Pre-K teacher tells 4yo his left hand is evil, points to historical portrayal of wickedness

© Diarmid Courreges
When an Oklahoma mother sent her 4-year-old son off to pre-kindergarten, she never expected he would be punished in a way reminiscent of an authoritarian, post-war, Catholic classroom: The teacher claimed that her son is “evil” for being left-handed.

Zayde went off to Oakes Elementary in Okemah, Oklahoma to learn to read, write and do arithmetic, just like thousands of other Pre-K students. And, just like approximately 10 percent of the population, he’s left handed.

“From picking things up to throwing things, to batting, to writing, to just coloring you’d do at home with him, he’s always, always used his left hand,” his mother, Alisha Sands, told KFOR.

That changed last week, however. Zayde was doing his homework with his right hand.

“I just asked ‘Is there anything his teachers ever asked about his hands?’ And he raises this one and says this one’s bad,” Sands said.

So she wrote a letter to Zayde’s teacher asking for an explanation. She received an article in response that calls left-handedness “unlucky,” “evil” and “sinister.”

In many western cultures, right-handedness was/is considered the “correct” or “right” hand to use, and left-handedness was unlucky or inauspicious. The word “sinister,” meaning left-sided, derives from various sources as early as the 15th century. There are numerous cultural examples of left-handedness being associated with the idea of wickedness. For example, the devil is often portrayed as left-handed, and people throw salt over their left shoulder to ward off the evil spirits that dwell there.

“It breaks my heart for him because someone actually believes that, believes my child is evil because he’s left handed, it’s crazy,” Sands said. She is also a southpaw.

It was not until the advent of modern psychology, though, that left-handedness became “an illness that needed curing,”according to the New York Times. In the 1940s, Abram Blau, head of child psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital, condemned left-handedness as “an expression of infantile negativism” leading to rebellious stubbornness, secretive superstition, parsimony, obsessive cleanliness and other unpleasant traits. He advocated “turning” a left-handed child into a righty, deeming it an act of mercy for the kid.

“I was educated in the USA in Catholic school in the 60's. My left hand was beaten until it was swollen, so I would use my right hand. Unfortunately, for the nuns anyway, I write mirror (letters in correct order but written backwards) with my right hand,” an anonymous commenter wrote on an Indiana University page cultivated by Dr. M.K. Holder, a biological anthropologist who does research into handedness.

By the end of 1960s, however, the practice of “turning” began to fade from popularity, according to the Times.

“I have never come across any subject of forced switching who claims to be glad he was switched. Most describe it as misguided at best, and as vicious child abuse at worst,” Rosemary West wrote on her blog, Left Handed Page. “Forcing left-handed children to become right-handed may cause emotional or physical problems. It can make your child feel frustrated and unaccepted.”

Among those physical problems can be learning disorders, dyslexia, stuttering and other speech disorders, as well as difficulty with sports, emotional isolation and difficulty thinking, she noted.

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Sands went to the superintendent of Okemah Public Schools to complain.

“There was no suspension of any kind. There was basically nothing done to this teacher,” Sands said. “She told them she thought I needed literature on it.”

The literature the teacher gave Sands, however, makes no mention of a child needing to switch handedness. The only time it recommends seeing a specialist is if there is no development of hand dominance by age 6, which is not the case for Zayde.

Sands told KFOR that she will likely have her son transfer to a different class, just two months into the school year. She also plans to file a formal complaint with the state’s Board of Education.

“I don’t feel like the school did what they were supposed to for him,” Sands said.

The superintendent’s office told RT that the incident is under investigation, but would not comment any further.