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Unsettling new findings from out of left field


The earliest memories are what have caused the most pain.

"I remember it like it was this morning. I was in the first grade. We were drawing, and old Mrs. Gangwer comes up behind me, grabs the crayon out of my hand and slams it down on my desk. Hard. Hard enough to break it in two places. Then she glares at me, and all the other kids are staring, too. I start crying, and she says, 'I'm sorry, Nicky. But I'm not going to let you get away with that in my class. I've told you.'"

The place was Pershing Elementary School in Kenosha, Wisc. The time was 1951, and the offense that brought the wrath of his teacher down on young Nick Records was that he had made the mistake of drawing a picture of his family's home with his left hand.

"I can't remember any other lefties in my class, but there were two of them in the second grade. During recess they hung out together. I always figured it was because no one else wanted to play with them. When one of them got to be 'it' in one of those tag games, the little girls would run away screaming like he was a monster or something."

The distress that Records, now 69, endured as a left-handed child may seem like a distant and forgotten cruelty to us today, but we should remember that as recently as the late 1960s, there was still an effort in many education circles to convert "lefties" to "righties." The relaxing of those standards came slowly, and more so in some sections of the country than others.

In "The Tragedy of Left-Handed Orientation," an article submitted to the now defunct psychology journal Midwest Minds, Mores and Morality, Dr. Benjamin Voss-Kagen wrote, "It would be an enormous mistake to submit to the current fad among these radical behaviorists that left-handedness is an acceptable condition. ... For the sake of the individual child so afflicted and the society at large, we must resist this misguided attempt to upset what has long been known, that left-handed orientation is an abnormality, not an alternative." (1963)

Even more stunning are the words of Sister Caroline McMoore, the principal of St. Madeline's Academy in Baton Rouge, La., writing in The Louisiana Parochial Quarterly (Oct. 1968): "We must stand firm against this subversive wind that insists we 'let lefties be lefties.' Have we not seen the results of this sort of permissiveness on the streets of San Francisco and the campuses of our great universities? What could be next? 'Let sodomites be sodomites'?"

These attitudes reflect what had been, almost since the dawn of organized societies, a history of regarding left-handed people as an "otherly" presence, to say the least, and in most cultures, something to be either feared or reviled. It has taken more than 100 years, much research and an intensive re-education campaign to undo the damage that was being inflicted on children such as Nick Records and millions more. We can credit the work of behavioral psychologists and enlightened educators around the world for their endeavors to "right"--pun intended--the wrongs of ages.

With that said, however, recent investigations are finding there are aspects to left-handed people that have never before been examined, and the preliminary data suggests many of the questions that have arisen point to disturbing answers--that there is indeed something curious about this "otherly" presence among us.