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.