Lefty Prejudice

In Lewis Carroll’s book, Thru the Looking Glass, Alice (who previously visited Wonderland) finds herself in a world in which everything is backwards. Objects that had been on her right side are now located to the left. Doors that opened inward now open outward. When she wants to move to the left, Alice finds her body moving to the right.

As imaginative and far-fetched as Alice’s adventures may seem, they are a reality for almost 13% of the world’s population: left-handed people. To the average lefty, living in a predominantly right-handed world is much like taking up full-time residence in Alice’s looking glass. To us, everything IS backwards. And while we southpaws have adapted to our very own bizarro-world, we often feel the strain of living in a world that is not designed for us. Laws that require businesses and schools to offer equal opportunities to everyone—regardless of race, creed, appearance, sexual orientation, political leaning, or physical ability—do not apply to left-handedness. And that is why I feel that left-handed people are discriminated against in the one place that should be the least biased and the most tolerant of diversity: schools.

The most obvious element of left-handed discrimination in schools is seating. In most classrooms, desks are designed for the right-handed writer, with an arm rest for the right elbow, and nothing but air for the left. Although there are some left-handed desks available, the number of lefty students usually outnumbers the desks, and these desks are typically placed in the back of the room, where the student can write just fine, but he can’t hear or see very well. This trade-off is unacceptable, and can often affect the student's grades--and possibly his behavior. In addition, because the left arm is not offered the same support as the right arm, a left-handed student is forced to contort his entire body into an awkward and uncomfortable position, which, according to the Handedness Research Institute, may make him susceptible to back, neck and shoulder pain. Some students have complained of muscle spasms, severe lower back pain, and carpal-tunnel syndrome, all attributed to the forced usage of right-biased desks.

Because of all this twisting around, just so they can write comfortably, many students have been unfairly accused of cheating. Since a student has turned his body to the right, it does in fact look as though he is trying to see his neighbor’s paper; however, the fault most likely lies not with the student, but with his desk.

Studies have shown that the “inefficient and awkward writing position” forced upon left-handed students may lead to slower handwriting. This can be a huge drawback during timed tests, and especially during tests that can make or break a student’s future, such as the ACT or SAT. One student said, “…lefties are disadvantaged … on tests …which use multiple choice booklets. You have to twist your arms around each other to line up the questions (on the left) with the answers (on the right). You definitely lose time doing this—and in most of these tests time is important.” Another student is quoted as saying, “I am a lefty, and … a very good student. However, on timed tests I have always been running against the clock and been less able to produce an amount of written material in comparison to my right-handed schoolmates…we are handicapped on very tightly timed tests …”

The idea that students are suffering physically, and that some students may lose potential scholarships simply because their seating is right-biased should be repugnant and repulsive to any person who considers himself to be fair and undiscriminating. Yet day after day, schools—from kindergartens to colleges—continue to provide seating which effectively handicaps thirteen percent of their students.

Schools can also handicap the lefthanded student mentally. This is not to say that the lefty is mentally inferior, because I know from personal experience that that is totally untrue. However, a lefty could easily develop a sort of inferiority complex based simply upon the placement of everyday objects within the school. By my own observations, these are things that are designed by and for righthanded people:

Spiral notebooks
Three-ring binders
Pencil sharpeners

Those are just the obvious; when I really looked around I noticed that my own teacher’s desk has all its drawers on the right side. My filing cabinets are designed to be opened by my right hand. The power buttons on my television, vcr, and remote controls are all on the right side. When I walk in the door, the light switch is on the right. I want a diet sprite; I put my money into the machine on the right side. I want to make a copy—all the buttons are located on the right. I want to cut some construction paper in half; if I use my left hand, I’d cut off my right arm. In the bathroom, the toilet paper dispenser is on the right, and the handle for the paper towel dispenser is on the right. If I ever used my overhead projector, I’d be hard pressed to write on a transparency, since the thing that projects onto the screen is on the left, and hey! That’s where my hand is when I want to write! I input grades on a computer with the number keypad on the right … I sure hope I don’t mess up, since I am typing with my nondominant hand.

These are things just in the school building … I could add thousands of everyday items in my home, my car, and in the world at large that disadvantage the left-handed person.

So how does this cause a lefty to feel inferior? Because it sends a clear message to the left-handed community as a whole: you’re different. You’re weird. There’s something wrong with YOU.

These are just implicit messages; some people actually say these words out loud. How many times have I been asked, “How can you write like that?” How many times have I been told, “You have good handwriting … for a left-hander.” That’s just the tip of the iceburg:
For years, students were punished if they so much as picked up a pencil with their left hands. Michael Salazar, at www.ac2w.com, wrote that his teacher would hit him in the head with a dictionary if he used his left hand. She told him that left-handers were connected with Satan. KmG wrote that her teacher told her left handers grew up to be communists. One mother wrote that her son’s teacher forced him to write with his right hand, and his speech pathologist now cites that event as contributing to his stuttering. Elizabeth Richardson, the mother of a left-handed son, said that her son’s teacher credited her son’s writing and comprehension problems with inattentiveness and laziness. These words inflict emotional damage. In a survey taken on AnythingLeft-Handed, 85% of those surveyed said they considered themselves to be more awkward and clumsy than average. 71% percent said they had experienced difficulties in school related to their left-handedness, and 76% said that they did not receive help from teachers to alleviate these difficulties. In fact, Kathy from New Hampshire stated that her teachers would often say, “I don’t know how to teach you. You’re left-handed. Just do the best you can.” In the 1940’s Abram Blau, a psychiatrist, wrote in his book The master hand; a study of the origin and meaning of right and left sidedness and its relation to personality and language that left-handed children were the products of cold and inattentive mothers. He also said, "Being left-handed is a neurotic choice made by antisocial individuals.” Study after study is quoted to show how lefties die sooner than righties, even though those studies are now being disproven--by left-handed scientists. Is it any wonder that left-handed students might develop inferiority complexes? How could they not?

I say all that to say this: were you even aware of discrimination against left-handed students? If you’ve never even thought about it, you’re probably right-handed. You have the advantage of being a majority, and as usual, the majority rules. But before you start thinking you’re superior to the left-handed student, let me conclude with this theory, quoted from Sir John at the University of Michigan:

Jesus was left-handed. It is stated in the Bible the Jesus sitteth at the right hand of God. That is because God is also left handed. Now some right-handers may say, (imagine snooty, right-hander voice here) "Well. If God was left-handed, and so was His Son, then why does Jesus sit at God's RIGHT hand?" This is, of course, backwards, right-hander logic. But we must excuse them for lesser intellect.
The OBVIOUS reason why Jesus sits on God's right hand is so they don't bump elbows when they eat. Duh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Okay, we live in a right-handed world! Get over it! We also have more men's public bathroom stalls than women's facilities! (And, yes, I've thought of starting a petition!) :o)

I'm a lefty too and we just adapt.... If you channel your creativity, activism and all the time you seem to have writing for good causes that will positively change the world (you may alreay be doing that) you can leave your mark as a wonderful human being that made a difference AND happened to be a LEFTY! Have a nice day....


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