In sixth grade I was forced to miss at least a week’s worth of recess periods. I stayed in the classroom, while outside, my classmates were frolicking.

What’s worse, I hadn’t even committed a detention-deserving act. Not even a worthwhile classroom misdemeanor, like passing a note to a cute girl.

But actually, I would be embarrassed to pass a note to anyone because it would probably be unreadable.

Alas, that’s why I was missing the great outdoors. I was in remedial cursive-writing class.

There were a half dozen of us “illegibles” assembled by Mrs. F, based on classroom writing samples that had the clarity of filled prescription pads. The class was terribly unstimulating as we had to attempt to copy Mrs. F’s perfect, chalk-gliding script on the blackboard onto our own cursive workbooks.

My pencil, instead of gliding, hesitated between loops and curves, producing poorly shaped cousins of Mrs. F’s letters. My preference would have been to doodle in my workbook, but Mrs. F came around to inspect our efforts.

Heading into college, I felt I had been able to limit the academic damage of my bad cursive handwriting, ignoring the oncoming 20-page collegiate term paper. Thus, I left my Olivetti portable typewriter behind when leaving for school. Plus, my typing speed, if you include words off for mistakes, was about 0 per minute.

Of course, I found early on that there were students who would type papers for you, but I foreswore this chance to give my gnarled submissions a facelift until one day in my junior year.

The incentive for this positive step was my well-thought-out term paper for a bio class on evolution. I didn’t want to jeopardize 50% of my grade because my prof confused my written “survival of the fittest” for “survival of the fattest,” etc. — so I needed a typist. Luckily, I hired a friend to type it who had the patience to work with my cursive draft.

A couple of weeks later, I picked up a B+ on my evolution paper, my highest term-paper grade. I certainly thanked my typist with the enthusiasm of an Oscar acceptance speech. It was an academic crutch to be sure, but as a grade booster, my legibility gain rivaled my frat’s copies of old exams.

But I couldn’t escape my problematical penmanship during final exam week.

The two challenges in filling up perhaps two blue books were formatting my answers in my head and then formatting the writing of the answers legibly under an intimidating time constraint. I had to write as fast as I could, exacerbating the unreadability of my test answers.

But I would hand in my final exam, invoking my ongoing rationalization that professors would not mark me down for filling two books with scrawl. They would decipher the keys words of my solid arguments, and I would be OK.

Once I graduated college, my cursive ceased to be my most worrisome elementary school subject, as it was no longer involved in high-leverage situations. It has, though, slowed down my creative writing process, as I like to write first-draft-like notes for an essay in a mixture of cursive and print lettering, which later makes rereading these notes difficult.

This was also a minor problem in college, as I would write notes in class, only to struggle to read them at exam time.

One day on the internet, I found out that in 2018 academia, I would qualify for a personal scribe to take notes for me in class.

This pinch-writer accommodation was based on my having a learning disability. I wasn’t diagnosed with this LD until 2000, 37 years after Mrs. F’s class.

On learning this, I cut myself some slack, as my poor penmanship was much more congenital than careless, but the modern accommodations for poor handwriting bothered me. That I would be scribe-eligible today meant that experts believed compromised handwriting could compromise grades.

I have wondered since if maybe I was too optimistic back in college about my handwriting obscuring my obviously brilliant exam answers.

I surmised that in my small college, without teaching assistants, my history and government profs had, say, 200 or so blue books to read at finals times. Thus, perhaps out of waning stamina, they gave up trying to figure out my answers, leading to a lower grade.

I was very concerned when I entered college that my lack of high school math mastery would be my Achilles heel, but now I’m wondering if my biggest weakness was in fact my poor cursive, an elementary school skill.

Mrs. F would have probably agreed.


Bill Levine is a retired IT professional and active freelance writer. Bill aspires to be a humorist because it is easier to be pithy than funny. He may be reached at

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