Chinese schools should be more accepting of lefties

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-15 18:08:03

Local media recently reported that left-handed primary school students in Shanghai are being forced by teachers to write with their right hand. The reports say that one teacher even warned the mother of a first-grade girl that writing with left hand would "cause learning difficulties." Believing the teacher, the misguided parent reprimanded her daughter to tears as a method of "re-educating" the girl.

Although modern society now recognizes that being left-handed is a normal physiological phenomenon and that lefties are not the "witches" and "demons" that people used to believe them to be, it is still quite common for Chinese parents and teachers to force left-handed children to write with their right hand. Why?

Education experts explain that hanzi (Chinese characters) and its corresponding brush strokes are specifically designed for right-handed people. In fact, brush strokes for hanzi are the same no matter which hand you use, but teachers claim that writing with the left hand will cause students to fall behind in class. Chinese parents, concerned to the point of paranoia about their children doing poorly in school, take these erroneous warnings to heart.

My 19-year-old cousin, too, was made to "correct" his left-handedness when he was in kindergarten, just as he started to learn writing. "Teachers would hold my hand to teach me how to write. Actually, it was just easier for them if I wrote with my right hand," he said. "As Chinese characters are written from left to right, writing with the left hand leaves the notebook smeared with ink."

I don't doubt the concerns of experts and teachers on how left-handedness may affect early childhood development, but it seems that this tradition of forcing kids to change their writing habits is primarily for the benefit of the teachers.

Left-handed people only make up 10 percent of the world's population, with an estimated 100 million left-handers in China. Almost all of them were made to "fix" their writing hand when they were small children, which until recently was considered a "disease" in China.

But left-handedness is not a disease that requires curing; it is basic genetics just like eye color or hair type. Sadly, even as early as last century some cultures still believed that uniquely colored eyes or oddly curled hair were a sign of being possessed by evil and required "curing." In China, a historically superstitious culture, many people have felt the same about left-handedness.

Whether or not left-handed students should switch to their right hand when writing remains a universal debate across the world. Even in developed countries such as the US, where most machinery is made for right-handed people, left-handed people continue to be stigmatized. Recently, American media reported that a teacher in the state of Oklahoma, which is known for its old-fashioned beliefs, told a left-handed 4-year-old boy that being left-handed is "evil."

Still, few schools in developed countries would go so far as to physically force students to write with their right hand. My cousin, who today is ambidextrous - he writes with right hand but eats with his left - and studying at a college in the UK, said the British educational system offers left-handed students scissors, computer mice and other tools specially designed for them. Former UK defense minister Peter Luff even called on teachers to be more sympathetic and understanding toward the needs of left-handed children, who are at a higher risk of low self-esteem.

A friend from France also confirmed that teachers in his country would never ask lefty children to write with their right hand. Meanwhile in China, a second-grade student in Kunming, Yunnan Province, was viciously beaten by her teacher a few years ago for writing with her left hand. The teacher even issued an ultimatum that if the poor child did not learn to write with her right hand she would be expelled from school.

Throughout millennia and continents there have been many negative connotations associated with left-handedness, but any civilized person should be aware that these medieval superstitions have long been debunked. Not to mention that many of the world's most outstanding personages, including Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci, British scientist Isaac Newton and German composer Ludwig van Beethoven were lefties, so are UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama.

With the modern world becoming more tolerant toward lefties, it's time for the people of China, particularly teachers, to be more understanding of left-handedness. Instead of forcing children to change just to make their job easier, teachers should be the ones to adapt.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

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