Last Tuesday, NBC affiliate KFOR reported that a pre-K teacher at Oakes Elementary School in Okemah, Oklahoma, forced four-year-old student Zayde Sands to write with his right hand instead of his left hand. According to his mother Alisha, he was told that the left hand is “bad,” and the teacher sent Zayde home with a letter citing an article on PediatricEducation.org that said:
In many western cultures, right-handedness was/is considered the “correct” or “right” hand to use, and left-handedness was unlucky or inauspicious. The word “sinister,” meaning left-sided, derives from various sources as early as the fifteenth century. There are numerous cultural examples of left-handedness being associated with the idea of wickedness. For example, the devil is often portrayed as left-handed, and people throw salt over their left shoulder to ward off the evil spirits that dwell there.
But it doesn’t end there. The following day, the superintendent responded to the accusation in defense of the teacher, stating that he did not believe she had ever forced any students to switch hands, though he did acknowledge that the letter was inappropriate, and said that disciplinary action would be taken. But the teacher doesn’t have anything against lefties. “In fact, her husband is left-handed,” the superintendent told KFOR. “Her full-time aide is left-handed.” (When have we heard that argument before?)
In small-town high-drama fashion, another family reported to KFOR that their four-year-old daughter was told to write with her right hand or face being “put in the corner.” But before the family could submit a formal complaint, the teacher resigned later that afternoon.
This story may seem to be of little importance, even somewhat amusing when you put aside the (hopefully only minor) trauma impacted on the four-year-olds. But is this really happening in 2015? Left-handedness had been a subject of superstition for ages, considered a “mark of the Beast,” evil, or unclean, in ways that have manifested in many languages around the world. And though we have not come to fully understand the evolutionary purpose of hand dominance, we are much more knowledgeable about the brain’s hemispheres and their relationship to hand dominance. We’re also discovering trends behind handedness and other traits. We are a citizenry that listens to scientific findings with a healthy skepticism and self-driven pursuit of knowledge to inform our reasoning. Aren’t we?
It can be argued that American schools are not great environments for true education and learning, not for the students, nor for the teachers. Our unhealthy preoccupation with test scores, college preparation, and drilling information into students sans any greater purpose than a letter mark on a report card ensures that we are not preparing students beyond their short-term future. When it is not important for a teacher to have a working understanding of other disciplines and the importance of the fundamentals of each discipline, a teacher can overreact to an eager student’s engineering project. When teachers do not separate fact from fiction or personal cultural beliefs from secular ethics, a four-year-old child can be told that they shouldn’t use their left hand. If society doesn’t recognize that these aren’t isolated incidents but rather symptoms of a larger problem in American culture, it will be challenging to move forward.