Thursday, October 07, 2010

Not A Lesson In Literacy

I don't suppose I'm the last one living to have used a typewriter in earnest, but it's been a long time since I've met another human who had to take a typing test in order to get into his college course of study. Believe it or not, when I was going to journalism school at the University of Oregon, we had an entire classroom full of big, old typewriters, with the assumption that we were all going to be graduating into newsrooms full of big, old typewriters, and in order to officially qualify for the j-school we all had to prove that we could type a minimum of 20 words per minute on these manual machines. "Manual" meaning nothing was electrically powered: each key needing to be stroked with a force great enough to activate a series of levers that ultimately resulted in stamping that letter -- through a ribbon charged with ink -- onto a page.

By the time I hit the work world, however, it was all about the IBM Selectric, the gold standard at the time, featuring a cartridge that allowed you to automatically white out mistakes instead of having to roll up the paper, erase, roll it back down, aligning it properly, then re-type. My first employer owned a single PC, but no one in the office understood that one had to install software in order to get anything out of it. We all thought we had to program the computer ourselves, so it became an expensive paper weight. I was there from one day to the next when my subsequent employer, mis-judging the direction of business computing, installed a mainframe computer system that put a screen and keyboard on everyone's desk, rather than investing in personal computers. It did have an internal email system, but that was considered gimmicky. We all knew the FAX machine was the future.

Most preschoolers in Seattle (home of Microsoft, Amazon, Real Networks, etc.), are already far more competent users of computer technology than I was, really, until recent years.

But that doesn't mean there still isn't a place for typewriters in a preschool. When Lachlan's mom Kimberly brought in an old electric Smith Corona that she's found at a garage sale, my first response was to say, "Great, we can take it apart." But when she told me it works and that there was still ink in the cartridge, we had to try it out.

Typing on the backs of outdated pages from our old parent handbooks, we got to work teaching them the basics of rolling in their paper and hitting the "Return" key at the end of each line. But beyond that, the kids took it over, especially Isak who is a reading-writing fanatic. Guess what everyone was most interested in typing?

Many of the children did as Dennis did, repeatedly typing
the first letter of his name before launching into the rest.

Isak insists these days that his name be spelled Hisak. 
He explains, "The H is silent."

Here "Hisak" hunt-and-pecked the alphabet.

I couldn't let the kids have all the nostalgic fun.

At the rate we're going, the cartridge will be out of ink within days, then we can break out the screwdrivers and see what's wrong with it.

This was not any kind of lesson in literacy. We were just playing.

But just so you know, when it comes of dismantling machines, nothing, but nothing, beats an old manual typewriter. The beauty and complexity of it's mechanical operations are a thing to behold, putting the guts of our modern machinery to shame. We got our hands on one a few years back and it took us nearly two years to get it fully dismantled. I really want another one. I wonder what happened to that roomful of  big, old typewriters at the U of O?

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Saya said...

"Not a lesson in literacy, we were just playing."
Yep! And we love to play! :D

I kind of like how you can see what you just typed on the paper... computer/printer combo is convenient but not in that sense.

Barbara Zaborowski said...

I have for years gotten cheap typewriters at Goodwill for my class (preferably manual, but they're getting harder to find.) The kids think it's the most marvelous modern machine. "Look! I hit the key and I didn't have to bother sending it to the printer! It appeared right here on the paper!"
I never let them take the machines apart (although we do lots of other machines.) I guess I thought it would be incredibly inky. We'll give it a try! Thanks for the inspiration.

Deborah said...

I wish I still had some of my old typewriters! Oh - and I skipped my typing classes in highschool! LOL!

Scott said...

I had an electric typewriter a few years ago - and I GAVE IT AWAY. Didn't even think about using it in my class until after it was gone. I'm still amazed that I gave it away - must have been making room for paper towel tubes or empty boxes!

By the way, I love the silent H in (H)Isak's name!

Kat said...

My 16 year old was very disappointed when she found out that I had given away my old typewriter . . . Apparently, old manual typewriters are all the rage for this group of kids that have grown up with computers, and cell phones, and game boys, and . . . She's also rediscovered the record player :)