Learning to write – Times past

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I don’t recall having any difficulties learning how to write. If fact, I don’t remember it being a highlight in my school career at all. It was just something that happened; I learned how to write. Reading on the other hand was amazing. I can remember, at age four, sitting with a small reader and trying to sound out the words. I persisted and I learned how to read. My Grannie Joan was very encouraging and used to show me words and read to me when I went to stay with her. By the time I started school, I was already quite a good reader and I never looked back.

My little Michael, has not had such a nondescript experience with learning how to write. The skill of writing is very hard for him and he struggles to form neat and legible letters and to string words together in a written sentence. His audio and comprehension skills are all there. They are in fact quite advanced for a 12 year old but his writing – it is just slow and messy and horrible. It looks like a spider rolled in ink and had a heart attack on the page.

Luckily for Michael, we live in a modern age and he can attend a remedial school that is helping him to translate his thoughts and ideas into a written form that makes sense. He will also be able to use a computer in the future to take notes and complete his school work. This is a very different experience from that of my father who also struggles to write. He went to a Catholic school where the Brothers were quite abusive if the children didn’t deliver neat and accurate work.

My father’s school stories inspired this 99-word flash fiction:

Who would have thought such beautiful, copperplate writing could be the root of such mental anguish? There was nothing externally visible in the hand-written document to indicate that each carefully formed letter had been created under the threat of severe physical punishment. The Brothers set high standards for their students and achieved them through beatings and fear.

This harsh treatment of young boys destroyed their confidence and resulted in a life-long resentment of the Church. I find it amazing, looking at this exacting and perfect piece of work, that no-one thought to questioned its production by a six-year-old boy.

This post was written for Irene Waters Learning to Write: Times Past challenge. You can join in the challenge here: https://irenewaters19.com/2018/02/01/learning-to-write-times-past/

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Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series and Robbie Cheadle is the author of Silly Willy goes to Cape Town
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74 thoughts on “Learning to write – Times past

  1. Educators are hopefully more understanding of children who struggle to write. However, it was not that long ago (a little less than 20 years) that my nephew was called stupid because he could not write properly.

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  2. It such a sad indictment on the Catholic Church that the Christian Brothers and I use the term Christian very loosely were so evil and cruel, I am sure there were a few good ones. I was taught by Nuns and the scared the bejesus out of me. Great post 💜

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Sadly yes it does. Abuse of all kinds take their toll. I truly cannot understand why or how these terrible people get away with it. I am sure your father found peace in his family. 💜 This is a sad subject, I am sending you hugs and sunshine 💜

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! What a sad and poignant story. Beautifully written too. It reminds me of my own dad, who is a pianist like me. His experience of learning to play the piano was completely different to me and can recall his teacher shouting at him and hitting his fingers when he played a wrong note. It’s very sad and I’m thankful that things have changed a lot.
    Thanks for sharing, Robbie.
    Hayley 💞

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such cruelty I am pleased it has mainly stopped and help is on hand for those who struggle…Sad to say it still happens here..bamboo cane if the kids don’t write fast enough and guess who was straight up the school when my grandson got it across his back…Love that you included a piece of flash fiction 🙂

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      1. Not just corporal punishment it’s the fear of it they like to instil..If they think a child’s hair is not cut right they will either run the clippers so it has to be cut or take them to the barbers and get it cut. The boys used to have the same cut as did the girls and the law was changed but with the proviso that it is up to the individual school and the same with corporal punishment but again some schools still stick to the old ways..We have put our foot down and said that it will not happen to Aston and will say that the teacher was made to apologise but hair is still a big issue and we have compromised but draw the line at a military cut but he still gets picked on by a certain teacher and we have to intervene and it has happened too many times now so are changing his school at the end of this semester enough is enough..

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  5. Wonderful post Robbie! Thank God teaching methods have evolved. This is a little different, but I remember being in 1st grade with Miss Grep, and having trouble with math. She’d make me stand in front of the chalkboard for 15 minutes trying to solve a word problem or equation. And of course the longer I stood there, the more I panicked, so usually after 15 minutes she top off my humiliation by calling me a dunce, or lazy, before sending me to my seat.😒

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  6. Thankfully times have changed, Robbie, and I’m happy to hear your Michael is getting the help he needs. I was obsessed with knowing what anything written said before I ever learned to read and I used to continuously ask everybody for the meaning of any script I saw.
    My father also went to a religious school, and although in his case his writing wasn’t a problem (he quite enjoyed it and had lovely handwriting), he could not draw to save his life, and his comments about it and his experience were very similar to those of your father. And yes, he resented them forever. It is good things have changed, and yes, perhaps people should have asked themselves such questions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Olga. You sound very similar to me in your interest in the written word. I still look up the occasional word that I come across that I don’t know. One of my colleagues at work has a word list and she writes down any new words she hears on that list. I am sorry for your father. It is awful to be punished because you aren’t good at something.

