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The Education of Lefthanded Children

The difficulties facing left-handed children are not as bad as they used to be, but they are still more serious than most people realize.  While we now accept left-handers in our schools without forcing them to become right-handed, we still don’t do enough to help them learn basic skills and overcome the obstacles they face.  Many left-handed children become lost in schools that are geared toward teaching right-handers.  With a more difficult time getting a good education, left-handers are less likely to grow up to become happy, healthy, productive members of society.

Myths about left-handers throughout history have generally been negative ones.  Left-handers were thought to be less coordinate and less educated, and more likely to become criminals, delinquents, or social deviates.  These myths are the main reason that most left-handers were forced to become right-handed, and still are being forced in many parts of the world.  And even in places where they are not actively being forced, there is still a lot of gentle persuasion going on.   Every little bit of resistance to a child’s hand preference stifles their development and helps turn these myths into reality.

The problems facing left-handed children are often caused by their parents and other family members or caretakers before they start school.  Each time they are told that they are using the wrong hand, and every little effort to make them use their right hand, causes damage to their self-confidence and their ability to learn.  Because of the mixed signals they get during their first five years, many left-handed children are less advanced, in their physical and emotional development, for the start of school than the average right-handed child might be.

Among the many things that left-handers have a difficult time with are learning to write, learning to use scissors and other hand tools, and learning various crafts, hobbies and sports activities.  Some might also have trouble getting along with other children, especially if those other children make fun of them for being different.  While some left-handers adjust and adapt more easily, many others struggle for the rest of their lives.  Sometimes it is the right-handed instructors and instructions that confuse left-handers, while other times it is the right-handed equipment that confounds them.

Handwriting is more difficult for left-handers to learn for many reasons…starting with the left-to-right direction and the fact that they drag their hand across what they have just written.  That, plus the right-handed school desks that are still used in some schools, and spiral notebooks and three ring binders that get in their way, causes left-handers to twist and turn into some very uncomfortable positions.  Quite often their handwriting, both printing and cursive writing, is slow and sloppy, and they don’t like writing on the blackboard.  They get to a point where they only write when they have to, which affects their homework assignments, and when it comes times to take notes in lecture classes they may try to commit too much to memory rather than writing things down.

Some schools do a good job of providing left-handed scissors for all of the left-handers who need them, while others do not.  Scissors are often the first hand tool that a child learns to use, and if they don’t learn to use them properly and feel comfortable with them, they may not enjoy or be very good at arts and crafts projects.  That lack of skill and confidence with scissors may lead to a lack of skill and confidence with other hand tools, thus affecting their grades and their interest in shop classes.

The early resistance that left-handed children might face to their hand preference might make them less coordinated and less confident on the playground and in gym classes.  Even basic skills that are done with both hands, or with both feet, are usually taught with the right side leading and the left side following, and this causes confusion for a left-handed child.  When children first learn to play basketball, the dribbling drills and the layup drills are usually taught with the right hand.  Throwing a ball, whether it is a baseball or a football, is usually taught right-handed and left-handers rarely see a good example that they can follow.  The most talented left-handers can overcome these backwards instructions, but the average left-hander has a difficult time demonstrating and developing their skills.

There has been much discussion about the learning process and the difference between “right-brain” dominant and “left-brain” dominant children.  There is some merit to the study of neurology and the workings of the brain, but there may be way too much effort to analyze left-handers and to stereotype them.  While left-handers are supposed to be more creative than right-handers, not all left-handers become great artists or architects.  Not all of them are good in Math Classes, and not all of them are bad at English Classes.  Rather than trying to enforce these stereotypes, schools need to do a better job of teaching basic skills to left-handed children, helping to develop their self-confidence, and giving them an opportunity to find their strengths and interests so they can achieve their potential.

There are reports of high numbers of left-handed students in advanced placement classes and among those who would be considered gifted students.  There are also many reports of high numbers of left-handers in remedial classes and among those with learning disabilities, and the dropout rate for left-handers is higher than for right-handed students.  These conflicting reports leave many people confused, wondering how these two conflicting sides of the story can both be true. 

Continued study of the difference between those who are right brain dominant and those who are left brain dominant may eventually explain this phenomenon, but we believe that scientists may be digging too deep and ignoring a much more obvious explanation.  The challenges that left-handers face makes it less likely for them to be average, and those who are stifled and discouraged suffer the consequences and fall behind.  Those who are encouraged to develop their skills and their confidence are better off because of the challenges they face.  Being left-handed in a right-handed world (or in a right-handed school) can be very difficult, but parents and teachers can make a difference.