Written words aren't all pretty

Sunday, June 8, 2003

There's a lot to be said for the written word, but kids are saying more with computer keyboard strokes these days rather than the loops and curves of cursive writing.

Handwriting experts fear the popularity of e-mail and other electronic communication could erase cursive writing within decades.

In many classrooms across the nation, students are moving away from cursive.

Still, good penmanship isn't lost on everyone.

Nabeel Khaliq, an 11-year-old from Ontario, Canada, took first place in his age category in the 2002 World Handwriting Contest sponsored by the Albany, N.Y.-based Handwriting for Humanity Club.

"I write all of my rough drafts by hand," he told reporters recently.

But the National Telecommunications and Information Administration says 90 percent of Americans between the ages of 5 and 17 use computers.

Michael Sull, a 54-year-old Kansas artist says today's third graders haven't developed proper handwriting skills.

The former president of the International Association of Master Penmen says keyboards, joysticks and cell phone touch pads have ruined kids' ability to hold a pencil properly or even write legibly.

But before we turn this into a horror story, let's remember that poor penmanship isn't new.

We all have relatives whose Christmas letters resembled Sanskrit and required major deciphering around the supper table.

I've had bad penmanship all my life except maybe when I was printing big letters in kindergarten.

My cursive writing resembles chicken scratches.

My reporter's notebooks are full of notes that only I can read. "How can you read that?" people will say when they observe me hurriedly jotting down their remarks for posterity.

I just smile and tell them that I never learned shorthand.

Poor penmanship can be a plus on essay tests. Bad handwriting can go a long way toward covering up the fact that you don't have a clue how to answer those questions.

Doctors have made an art of poor penmanship. No self-respecting doctor ever wants a patient to be able to read the prescription. That's why there are pharmacists, highly trained individuals who have studied poor penmanship and learned how to tell one badly written dosage from another.

I might have had a career in medicine except that I learned how to type. That allowed me to pursue a journalism career.

And thanks to America's love of computers, there's no need to suffer through another misunderstood communication between the office manager and the factory supervisory.

When it comes to the hand written word, some people's writing is worse than others.

Becca, my fifth grader, constantly chastises me for my poor penmanship. Even my wife has trouble telling if she's reading a grocery list or a love letter.

Of course, everyone in my family has better handwriting than I do. Even our dog, Cassie, probably has better scribble skills.

Doom-and-gloom types bemoan the loss of good penmanship. But they shouldn't worry.

Most of us don't live in a neatly lined world. Our letters get a little rough around the edges.

That's life, however it is scribbled down.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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