It’s the time of year that fills the hearts of students with dread and often makes parents giddy with excitement.

With many schools adopting more of a year-round schedule with longer breaks throughout the year, summer holiday is quite a bit shorter than it once was. School districts are gearing up for the beginning of the new school year, which will begin, for many, around the first of August.

Retail stores are filling their shelves with school supplies. If your child gets a supply list for school, you may notice that there is less paper and pencil type items on it than there once was.

With more schools heading to 1:1 technology — in which each student has their own computer or e-tablet — there has been an effort to reduce the use of paper. This has obvious advantages and is eco-friendly, but it also raises some concerns I’d like to address.

For the record, I like most aspects of a 1:1 classroom. Each of my students has an iPad to use in school. This opens up so many exciting possibilities in the classroom that the positives far outweigh the negatives — but there are potential negatives of which teachers and parents need to be aware.

One of those possible negatives is that, if we aren’t careful, we will rely so much on paperless technology that students won’t get enough practice with pencil and paper, and their skills with those tools will diminish. It is for that reason that I am careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In my classes, I probably go completely paperless 60 to 75 percent of the time, but I make sure to plan some days for students to work with pencil and paper. I believe it is crucial to keep in practice. If we never practice, our skills will erode.

For instance, I write a lot. I write this column each week in addition to several other articles for other publications. I do so exclusively by typing on a keyboard. I rarely pick up a pen or pencil anymore. As a result, when I do, my handwriting is atrocious. I never practice, so it is bound to deteriorate.

Sometimes I can barely read my own notes. I’ve known how to write for decades; if my handwriting can go bad, how bad would it get for a kid who has only been writing for a few years? Kids need to stay in practice writing the old-fashioned way. There are times in life where we still have to write by hand.

On a related note, there has been a de-emphasis in recent years on teaching elementary kids how to read and write cursive. This might seem logical since we rarely come across cursive writing in our daily lives, but it does raise concerns.

For example, from time to time, we have our students sign some sort of form. You’d be shocked to know how many eighth-graders don’t know how to sign their name in cursive. Again, we lose the ability to do what we do not practice.

This, incidentally, is a growing concern among historians and genealogists, as well. There is a fear that there will be too few people in coming generations who won’t be able to read primary source documents and historical records, most of which were handwritten in cursive.

In our zeal to move education into the electronic age, we should take care to save some time for the old-fashioned ways, too.

Alexandria native Shane Phipps is an author and teacher in Indianapolis. His column appears Mondays in the Herald Bulletin. Email him at Follow his blog at and follow him on Twitter @shanehphipps

Trending Video