OTTAWA — Patti Moran used to get props for her penmanship. Often, in fact.
But now, “I write longhand so seldom that my hand seems to have ‘lost its mojo’ so to speak, and I make frequent errors, which I end up scratching out or trying to fix,” said Moran from Ottawa.
So much so, “a page of my handwriting these days looks more like a minefield than a meadow.”
She isn’t alone.
The relevance of handwriting in the digital era is dwindling.
Concern over the phasing out of handwriting prompted North Carolina Congresswoman Pat Hurley to draft the Back to Basics bill mandating cursive be taught in all elementary schools.
It passed unanimously in April.
Back in Ottawa, earning the right to use a pen in class may no longer have the same thrill as it did 20 years ago, but handwriting is still taught in elementary schools, although it isn’t mandatory under the province’s curriculum guidelines.
“It’s not that computers have replaced pencils or pens,” said the Ottawa Catholic School Board’s superintendent of student success Simone Oliver.
“It’s just that if we look at any of us in our work … so many of us are using computers, and those types of skills, definitely, are part of what is included but we still do have handwriting in schools as well.”
In public schools, while different forms of communication “are necessary and encouraged, there isn’t a specific mandatory allotment for say, printing versus cursive writing versus you know, electronic tools of communication,” said Ottawa District School Board superintendent of curriculum Pino Buffone.
Traditionally, cursive has been taught during late primary, early junior years.
Educators have moved away from the theory “all of the evidence of learning is captured in a notebook,” said Oliver.
Moran, 53, is a graphic artist who primarily uses technology and said she believes we’d be losing “something important” if we give up on handwritten communication.
“For one thing, it would exclude anyone who hasn’t got the resources to purchase the devices with which to communicate digitally,” she said.
“For another, it’s just nice to get a hand-written note. It’s personal. It’s intimate. It shows the person cares.”
Buffone said educators have had “wonderful conversations with students about how cursive writing not only builds fine motor skills … but also, it’s a great connection across generations. Writing a letter in cursive writing to a grandparent is a wonderful form of communication.”
Pharmacists aren’t the only ones paid to decipher chicken scratch.
A team of postal workers in Toronto’s undeliverable mail office are tasked with decoding cryptic handwriting each day.
“They have people there who just do that, who look to find addresses and make the process work, in terms of getting it where it’s destined to go, but sometimes we just can’t,” said Canada Post spokesman John Caines.
“If we can’t read it and the machines can’t read it, then obviously, we can’t deliver it.”
Despite employees’ best efforts, “it would be destroyed, finally,” said Caines.
“That’s the ultimate last resort.”
Penmanship is subjective, said Caines.
“I have trouble reading my own handwriting, and so there’s other people’s I can’t read at all, so some people are good at reading other people’s handwriting, some aren’t,” he said.
– Kelly Roche