Left-handedness

This is another issue that crops up repeatedly when reading about Steiner education.

According to the People for Legal and Non-sectarian schools (PLANS) website Steiner schools have a problem with left-handedness because for Steiner followers it is to do with the child’s previous life.

PLANS quote Rudolf Steiner saying in “The Renewal of Education” in 1925 that in general children should be broken of left-handedness;

“The phenomenon of left-handedness is clearly karmic, and, in connection with karma, it is one of karmic weakness…The preference for the left hand results in a situation where, instead of the left, the right side of the brain is used in speech. If you give into that too much, then that weakness may perhaps remain for a later, that is, a third Earthly life. If you do not give in, then the weakness is brought into balance. “

Advice given to teachers in The Handbook for Waldorf Class teachers ties in with this linking of handedness with speech (page 50). Kevin Avison says;

“There is a lemniscatory or crossing action involved in the perception and co-ordination of movement. The left hand side of the brain is involved with actions of the right hand side of the body and vice versa. The activity of speech is usually associated with the left hemisphere of the brain in right-handed people; this may be reversed for most left-handers. The matter is complex…”

He advises teachers considering encouraging a change of handedness in a child to take authoritative advice, but he does not say who should provide this advice.

There is no mention of discussing the issue with parents, and given Steiner schools’ history of going ahead without consulting parents, this is not surprising, but very worrying.

Given that Steiner schools place the health and well-being of children into the hands of an anthroposophical doctor, perhaps this is where the advice comes from.

The on-line Waldorf Journal features an article called “Rudolf Steiner on teaching Left-handed children” by Daniel Hinds. It is a defensive article in which the author, a Waldorf Steiner teacher complains that Steiner’s “indications” on this matter have been misunderstood. He then goes on to quote numerous passages from speeches where Steiner does indeed specifically say that left-handedness should be altered where possible, as it is bad karma.

The following is the most accurate translation of Steiner’s words on the matter according to Hinds;

“With left-handed children it is necessary that you attempt to do as much as possible to change them into right-handed children. Only, if you notice in practice that it is not working at all, then naturally you must then work with their left-handedness. But what we really want is that such left-handed children become right-handed ones.”

You can’t get much clearer than that.

Hinds is at pains to point out that Steiner also had a problem with children being ambidextrous – this being seen as even worse than left-handedness.

“In general, you will find that those children who have spiritual tendencies can write without difficulty as they will, left- or right-handed. Children who are materialistically oriented will become addled by writing with both hands.”

Hinds’ concern about the interpretation of Steiner’s advice probably stems from the acknowledgement that “Some advocates of left-handedness maintain that such a switch is improper, and even that it constitutes child abuse.”

He then justifies the idea of switching by saying

” Since much education consists of guiding and modifying children’s natural inclinations, I do not believe that it is reasonable to reject Steiner’s position outright.”

In this lengthy article there is again no mention at all of involving parents in any of the “observation” and decisions about whether or not to continue with the task of switching to right-handedness.

The message sent out from those involved in Steiner education is that not all Steiner’s ideas are used these days. And yet, on asking individuals, I have never yet heard one of them give an example of an “indication” they disagreed with. I recently asked a Kindergarten teacher at Lindens whether there was anything in Steiner doctrine she had a problem with and she endorsed all of Steiner’s teachings. She also said she believes Steiner was clairvoyant.

The Handbook I have quoted from is in current use and the article above was written in 2006.

Left-handedness is not one of the most contentious issues in Steiner education, but it illustrates well the attempts by schools to appear to distance themselves from their Guru whilst at the same time demonstrating their inability and unwillingness to do so.

 

 

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15 comments

  1. Jim

    I’m sure you’ll know Helen – what is the Steiner view on gingers? I may have a family interest and need to know what measures to take come the Steinerpocalypse.

  2. Jim

    Interesting. But not clear if it refers only to foods made with processed potato starch or includes whole potatoes.
    Rather reminiscent of the Italian futurists like Marinetti with their condemnation of pasta. I just don’t get this obsession the religious and cultist have with food. At least the early Buddhists were told to just eat what they were given, and not too much.

