Life, Weirdness

The Myth of Good Handwriting

I have come to the conclusion that the importance of good handwriting is one of the biggest lies we were taught in school.

Most of it boils down to the fact that the art of writing by hand is no longer a broadcast medium, nor a medium of exchange. In the real world, that is. In schools, or at least in most schools around most parts of the world, pen on paper and chalk on blackboard is still the default medium of information exchange. It makes sense that children are trained to write down words in a uniform legible script, and all idiosyncrasies and personal quirks of writing have to be stifled, ironed and rinsed from their system. After all, they have to write examination papers, which have to be checked and corrected by time-constrained examiners, and you do not want illegibility getting in the way of that. Obviously, nobody tells the kids that the time and effort they put into getting their cursive writing right makes absolutely no difference outside of exams. Oh, and do not sidestep the fact that teachers themselves have fairly atrocious chalk-on-board handwriting.

I am not aware of how much good hand-writing matters in schools right now, but I can make an enlightened guess things are exactly the same as they were 20-25 years ago.

Doctor-prescription jokes aside, does handwriting matter any more after you get out of your academic life? Writing has already been superseded by typing, which itself is on its way out. Sure, you take notes during a meeting, which in all likelihood you will glance at once or twice, and maybe capture it in a more permanent format. No one will come to you and remark on the aesthetics of your handwriting or the deficiencies in your personality because you were not legible enough when taking notes. You sit down and write a letter by hand, to make it more personal. But why does good handwriting matter in that act? Isn’t the very effort of taking time out to write the letter reason enough for the receiver to feel good about the act? I cannot think of a situation where they would complain about bad handwriting – sure, it can be hard to read, but it is you, not an artificial, homogenized hand. (If they do complain, I suggest that you type it out next time, and add a signature at the end. Make sure you say “Yours faithfully” too, just to rub it in.)

The more I think about it, and the more I discuss it – on Twitter, yeah, where civil discussion and clear exchange of ideas is possible, despite what you may think – the more I think that the myth of “good handwriting” is just something that is propagated through memetic traditions prevelant in India. Like the music of Pink Floyd or the sayings of MK Gandhi,  where a combination of nostalgia and personal belief that something is “important” or “good” stiffs any attempt to rationally understand why it is so, or look at alternatives. “It helps”, one may say, but it is hard to explain how good handwriting helps. “First impressions.” Really? Like you will appreciate a person better after you have seen the way he writes down – what exactly? Signing a check? A signature is meant to be unique, not aesthetically pleasing. It is highly unlikely that people besides the ones closest to you will ever get to see what your hand-writing looks like, and as long as your handwriting is not brazenly illegible, there should be no problem at all. Pretty handwriting may impress someone, but if you try to figure out why they are impressed by it, it will probably be because your handwriting is prettier than theirs. Or so they think.

You could also point out about the importance of graphology, the science of handwriting analysis and people interpreting your personality (especially in organizations, as a means of identifying character traits. However, I have never really seen any organizations actually resort to graphology to judge potential candidates). But there again, the traits in your hand-writing, the way they are, represent you as an individual. “Good” or “bad”? Does not matter.

Let it be noted, however, that I am not talking about calligraphy. Which is an art that needs to be sustained and encouraged. Calligraphy is something that is to be evaluated purely from an aesthetic perspective (after all, it is ‘beauty in writing’) and I do not need to go into how much modern typography revolves around it.

I also pondered about the complete lie that is the concept of participation certificates, but that does not need any explaining. At all.

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3 thoughts on “The Myth of Good Handwriting

  1. Jeni says:

    Hmmm …I think handwriting is like beauty in general. It’s aesthetics. Nobody likes an ugly face and handwriting — even though it is functional — reflects the person who is writing. So, handwriting becomes part of the beauty of the person, therefore it becomes rather important. And if kids need to write in school, why not go the extra mile to make it pretty?

    • Thanks for the comment, Jeni. :)

      Completely agree with the aesthetics part. But what I object to is saying that the aesthetics will be responsible for “something good later in life”. To use your ugly face analogy, it’s like telling a kid to learn to be pretty just because it will be good when they grow up.

      >And if kids need to write in school, why not >go the extra mile to make it pretty?
      Because a lot of time is wasted in doing this, time that can be spent in teaching them something more productive.

  2. Hiccup says:

    I agree that Indian schools leave no stone un-turned in trying to force their kids to make their hand writing better. This reminded me of what I went through school, though my handwriting was fairly decipherable – at least I could read it. Till 9th, there wasn’t much of an acknowledgement of hand writing. Kids either wrote like doctors or like girls – a common stereotype which still exists. Once we got to 10th and the pressure of ICSE kicked in, the first pep talk about the impending disaster was on one single thing: hand writing improvement. The reasoning behind this pep talk, which directly resulted in students buying those 5 lined books that we used to learn cursive hand writing was this: Everyone is going to mug up from those same books, same tuition notes and “puke the same bullshit” out in the exam. Thus, your handwriting is the only thing that would differentiate you from the rest. That forced a lot of people to mend their handwriting in the best possible way in the shortest possible period. That’s that. I wish they changed the system into something different. Rather than practicing kids writing on their exercise books, writing on board would make a lot of sense. If one tries to emulate the same hand-writing that one writes in a book with ease on a board, chances are you will be thrown out of the school as no one ever understood or figure out any visible letters on the board.

    Quite recently I started writing letters, and this is exactly how I felt: http://theoatmeal.com/blog/handwriting

    Someday there won’t be any pencils/pen or any of those cursive hand-writing practice book. And a few decades later, letters with decipherable hand writing would be a work of art.

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