Left-handed Cross-dominance

During February and March of 1996, there was a lively discussion of left-handedness on the Waldorf Education Mailing List. Two messages posted to the list provided a summary and (to an extent) interpretation of Rudolf Steiner's comments on left-handedness.

Because much of what Rudolf Steiner had to say about left-handedness is not available in English, we have translated exerpts from four sources, GA 300a,b,c (The Conferences) and a lecture on May 7, 1920 contained in The Renewal of Education (GA 301). We are aware that he also spoke about this topic on another occasion: August 2, 1922 in The Human Being in Body, Soul and Spirit (GA 347). We do not have a copy of this book. If you do and can provide us with the relevant text in a standard word processing format, we will include it here.

You can see that, as with most such questions, there is no clear, mechanically applicable answer. The answer lies in close observation of each child and must be determined individually.

Bob and Nancy

Comments by Sonia Setzer
(Anthroposophical physician, school doctor at Escola Rudolf Steiner de São Paulo, Brazil) reported by Valdemar Setzer:

Steiner says that left-handedness has karmic reasons and recommends that one stimulate the child to become right-handed, up to age 9, but only for automatic activities - writing and eating - nothing else.

In Sonia's opinion, followed by our school, when there is no consensus of all the people who take care of the child (teachers, parents, doctors (school and private), and therapists) nothing should be done to correct left-handedness.

If the child is less than nine years old, and there a consensus of all those people, our school tries to stimulate the child to write (and only to write) with his or her right hand. If a laterality test shows that the child is totally left-sided (eyes, ears, hands and feet), he or she should do all other activities (aside from writing) with the left hand. If the child has a cross-laterality (some organs are right-sided, others are left), exercises and eventually therapy is recommended, so he or she may acquire a brain-dominance. There are curative Eurythmy exercises that may help in this issue.

Comments by Jennifer Pedano
another Waldorf List subscriber:

Jennifer Pedano from Shining Rivers School in St. Louis wrote to say that an Anthroposophical physician had discussed left-handedness during the faculty meeting at her school. The doctor recommended A Guide to Child Health by Michaela Glockler and Wolfgang Goebel ( Anthroposophic Press and Floris Books) and The Problem of Left-Handedness: For Medical-Theraputic-Eurythmy Work (Excerpts and Contributions Compiled and with an Introduction by Gerda Hueck. Translated by R.E.M. Finser. St. George Publications, Spring Valley, NY 10977) as source books.

The doctor stated that the karmic influences at work are ones in which the left handed person has emotionally or physically taxed him/herself in a former incarnation and has chosen to rest the right side (the earthly side). The reason for stressing right-handedness is that the activity of writing is one which communicates with this world. It is thought to be preferable for the left-handed person to perform all activities except writing with the left hand, so that the person will be able to effectively move into the world.

The left side of our bodies does the work of the spirit in life. The doctor gave a couple of examples, including the way a mother picks up her child. All the mothers present did, indeed, hold their child with the left arm. Another nice example of the spirit and body working together as left and right sides is how one plays the violin. The strings are pressed with the left hand while the right hand bows the music into the world.

Remarks by Rudolf Steiner on Left-handedness

Conferences with Waldorf School Teachers (GA 300a,b,c)
Translated by Robert F. Lathe and Nancy Parsons Whittaker

June 14, 1920

A teacher asks about left- handed writing.

Dr. Steiner: In general, you will find that those children who have spiritual tendencies can write with either the left or right hand without trouble, but those children with materialistic tendencies will become addled if they are allowed to write with both hands. Right-handedness occurs for a reason. In this materialistic age, left-handed children will become addled if they use both hands alternately. Under certain circumstances, that is something very questionable to do, particularly in things related to reasoning but it is not a problem in drawing. You can allow the children to draw with both hands.

May 10, 1922

A music teacher asks about working with both hands in the beginning piano class.

Dr. Steiner: That is a very good question. Left-handedness is easily corrected through piano practice. We need to keep that in mind. Left-handedness should always be corrected. However, we should pay attention to the temperament of the child. Thus, we should give preference to the right hand with melancholics. You will easily find they have a tendency to play with the left hand. With cholerics, you should give preference to the left hand. With phlegmatics, you should see that they use both hands in balance, and the same is the case for sanguine children. That is what is important and should be the goal.

