August 13th is International Left Handers Day. I encourage ESL and public school teachers in Taiwan to learn about the day for the benefit of their students.
A 2007 study done in Taiwan (published by the National Institute of Health in the US) reported that 59.3% of left handed children had been "successfully changed to right handed". They were not "changed", they were physically, mentally and emotionally abused. The forced switching of hands is no better than "aversion therapy" of LGBTQIA children, which civilized countries now legally consider abuse.
Forced hand switching is an attempt to alter and eliminate a natural behaviour to make children conform to "societal norms". Left handedness is wired into the brain at birth and linked to at least one gene (LRRTM1), so it cannot be changed. More than half of the left handed children in 2007 were forced to use the wrong hand, which means only 5% were reported as left handed. Compare this with Canada, the US, and nearly all Western European countries which report a natural left handedness rate of 11-14%.
If you consider coercing left handed children into use the wrong hand "acceptable", then you shouldn't be teaching them. A recent report said that 30% of Taiwanese children suffer mental disorders due to abuse, disorders which are often the result of physical and mental abuse at home and in schools. There was no data linking left handed children and such abuse-driven problems, but it's not a stretch to believe there is one.
What can you do to help? Pay attention to the handedness of your students - not just the left handed, but the "right handed" kids too. Encourage them to use their left hand, and tell them (and their families and other teachers) that they will perform better at school and in life.
Over the years in Taiwan and South Korea, I have met many left handed kids at many schools who report common problems. The stress caused will hurt their ability to learn, affect test scores, their confidence and ability to speak:
- verbal and physical coercion (forcibly taking pencils out of the left hand and putting it into the right)
- "corporal punishment" in school and at home (hit on the hands or face)
- work marked wrong for being done left handed
- teachers ignoring and refusing to interact with left handed students
- passive aggressive behaviour by teachers (e.g. forcing left handed kids to sit to the right of right handed students, blaming the lefty when conflicts occur)
Also pay attention to "right handed" students who may not be. Do any "right handed" students have poor handwriting? Sit in uncomfortable writing positions? Have poor dexterity or limited use of fingers when holding a pencil (i.e. writing from the wrist or arm? Do they use the left hand for many other activities (e.g. tying shoes)? Ask them if they prefer their using left hand (i.e. which arm they throw with, etc.). Encourage them to write with the left hand, and train them if they are willing to learn.
Part 2 talks about how to teach left handed kids.