Being a social science major, I am required to write countless essays and papers for school. Believe me, I am not complaining. I love writing, both for fun and for the sake of being productive. But, as the result of some kind of cosmic joke, I have been cursed with some of the worst, chicken-scratch handwriting the earth has ever seen. When I write on paper, my ideas are instantly lost in a giant mess of scribbles, thereby forcing the reader to wrack their brain to decipher what I was trying to say. Many times I have lent my class notes to a friend, only to find them asking, “Um, what language is this written in?” While this can obviously be a real problem, sometimes there is a bright side.
I consider myself lucky to be born into an era like this. People who suffer from bad handwriting like me have the fortune of being able to use a computer. At this very moment, I am using the keyboard of a computer to bring my thoughts into existence. Just a few decades earlier, using a computer would be something only seen in a science-fiction story. A little over a century ago I wouldn’t even have had access to a typewriter, a piece of technology that we view as largely archaic and obsolete today. Though in my life most of my writing has been aided by the use of technology, there is still one part of academia that has never changed: old fashioned, pen-to-paper written tests.
Before we go any further, you might be thinking that I am complaining about something totally fixable. You might be asking, why can’t I just write neater? Maybe I could use one of those kindergarten writing worksheets to beef up my penmanship, and draw the letter “G” a thousand times until I get it right. Okay, sure, if I take my time and give every single letter my full, undivided attention, I can write pretty well. But if I don’t have the luxury of time — say, a three-hour final that counts for 50% of my grade — I’ll be focusing most of my attention on the course material, and in the process simply doing my best to make my essay legible. If I truly try my hardest to write neatly, I’ll only get a few pages in, and end up failing the test for lack of content, when in actuality I really did know all the material.
And it’s not just handwriting. In just about every way, writing in a blue book is vastly inferior to typing on a computer. There have been many times when I was in the middle of a final, double-checking my sentences, only to read them over and find that I accidently omitted one necessary word. If it were on a computer, I could easily place the cursor in the sentence and type in the word, spending maybe two seconds of my time. On paper, I have to messily cram the missing word in — or worse, cross out the entire sentence and start over again, wasting time that could otherwise be used in crafting the content of my essay.
I believe that our schools, both public and higher education, need to utilize computers when it comes to writing. It’s not a ridiculous thought, as countries like Japan have taken the reins on implementing technology into their classrooms. However, as with everything, there are limitations. I completely understand that our education budget is strained as it is and there might be other things that are more deserving of our focus. Furthermore, I see why we couldn’t just let students bring in their own computer to an exam — it would be far too easy to cheat. However, all this shouldn’t dissuade us. When it comes to writing, especially during test time, we should let every student have a voice. Just because someone writes like a six-year-old, it shouldn’t impede how they do in school. What should matter is what the person is saying, not how (awfully) they may write it.
Jay Grafft originally wrote this piece by hand which was, for obvious reasons, problematic.