It is also advantageous, if you attempt as far as possible to see that the children do not have a mere mechanical feeling about piano playing, but that they also learn to "feel" the keys. They should learn for themselves the different positions on the piano, above and below, right and left. It is also good, at least at the beginning, to have the children play without written music.

May 25, 1923

A teacher: Should the children be broken of left-handedness?

Dr. Steiner: In general, yes. At the younger ages, approximately before the age of nine, you can accustom left-handed children to right-handedness at school. You should not do that only if it would have a damaging effect, which is very seldom the case. Children are not a sum of things, but exponentially complicated. If you attempt to create symmetry between the right and left with the children, and you exercise both hands in balance, that can lead to weak mindedness later in life.

The phenomenon of left-handedness is clearly karmic, and, in connection with karma, it is one of karmic weakness. Allow me to give an example: A person who was overworked in their previous life, so that they did too much, not only physically or intellectually, but, in general, spiritually, within their soul or feeling, will enter the succeeding life with an intense weakness. That person will be incapable of overcoming the karmic weakness located in the lower human being. (The part of the human being that results from the life between death and a new birth is particularly concentrated in the lower human being, whereas the part that comes from the previous Earthly life is concentrated more in the head.) Thus, what would otherwise be strongly developed becomes weak, and the left leg and left hand are particularly relied upon as a crutch. 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.

If you make a child do everything equally well with the right and left hand, writing, drawing, work and so forth, then the inner human being will be neutralized. Then the I and the astral body are so far removed that the person becomes quite lethargic later in life. Without any intervention, the etheric body is stronger toward the left than the right, and the astral body is more developed toward the right than the left. That is something you may not ignore; you should pay attention to that. However, we may not attempt a simple mechanical balance. The most naive thing you can do is to have as a goal that the children should work with both hands equally well. A desire for a balanced development of both hands arises from today's complete misunderstanding of the nature of the human being.

The Renewal of Education (GA 301)

Translated by Robert F. Lathe and Nancy Parsons Whittaker

May 7, 1920

[The following remarks were made by Rudolf Steiner during a series of lectures to an audience of public school teachers in Basel, Switzerland. The remarks deal primarily with the question of ambidexterity. As such, they appear to echo Dr. Sonia Setzer's comments above.]

Now I come to a question I have often been asked and that has some significance, namely, the question of left-handedness or ambidexterity.

Right-handedness has become general human habit that we use for writing and other tasks. It is certainly appropriate to extend that by making the left hand, in a sense, more dexterous. That has a certain justification. When we discuss such things, however, our discussion will bear fruit only if we have some deeper insight into the conditions of human life. When we move into a period in which the entire human being should be awakened, when we move into a period in which, in addition to the capacities for abstraction that are so well developed today, the feeling for culture and a capacity to feel as well as act would play a role, we will be able to speak quite differently about many questions than we can now. If education continues as it is today, so that people are always stuck in abstractions (materialism is precisely what is stuck in abstractions) and education does not help us to understand the material through the spiritual then, after a time, you will become convinced that teaching people to use both hands for writing will trap them in a kind of mental weakness. That results in part from how we are today as human beings, and how we presently use the right hand to a much greater extent than the left. The fact that the whole human being is not completely symmetrically formed also plays a part, particularly in regard to certain organs. When we use both hands to write, for example, this has a deep effect upon the entire human organism.

I would not speak about such things had I not done considerable research in this area and had I not tried, for example, to understand what it means to use the left hand. When people develop a capacity for observing the human being, they will be able to determine through experimenting what it means to use the left hand. When human beings reach a certain level of independence of the spirit and soul from the physical body, it is good to use the left hand; but the dependence of modern people upon the physical body causes a tremendous revolution in the physical body itself when the left hand is used in the same manner, for example, in writing, as the right. One of the most important points in this regard is that this would stress the right side of the body, the right side of the brain, beyond what modern people can normally tolerate. When people have been taught according to the methods and educational principles we have discussed here, then they may also be ambidextrous. In modern society, we may not simply go on to using both hands. These are things I can say from experience. Statistics would certainly support what I have said today.