Sunday, August 7, 2016

Seven Days Left: Educational discrimination

This is the second of seven items in seven days on left handedness.

Left Handedness and Educational Discrimination

I have taught English for fifteen years and met scores of certified teachers over the years.  They use teaching ESL in Asia as a springboard to becoming public school teachers in their home countries.  During that time, I have asked most of them one question, the question to all of them:

Were you ever taught specific techniques for left handed handwriting, not just "copy what the right handers do"?

I have met a grand total of ONE person in fifteen years who was trained to teach left handed handwriting.  There are teaching techniques specially designed left handed students.  And there are materials you can purchase to help them.  There is stationery and notebooks to write in.

When I say left handed handwriting, most people will ignorantly think that means telling left handed children, "Just copy what the right handed kids are doing."  Wrong.  It means teaching children how to hold a pen or pencil, how to align the paper and proper posture specifically for left handed writers.  There is no excuse for not teaching children properly.  Refusing to is ignorance and abuse.

It's bad enough that children aren't being taught properly by people who claim to be qualified teachers and come from wealthy, English speaking countries (usually G7 or G12 countries).  But most teachers in poorer countries (Asian, African, South American and muslim countries) still "think" it's acceptable to force children to switch hands.  Mental, physical and emotional abuse of left handed children is an everyday thing in most of the world.

The educational discrimination against left handed children primarily comes from four sources.

1) Teachers

Teachers are taught only righthanded handwriting, they are not properly teaching left handed students.  This causes left handed students to have poor handwriting.  And then those with right handed privilege have the arrogance to say, "Left handed people can't write properly" despite the fact it's the right handed majority that caused the problem, by not teaching kids properly.

This failure to train properly means left handed children take longer to write, write less well, and often don't learn as well or do poorly on tests because schools cater only to right handed writers.  The problem is not being left handed, the problem is the indifference and arrogance of the educational system.

And then there's the issue of abuse.  In my time teaching, students have told me their teachers mistreat them in various ways, some of which I experienced myself as a child:

* work marked wrong for being done left handed

* forcing left handed children to sit to the right of right handed children, causing conflict (and passive-aggressively blaming the left handed child for the teacher's actions)

* ignoring and refusing to teach or interact whatsoever with left handed children

* hitting children's hands

* verbal abuse (insults, being called "hamfisted", "awkward", "evil", etc.)

On top of this, such abuse is often supported or repeated by the parents.  Left handed children have no reprieve from the abuse and no means of support.  Schools and home, the two greatest sources of emotional support for most children, are the two greatest abusers of left handed children.

2) School furniture

In this picture of a typical lecture hall, there are appromately eighty desks.  FIVE are left handed (far less than 10-15 percent average in the population), and ALL of them are along the left wall of the room.  NONE are in the centre section of the room, preventing left handed students from having a good view of the teaching area, boards and screens.

Are you really going to claim there is no bias against left handed students?  And that's just a college classroom.  In most elementary, junior and high schools, desks present the same problem.  There is no attempt made to accomodate or include left handed people, only a deliberate decision to exclude.

Schools purchase almost entirely right handed desks, rarely more than one or two left handed desks per classroom instead of the 10-15% actually needed.  It is only when schools have neutral furniture (e.g. tables with separate, unconnected chairs) that the furniture is equal.  And then there's the issue of classroom layout, often designed to allow students to view a chalkboard or whiteboard if the teacher writes with the right hand and stands to the right of the board.

Money is not the issue, a lack of respect and willingness to include left handed people is the problem.  It costs the same to build and purchase left handed desks.  And placing them at the left side of the centre section of lecture halls would not inconvenience anyone.

3) Stationery

Finding stationery that is left handed almost always requires online purchase, and hand-neutral stationery is rare.  Aside from pencils, there isn't much that doesn't have a right handed bias.

* ringed notebooks rarely open with the spine on the right, to allow left handed people to write without interference

* binders and folders are designed to write on the right hand side, leaving nowhere for left handed people to place their hand

* ball point pens are designed to be pulled, not pushed, and often jam when used by left handed writers

* rulers with numbers going right-to-left can only be purchased online; measuring and line drawing is often difficult

* left handed scissors are rare

* drawing equipment (geometry, drafting, stencils) is designed to face right handed people

4) Books and written materials

The next time you have to print papers to be written on and staple them together, try putting the staples on the RIGHT hand side of the papers instead of the left.  Force right handed people to place their hands on the stapled side with their hand on an uncomfortable spine, while left handed people can write easily on flat paper.  I guarantee you that a few of the right handed people will complain, becoming emotional and even visibly angry at papers NOT being stapled for the benefit of right handed people.  Left handed people have to cope with this every day, but the right handed people will act as if this were an injustice.

Where to find left handed stationery

There are several online stores which sell writing instruments, notebooks and other items for left handed people (including kitchen utensils and tools, but here we are talking about schools).  Here are few of them:

Lefty's (Australia store)

Left-Handed Convenience (Malaysia) - Predominantly muslim countries openly discriminate against left hand people.

Left Hand New Zealand

Imborrable (Spain) - Their "Leftybooks" have angled lines to make writing easier for left handed people.

Anything Left Handed (UK)

Left Shop Online (UK)

Left Handed World (US)

Lefty's, The Left Handed Store (US)

Rainbow Resource (US) - Yes, this is a "homeschooling" company run by christians.  (Doublecheck your credit card charges!)  But the dearth of left handed resources and stores makes it necessary to list this one.

Fountain pens are also worth consider for left handed children.  Ball point pens are designed to be pulled by the right hand, not pushed with the left.  In countries where arabic and hebrew are common (languages written right-to-left), fountain pens are preffered because they don't jam or dig into the paper when writing.  Fountain pens can range from the cheapest refillables (as little as US$5-10) to the highest quality (hundreds of dollars).

Inoxcrom (Spain) - They will have an online store by the end of 2016.

Jet Pens

Parker fountain pens fountain pen - There are various pens from the lowest quality (cheap Chinese-made or Pilot) to the highest name brands.

Tuesday, part 3: Left Handedness and social discrimination

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