The cursive menace

Three years ago, I joined Bob in criticizing the practice of teaching cursive writing in schools. At the time, I condemned cursive for being illegible, but it didn’t occur to me that it can actually kill people. However, in one particular context — the handwriting of doctors — sloppy handwriting can cause prescriptions to be filled incorrectly. The result could be harmful or even fatal. Recently, the state of Washington addressed this issue by passing a law that forbids physicians from using cursive writing in prescriptions. On prescription slips in the state of Washington, cursive is now illegal.
Some people are already making fun of the new law. On the blog of the libertarian Cato Institute, Michael Cannon calls it “really, really dumb.” Blogger Pejman Yousefzadeh asks, “Doesn’t government have more important things to worry about than this?” But despite my normally libertarian leanings, I approve of this law. In fact, I say it doesn’t go far enough.
Medical mistakes can kill people. If doctors’ sloppy handwriting leads to such mistakes, it’s inexcusable for them to continue writing that way. The medical profession should have solved this problem on its own, but if doctors are not willing to do so, it’s reasonable for governments to step in. In an ideal free-market economy, this would not be necessary, but health care is heavily regulated in our society and thus largely insulated from market forces. If our governments are going to regulate doctors, requiring them to write clearly is a valid part of that. Besides, governments created this problem in the first place by teaching cursive writing in public schools. It’s only fitting that they should have to solve it.
So Washington’s new law is a good idea. But why does it only apply to prescriptions? The harm caused by doctors’ sloppy handwriting is not limited to prescription slips. It also occurs when their treatment instructions are illegible, leading to medical mistakes that can be a deadly as an incorrect prescription. This law should have prohibited doctors from using cursive for any written instructions, not just prescriptions.
Medical schools should be teaching a handwriting class — one that concentrates on clear, legible printing. If doctors write illegible instructions that lead to harmful treatment mistakes, that should be grounds for a malpractice suit.
Now, can we get the public schools to drop cursive writing from their curriculum and use the class time to teach something useful?

One thought on “The cursive menace

  1. You know, I began practicing the Old English alphbaet (using nibs categorized as brush ) when I was in grade school. Now I can knock it out anywhere-with calligraphy nibs, felt tip calligraphy markers or with a regular pen. Your down stroke technique is basically how I fake it too when my tool lacks a flat edge.Well, I wanted to share this. All calligraphy tools are not created equal. Not by a long shot. I have never met a self contained, cartridge or ink well draw, instrument that was worth a darn. Cost a fortune and never work for me. When I was a girl, I collected a lot of supplies from all over. (There used to be stationers.) Now I buy nips from my art supply store, and one at a time.So consider:Few calligraphers get it right all of the time.andthe most important thing for doing calligraphy: , good pen tipthe most important thing for doing professional calligraphy: extra blanks

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