Searching for Success for My Left-Handed Child

The right-handed world presents obstacles and biases for lefties — beginning at school.

by Joanne Gouaux • Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

First grade began at a picturesque public school where Carter's mood quickly shifted from curious and happy to frightened and discouraged. He came home with frownie faces on his papers, and cryptic little notes such as "not focusing!" He lost recess time and free playtime for not completing written assignments. He was miserable and demoralized. I was repeatedly told that he was falling behind and not working to his potential.

One day after school, with Carter standing beside me, I was told by his exasperated teacher that he was a "wiggle worm" and his "issue" of not being able to keep up with writing assignments was due to personal responsibility.  That if he would try harder, he would succeed. After reaching the top of a long waitlist, we met with a developmental pediatrician, an expert, and an authority on child development and school-related problems. She spent time getting acquainted with Carter, observing him in a classroom-style setting, and then carefully listened to his feelings and explanations about school. She found Carter to be developing appropriately, even excelling in certain areas. She reviewed his schoolwork and teacher comments and suggested that we explore other school options. She recommended a hands-on developmental curriculum, something she hoped we could find in a charter or independent school.

We immediately connected with the community and curriculum at Berkwood Hedge in Berkeley, California. Carter visited the classroom for a day, and as soon as the car door shut after school, he told me, "This is it. This is a place where teachers want kids to learn and they help them, instead of scaring them to learn." That sealed the deal. Within three weeks, Carter emerged a reader and a willing writer. The spark of curiosity returned to his eyes.

At Berkwood Hedge, the teachers create lessons and activities that challenge and engage a wide range of students. As an independent school, teachers are encouraged to focus on, and teach to the individual. They provide support and instruction that allows left-handers to learn to write left-handed in a language and world constructed for the right-handed.

According to the Occupational Therapist we visited, improper instruction on how to position paper and pencil can lead to awkward, uncomfortable, and inefficient posture, which can result in slow writing. When teachers welcome students as creative participants in their own learning and respect a child's physiology, stress melts away and learning flourishes. Success defined in broad strokes, such as critical thinking and creative problem solving, makes academic achievement possible for all students.

It is rare, if not unique, to find a classroom in which 37 percent of students see and experience the world through their left hands. We cannot know with certainty what the future will hold for these students as a group. As a parent, I feel a quality education offers tools for life, and is the key to opportunity now and later.

For Carter, being a member of this class makes a significant impact on his daily life.  He shows a sense of belonging. Rather than spending his classroom days subdued by fear, feeling like he is not good enough, and generally loathing school — he now has a place where he feels valued and accepted. It is an educational foundation with a sense of excitement, a willingness to meet challenges, make mistakes, and persevere. It is a place to learn and grow.

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