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Normally, I write blogs to offer advice to parents. This time, I am writing to ask your opinion. Recently, I received a number of documents signed by my students. I had not asked them to also print their name below their signature, and this turned out to be a huge mistake. I could not identify who had signed each document, because their signatures (except for one) were completely illegible. This led me to do some research on the current legal advice about signatures.
Court cases related to petitions have ruled that the signatures on them were invalid because they were not legible. When these cases were appealed to higher courts, though, the higher courts always ruled that a person’s signature does not need to be legible to be valid. Of course, for petitions and other election-related signatures, this might be problematic. A person must be able to prove who they are, and that the scribble on the page belongs to them. Technically, by law, a person’s signature can be totally illegible, misspelled, a single letter, or pretty much whatever a person chooses it to be. It does need to be consistent, though—the signature has to be recognizable as belonging to the person.
According to Medicare rules, a person’s signature needs to be legible. If you continue reading their rules, however, there are ways to attest that an illegible signature belongs to you. Some claim that physicians purposely write illegibly to prevent someone from copying their signature to obtain prescriptions illegally. The doctors actually want the pharmacy to call them to confirm their signature.
Here is my question. Do you think it matters? Do I need to teach my students to write their signature so I can read it? Do you think my students have illegible signatures because they want to “make a statement” with their signature? Or is this just a part of a greater issue—they cannot write anything legibly? (I rarely see their handwriting, because I require that everything be word processed.) Should we still be teaching cursive handwriting in school? Tell me what you think!
For an interesting discussion on the history of signatures and how significant (or insignificant) they are today, read The Great American Signature Fades Away.