As to Penmanship

Penmanship, a much neglected art, is a science that not only requires muscular action, but an active mind to know how to bring all those little technical motions in subjection to the will power.

I am prepared to prove, should any of our schools are fit to put me to the test, that the 26 characters of the English language can be developed upon purely scientific principles.  In presenting these elements and principles in a class in connection with a developing lesson, they are required to pay the strictest attention to the details while explaining the necessary motions of the hand and arm; by doing so they acquire the scientific knowledge, and by using that acquired knowledge in practice, they are developing the art of penmanship.

Here we have the main difficulty of most teachers, in not knowing what and how to teach before doing; i.e. they teach more by guess work, using the ever-popular cry of muscular movement.  Certainly muscular movement will develop speed to the detriment of legibility.  Investigation and experiment have demonstrated that to develop the greatest powers of the horse we must first “gait” him, which means to learn the form of step, to accustom him to his new movements, to uniform his actions, to disparage irregularities and to acquire the proper method before attempting the highest speed.

With this knowledge we should conform to nature’s laws by learning to do properly and well, and then rapidly.  Nature has intended that we should write as rapidly as is consistent with readability and endurance.

Another mistake or extreme in teaching is that of teaching business and artistic penmanship on the same basis.  We should consider the pupil’s interest; if he intends to be a bookkeeper, he should be taught abbreviated and unshaded letters and words; if an artisan, a precise style that he may be fitted for his work, but never teach artistic and business penmanship in the same class without first consulting the interest of each individual.

Our high schools and academies should have a thoroughly competent special teacher for every science and profession.  This is the case in eastern schools, which results in developing those beautiful attributes God has wonderfully made in all individuals.  It is as possible to develop an easy, graceful and legible style of penmanship through correct teaching, as it is to develop any of our other physical or mental powers.

Let out schools take more interest in this useful and desirable qualification and we will have better writers.

In attending one of our leading colleges, I have made methods in teaching penmanship a special study, and would appreciate an opportunity to use what little knowledge I have gained for the benefit of our fast increasing schools.  Why not?  The subject is exhaustless, and many valuable hints and ideas could be given in our teachers’ conventions.

V.M. Pratt

[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, June 7, 1893, 5]
[Deseret Evening News, June 7, 1893]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Aug. 2006]

Return to histories of Valton Merrill Pratt