  3. Pete Karaiskos

    Here are two complaints from people who witnessed this.

    http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.com/2012/06/waldorf-school-testimonials.html
    3rd Review down:
    cathyandfamily
    26 May 2012 8:47PM
    Our children went to a Steiner school until the penny dropped about the reasons why certain things were taught and done in a particular way; we whipped them out sharpish…..(and yes, attempts were made to change left handedness of one of our children, and as far as I know at this particular school I know two other left handed children who they have tried with recently too, so this is apparently still going on)

    http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.com/2012/06/steiner-free-schools-in-uk.html
    26 May 2012 2:48AM
    Response to JonathanKent, 25 May 2012 9:11PM
    I went to a Steiner school and a girl in my class was left-handed but forced to write with her right. She was taken to the doctor to prove that she could use her right but was just choosing to use her ‘wrong’ hand. However this was twenty years ago so I would hope things have changed
    muslimgirlpower

    • Helen

      Thanks for those links. Trying to change left-handedness is the kind of issue that doesn’t stir up a fuss but is indicative of the blinkered attitude and slavish devotion to Steinerian ideas that parents aren’t aware of until their child is affected.
      I don’t know exactly how the “switching” is effected, – I suppose a child is supposed to hold the paintbrush or crayon in the right hand. Or do the teachers stop them every time they go to do something with their left?
      If this isn’t discussed with parents there must be confusion for the child between what is expected at home and at school. If it is discussed I wonder if parents are told that karma is the reason.

  4. Sune

    Hello Helen,
    Why don’t you give the author of what you claim to be a description of anthroposophy at the bottom of every blog post, so far only signed with “Anon”?
    Thanks

    • Pete Karaiskos

      Are you concerned the description isn’t to your liking? She could just link to your page Sune – for a description of what you WISH Anthroposophy was or could be someday – unfortunately, that’s now what Anthroposophy is – and you’ve proven to the world many times that you don’t actually understand Anthroposophy – you read a LOT into it that isn’t there and invent it as you go along. So, we can’t go to you as a source. How about if we use Steiner’s intention: “The task of Anthroposophy is not simply to replace a false view of the world with a correct one…” So, Steiner’s view is correct, the rest of the world is wrong – and it’s Anthroposophy’s job to change this view. That’s pretty much what the anonymous quote says. The role of the races is part of the “view” Anthroposophy wants to impose on the world – that cannot be denied. So, what’s your complaint – that Steiner sounds bad? If you’ve got nothing better to do, you should start updating the Green Meadow Waldorf School page at Wikipedia… I hear there’s some news that needs to be added there.

      • Pete Karaiskos

        Steiner says the same thing about Waldorf education BTW – “You will have to take over children for their education and instruction — children who will have received already (as you must remember) the education, or mis-education given them by their parents.” So, to replace the “false view of the world with a correct” one is Anthroposophy’s job – and to “take over children” to correct the “mis-education given them by their parents” is Waldorf’s job. Cool huh?

    • Helen

      I only put the description on the site once at the top of the home page but perhaps it appears under each post on different devices.
      The description is the best one I have seen and the author wishes to remain anonymous. I put anon so it wouldn’t look as if I was claiming it as my own. I wish I could say I had written it myself as it is succinct and accurate .

  5. SR

    They tried to change my daughter’s left-handedness, and humiliatingly undid the bad knitting of a child who was made to knit right-handed! I know they were still doing this a about couple of years ago. In my view it’s just another of the myriad Steiner “indications” blindly followed by Steiner trained teachers; with a slow Steiner smile, it’s a form of cruelty.
    It staggers me that more parents or teachers don’t ask why; just as there’s an unspoken closing in when for instance, a parent told a packed parent’s evening that they had washed their child’s mouth out with soap for their bad behaviour, and I was the only one who questioned it; or the teachers who according to the other children including mine dragged children by their ears, or made them stand outside class for hours on end. People capitulate with a sort of fear of the majority rule, the majority silently acquiesce, it’s frightening really.

    • Helen

      What you describe is similar to how schools were 100 years ago in this country – which of course is roughly when Steiner was giving out his sermons on anthroposophy.
      “A slow Steiner smile” – that makes my skin crawl.

  6. cristina cassidy

    Helen and Jim, your comments above made me laugh :) I could write a book about my experience at the school, maybe I will…after I complete the years of therapy I need due to all the “therapeutic eurythmy” I’ve done in my life. :)

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