When I was in elementary school, I was a good student in most subjects.  One particular subject always tripped me up – penmanship.  We were on the S/U (satisfactory / unsatisfactory) scale, and I received a grade of U- each term.  In hindsight, I wonder if my teacher comprehended the actual meaning of the word unsatisfactory …

My mom urged me to work on my penmanship, which was truly atrocious.  I commented that I’d just do everything on computers in the future, and that handwriting would be unimportant.

It turns out that I was actually correct.  My handwriting was never an impediment in my college years, and most of the people I have worked with over the past 13 years have no idea how lousy my handwriting is – because all of our communication has been verbal or via email.  My typed documents are just as neat as the next person’s – I’m not Pig Pen.  In the time before laptops, someone glanced at my meeting notes and asked if I could read my own writing when it was “cold”. 

When I am forced to take pen in hand, I almost always print – in order to achieve some level of legibility.  The only time I use cursive is to sign my name or write checks.  Until recently, I always took caution to sign credit cards as neatly as possible.  The I realized that this might cause a problem if a merchant decided that my normal signature didn’t match the one on my card.  Now I simply use my regular scribble when I sign a card.

Over the years, my signature has slowly lost its luster.  The six characters in my last name were once somewhat distinguishable.  This is no longer the case – you see the first letter and then a ragged line for the rest – and even the ragged line is losing definition and will eventually become a straight line.  My first name is a bit better, but not by much.  Perhaps the most defined letter in my entire signature is my middle initial.

It’s not all bad, of course.  If I ever wanted to pass myself off as a doctor, I’d have a fighting chance.  I always joke that I have the writing down, I just need the medical school.  Like many bad writers, I also have the ability to decipher the code of other bad writers.  When we come under attack from Canada, the ability to transmit messages via poor handwriting will be critical to the defense of the nation (assuming that we are able to first identify and eliminate Canadians with poor writing skills).

There’s actually a serious question hiding behind the facade of my jokes.  Have we reached a point where we can safely ignore penmanship – and cease further instruction on the subject?  The need for the skill is on the decline – will the need eventually die out completely?