The write stuff: We're a bunch of scribblers

January 23, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

It's National Handwriting Day. Do you know where your penmanship has gone?

If you're like most of us, those precise t's and p's and capital Q's you learned in grammar school disappeared years ago, replaced by a scrawl even you can hardly decipher some days.

"It's pathetic, really," said Irene Richardson, who with her husband, Fred, runs the International Association of Master Penmen and Teachers of Handwriting, based in Ottawa, Ontario.

The Richardsons, both former penmanship teachers who wore out hundreds of red pens before retiring in the '70s, claim the problem lies primarily with school curriculum changes in the past three decades.

These changes have reduced the time and importance given to penmanship, spelling and other banes of childhood.

The result is that it's not only physicians who can't write legibly these days, but lawyers and teachers and secretaries, too.

And don't blame the widespread use of computers. Typewriters, their early cousins, were invented 25 years before the advent of modern American penmanship, which reached its zenith in the '20s, according to the couple.

All this scribbling doesn't bode well for the future of the country, adds Irene Richardson, who tracks the rise and fall of societies according to their handwriting ability.

The Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Roman empire, the British empire and even the United States all were the tops in handwriting when they were the world's powerhouses, she says.

Today, however, top penmanship marks go elsewhere.

"Now it's the Japanese," she said.

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