A former Benedictine monk in Sunderland says handwriting will survive technology

A Wearside academic says handwriting will survive technology.

By Sue Kirby
Wednesday, 17 April, 2019, 10:25
Ewan Clayton, Professor in Design at the University of Sunderland.

Ewan Clayton, who lived the life of a Benedictine monk for four years, is today playing a pivotal role in keeping alive the important values of handwriting.

A Professor in Design at the University of Sunderland, Ewan has just played a key role in the creation of a new Manifesto for Handwriting which outlines why putting pen to paper remains a vital part of our day-to-day lives.

Handwriting will survive technology.

In the Manifesto, Ewan, and his fellow contributors, urge education bosses to choose handwriting policies, to establish standards and curricula, to train teachers, to invest in books, materials and support to favour learning and practice of handwriting.

Ewan’s passion for the written word stems back to his childhood in Ditchling, the same village which was home to the man deemed the father of modern calligraphy, Edward Johnston.

He said: “I was surrounded by writing influences in Ditchling, but when I was 12 years old my handwriting was so bad I was moved back to junior school to learn how to write all over again.

“I was given Johnston’s biography and started to realise just how interesting a subject handwriting was."

In the Manifesto for Handwriting, Ewan, along with his contributors, outlines eight reasons to recognise and extend the role of handwriting.

1 - Handwriting is a personal, direct and accessible tool. Given its simplicity, sustainability and low-tech requirements, handwriting is indispensable in countless aspects of daily life.

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2 - Handwriting and digital skills are both important, but handwriting comes first. In the educational process, keyboarding should be introduced when a child’s brain development is able to support efficient bimanual coordination. Conversely, handwriting is a physical process requiring fine motor skills that need to be trained from the early years.

3 - School, university, the workplace and daily life: handwriting is here to stay. Writing is virtually always required for organising all but the simplest information.

4 - Handwriting is an aesthetic process. Learning principles of balance, harmony, regularity, clarity, elegance and indeed beauty, should be an essential part of any child’s education.

5 - Handwriting is part of our culture. Handwriting is a socialising activity. It is an essential part of the social contract that ties citizen to citizen.

6 - Research shows that handwriting can be an essential and efficient educational tool, which influences reading, writing, language, and critical thinking.

7 - While handwriting can be a challenge for some children, it can teach others self-mastery. Handwriting provides a calming influence for children subjected to the many distractions of modern life, and it can be an important form of self-expression.

8 - Contemporary handwriting needs clear teaching and functional models.

After leaving the monastery where he lived between the ages of 28 and 32, Ewan headed for Silicon Valley in the US where he worked as a consultant to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Laboratory in California.

Ewan decided to take up his post at the University of Sunderland after feeling a connection to the region, not least because it was home to St Peter’s Church at Monkwearmouth, the Anglo-Saxon monastery once home to Venerable Bede.