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  7. Back in the 80’s my brother’s teacher told my mother he was ‘retarded’ due to his dyslexia. The word was not yet considered unkind but her dismissal of his abilities was. He wrote upside down and backwards. My mother was livid but we were poor and powerless to make them see us or brother any other way. Thankfully we moved to an island where schools were better and people had higher emotional intelligence. He was given a laptop. He thrived.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thankfully, Times have changed and children are treated more kindly now!
    I don’t have any such memories of learning to write words but two wonderful memories that I am proud of are – being appreciated for good handwriting and being popular for doing the homework of all those who came to school without doing it. 🙂
    But I do have some unpleasant memories about learning tables and mugging up stories!

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  9. Honestly, I’m even surprised they’re teaching Michael HOW to write in school! When they took out cursive I wondered when they would stop even bothering with printing! They’ll just give him and tablet to type with to communicate! …It’s getting a little sad in the education system. I’m glad that they are putting him in remedial to try to help him though, it’s good to know that there are people in schools who notice and care. Is it funny though that the first thing I thought when you said his writing was terrible was… wel, he IS a boy you know!! I have a staff of 20 something to 30 something males and their handwriting STILL looks like a spider fell in ink and rolled around on the page!!! Lol!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My son struggled to read and write. He graduated but I feel and the school administration admitted they failed him. He can print his name and such but no cursive. He doesn’t have trouble with video games but reading books in general, he shies from which to me is such a shame. Books open worlds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a pity, Traci. Your son sounds like he has a learning barrier similar to my Michael. I picked up a problem with Michael and I had him tested. I then found a suitable school for him and now he is doing so well. We are lucky to have so much help available now; things have changed.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Well done Robbie. So many kids from that generation had their knuckles wrapped for untidy handwriting – just awful. I remember my grandfather telling me the story about how he was born a lefty and constantly had his knuckles slapped with a ruler for writing with his left hand. Scared the lefty right out of him because he wrote with his right hand the rest of his life.

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    1. The school authorities and teachers were very funny about left handed people at that time, Debby. Even when I was at school, they discouraged left handed writing in my school. Luckily I could write with either so it didn’t matter that much. I do a lot of other things left handed though.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow, even our generation was discouraged? I actually only write with my right but oddly do everything else with my left – my stronger hand. When I was younger and played baseball for fun my friends booted me because I wore a left handed catcher’s glove but had to remove it to throw back the ball LOL. My right hand has no co-ordination for ball sports. 🙂

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  12. So sorry your dad had to experience what he did.
    I am so grateful that times have changed, especially with regards to education. The opportunities given now, with more skilled educators for children that require a little more, is great. So pleased Michael is in the perfect school for him. 🙂

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  13. Thanks Robbie for joining in with such a powerful piece. You’ve covered three generations and you can see that times have seen some positive changes. The church has a lot to answer for in its treatment of children although I’m sure that it was the Victorian attitudes of the time and they were doing the only thing they knew to do in the belief it was the best for the child. Sadly for many children like your father it affected the rest of their lives negatively. My Father in law would never eat rice following his boarding school days and he’d certainly received punishment for objecting (he went to a church of England Boarding school). You are lucky that Michael is getting the help he needs with writing. I do think that it will become a lost art to most however in a matter of time. Your flash was powerful and poignant and I’m really glad you included it. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wonderful post Robbie and so pleased that Michael is going to get the technical assistance he needs. I so rarely write longhand anymore that my handwriting is dreadful.. I really have to focus to form the words legibly.. Thankfully he has been born in an age where there are alternatives.. and my husband remembers The Brothers very well.. and their rulers that were weapons wielded with delight. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  15. History in a nutshell, Robbie. Well done! Thankfully, most of today’s kids don’t have to deal with writing punishments. Also, that there are many tutoring resources, including videos and lessons on the internet today. However, I believe it’s important that children learn to read and write in cursive. That skill is an important part of our history too. 🙂

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