Your Nostalgia Isn’t Helping Me Learn
Michael Oman-Reagan
97

I didn’t learn until adulthood why I couldn’t take notes in class

I went to high school in the 1980s, and several classes required notes to be handed in at the end of the term. I invariably copied them from someone, because I found that I literally could NOT learn if I was trying to write. What came out was illegible, and what was left in my brain was worse.

I did better if I took no notes at all, listened carefully, asked questions, and then got notes from someone with better handwriting later. I’m ridiculously bright, it was endlessly frustrating to my teachers and to me that note-taking was so disastrous for me.

I got a laptop in 2004, and in 2006 took a college class with it… and discovered I could take notes as fast as the prof could talk. I aced the class. My notes were beautiful… on a laptop.

You see, typing is associative for me. I can do it without thinking, almost as fast as I can talk, and more coherently. I organize my thoughts best through text: my first paper done in a word processor was done sometime between 1982 and 1984, and I’ve always preferred typing.

Writing? Has always been a nightmare. Completely cognitive, it requires 100% of my attention. Why? I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. My fingers bend backwards. At random. Especially while holding a pen. And writing HURTS. Hand cramps almost immediately. It’s hard to organize thoughts when you are trying to keep your fingers supporting the pen muscularly rather than via the natural support system most people seem to have for their less-limber fingers. Because it’s random, and because my muscles get fatigued, my handwriting can change mid-word, it shakes, it wanders, it never, never matured, though I can, in a pinch, toss out 500 words or so without losing all legibility. I saved that for tests. They’d have gotten 1000 words if I could have typed them.

I’m sure handwriting is good for a lot of people. It’s excruciating for me. My retention is fantastic, because it had to be. And better without notes, if the teacher is interesting.

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