Sunday, January 4, 2009

Public school and left-handed scissors

OK, now for the other side other the coin.

I'm left-handed (surprise, surprise).
So is my love, Leslie.
So are half our children.

We all went through public school (except for my 8 months in the parochial wilderness as a 1st grader--and I might mention I dropped out of kindergarten half-way through).

Back in the 1960's, left-handers were supposed to tilt their papers opposite the direction right handers were.

Think about this.

We were not writing backwards (though most of us can). Our hands were smudged with ink and graphite, and our words often smudged as well. We were writing in the direction completely contrary to physics.

And somewhere along the line some "expert" decided that we could write better if we tilted our papers opposite the way right-handers do.

And we were required to do so. As any left-hander older than 40 years old who went to public school.

And what does this have to do with anything?

Ask the children. Every left-handed child in the 1960's knew that tilting the paper the wrong way only aggravated the situation. Yet we knew enough not to question it--life was tough enough in class.

Today, a child could appeal to a higher authority (what better way to use Google?) and show the teacher why tilting the paper backwards is less than a good idea.

Information (if not education) has become a truly democratic resource. It's messy, it's mixed up, it's often wrong, but it's accessible.

Education is no longer about sharing information--the kiddies already have the keys.

It's about discernment.

And what does this have to do with scissors?

In the 1960's, public schools spent a lot of money providing left-handed children with scissors that had special green rubber coated handles.

Left-handers do not need special green handles--we need the blades crossed the opposite way.

Not one right-handed teacher I met through elementary school had a clue why I could not cut paper without making a mess.

Today we left-handers, alone or buddied with at most 2 others in class, have a forum. We have thousands of voices sharing a similar plaint. Public school, meet the internet.

Still, change is hard in a public institution. Just ask Mrs. Andretti back in 1966 about the new kid in her class struggling to cut paper with "special" scissors.


Linda said...

Oh, I remember that - I tried to sneak in the real way the paper needed to be tilted, only to be reprimanded for stubbornness (must be a lefty trait).

I almost flunked third grade due to poor pensmanship. Of course, it was my fault, not the chuckleheaded instructions.

My mother finally rebelled in 7th grade, when I took Home Ec - she mail ordered lefty scissors. What a difference it made!

I have scars on my psyche, having been told repeatedly how clumsy and uncoordinated I was. Today, I just suggest that the person try doing something left-handed.

I really do try not to guffaw at the results.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Maichael

Ah, 'twas ever thus. While I sympathise, and I do, I must admit that, for some, there's merit in diversity.

When I was due to sit my "O" grades in Scotland, many years ago, I broke my right thumb. And, yes, you've guessed it, I'm right-handed. I did not get the plaster removed until the exams were over, and there was no way I could hold a pen. So...

To cut a long story shorter, I practiced for a week before the "O" grades started and got enough proficiency to pass them with my left-handed scribble.

The most difficult exam I found was Mathematics, which was contrary to what I'd expected. I thought English would be.

Something to do with the subject not being my strongest and having to use up most of my cognitives thinking about writing when I should have been thinking about Mathematics - doh!

My teachers said I was ambnid... ambird... dyklestix or something. Anyway, I can now write with both hands.

I type with both hands too :-)

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

John Spencer said...

I know what you mean. My brother is a lefty and struggled with all the crazy art projects. I think it's a symptom of all of school - an idea of "one fit sizes all" where something that fits one person (or group) is then used to size all other people and get them to fit.

doyle said...


Amazing that the teachers could not see what our point was--I wonder how many things we do today fall in the same category of nonsense.

It's also amazing that teachers would not believe us when we told them the special left scissors did not work. Somewhere in this fine land someone profited by selling cheap scissors marketed explicitly (and wrongly) for use by southpaws.

Kia ora Ken

Ambidexterity is a gift--I'm partly ambidextrous because I learned to play sports right-handed--modeling will do that.

Still, and as a lefty you know this, it's unnatural to write from left to right if your sinister. I can write just about as fast backwards as I can forward--reading it, though, requires a mirror or a bright light (to shine through the paper).


The one-size-fits-all may be my biggest problem with public institutions of any sort.

I knew the teachers were wrong, but did it anyway--what choice does a 7 year old have?

Souly Catholic said...

A great post. I too am a lefty. I remember not being able to cut paper to save my life. I had to lick the page along the fold and slowly tear them. I remember making an awful looking animal in second grade. While my father and I waited in the hallway for the parent teacher meeting to began he was inspecting the artwork. He paused in front of my production and commented, "What moron made this cow?" That single experience ended my budding promise as an artist. I've recovered since but still hate cutting paper although i've discovered kitchen scissors do the trick.

Betty said...

My mother was left handed and was forced by teachers to use her right hand. One of my grandsons is also left handed and seems to handle writing and cutting with ease. He has developed his own way of doing things. Of course, he has not started his formal education yet.

doyle said...

We tend to minimize bad experiences at young ages, but they have tremendous effects.

I remember not liking art--I was always behind, and could not cut well. I didn't know why I couldn't cut well, and didn't even realize until I was an adult the (simple?) physics behind scissors.

It's not so much that you lost your career as an artist (and I realize that was tongue-in-cheek), it's that a fundamental part of being human, creativity, has been stifled in the formal requirements of class. How many kids "hate" art class in elementary school? Even 1 in a class is 1 too many.

"Own way of doing things" and "formal education" were incompatible back in the 1960's in elementary school. I hope things have changed.

I do not object to formalizing much of what goes on in school--I do, however, rant about those things (such as tilting your paper the wrong way, using wrong-handed scissors, etc.) that "experts" presume to enforce, not having a clue why the child is having a problem.