Blotting your copybook

That tweet from Gary Stager reminded me of this scene:

Blotting your copybook used to be more than a figure of speech. It was, for some, a frightening everyday reality of life in school. This scene fromThe 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups, 1959), written and directed by Francois Truffaut, resonates with me. Antoine Doinel’s teacher – “Sourpuss” is a harsh disciplinarian – basically an unimaginative bully.

Taking dictation, keeping up, making mistakes, trying to cover up, failing behind. And using that dip-in pen with ink from the inkwell embedded in the desk. Childhood nightmare in the making.

There are many terrific school scenes in The 400 Blows ( Les Quatre Cents Coups directed by François Truffaut 1959.) The recipient of the “blows”, Antoine Doinel, suffers mightily from the injustice meted out by Sourpuss. The film portrays so many poignant disconnects and misunderstandings between adults and the reality of children’s perceptions, lives and experience.

Gary’s tweet and this post and this post led to some interesting commentary on the subject of the move away from teaching cursive and why it’s not going to go  away quietly just yet at least.  I won’t mourn that passing either but there is something very personal about the handwritten. Looking back at old  notes taken in class, at diary entries and essays I know immediately that I wrote them. All that emphasis on neatness over content and time spent on practice created a very indifferent style*.  But one that is distinctly mine.

* (One teacher who lamented that he could not read my work said it was the work of a mad spider.)



  1. Dear Josie,

    I love the video about the teacher and the cursive writing. The video says a lot for me because like you, I don’t have good penmanship. Also when I write I hold a pencil really weirdly. I hope you will do more blogs for the school. If you are doing a new blog for the school I wish you would do more about Lower School. Have fun with your blog and please keep writing. If you are reading this I would love if you would go to my class blog. Here is the link

    • admin:

      Hi Samantha:
      That scene is from one of my all time favorite films. Poor Antoine Doinel is misunderstood by everyone and has to run away from home and run away from school. And those pens! Aaargh! Scratch, scratch, blot, blot. It’s a wonder I ever learned to write at all. Maybe you can contribute to this blog and help keep it interesting and ever more interesting.
      I will definitely be reading and commenting on your blog.

  2. Cally:

    Dear Josie:
    I really enjoyed your posts. I think your blog talked a lot about about academic achievements in the world of kids like me. I particularly liked the mini french film. I liked the kid’s facial expression. I could feel the pressure just like him. Plus the French accent made it so you didn’t know what the heck they were saying unless you spoke French. I am interested in the point you brought up about a common misunderstanding between student and teacher. That’s happened to me before. You feel very lost, then you end up figuring it out. You should definitely read our blog.
    Keep posting,
    6th grade

  3. Josie:

    Cally – That video clip is from one of my all-time favorite movies. The main character Antoine Doinel is misunderstand and mistreated by almost everyone. The school scenes remind anyone who has ever been misunderstood and afraid in school what it was like to experience that daily misery. When I was in sixth grade we had to write with those scratchy pens that you had to dip in the little ink wells at the top of the desk.

    I will definitely be reading and commenting on your blog.

  4. Dear Josie, September, 2011
    I love your blog and all the information on it. I especially like the funny video about a boy in school a long time ago. The story on Mr. Feynman who loved psychics fit well on the blog. Then one day he lost interest in it. He went to a restaurant and saw a waiter spinning a plate in the air. He started playing with the psychics of it. He then wrote a book about it and got a noble prize for it. Good job on a great blog – Grace

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