, you're right, you can't write." I walked away and continued with the class. After awhile, I looked over and saw that Chester was writing furiously. He had been ever since I'd told him he couldn't. What do you know, I thought, reverse psychology really does work. But there was more to it.
As I was showing the class the writing process, using my own work as an example, he watched closely. He seemed especially intrigued with the first drafts of my published article. They were a mess. My handwriting in those drafts looked like some sort of espionage coding system. It didn't matter, I told the class. I could read it, and that's what mattered. When I type my handwritten copy, I press buttons on a computer. The t looks like a t, the e an e, and it's easy. I showed the class a final typed copy and then the published article. Chester listened. His handwriting was awful. There are other symptoms associated with his Learning Disability, but dysgraphia as a symptom has become irrelevant. Chester has learned a way around that one. He has tapped into his natural ability to imagine different worlds full of feeling and empathy and to communicate them to others in writing. He will never reach the goal spelled out in his IEP. His L's will probably never have the desired curly-cues, but he now understands the difference between writing and "handwriting." Chester can write and he knows it.
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