Literacy and Liberty

I Think I Randomly Chose to be Left-Handed
Posted by: , September 18, 2018, 9:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Learning how to write was a classroom task for me. It involved sitting on one hand and trying to convince myself (and my teacher) that the writing hand I’d chosen was the ‘dominant’ one based on the idea that the letters were slightly less shaky, despite the fact that early on there’s not much difference. There were copybooks similar to those that Douglass describes, where sentences were printed above lines that looked consistently like this


for students to butcher with our scrawls. We wrote ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” and then we wrote “THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG,” for pages at a time (we learned to write in lowercase and uppercase print in pre-school and kindergarten; cursive wasn’t taught until 2nd grade). It seemed hellish– before your hands get used to it, they constantly cramp and the lack of calluses on the ring finger makes the already-awkward sense of holding a pencil actively uncomfortable.

Learning to write (and read) openly in a classroom, I realize now, was a privilege that comparatively few people get to experience, especially in the case of women. The restriction of literacy that Douglass confronted in his lifetime is hardly eradicated, and the fact that I was taught how to access the texts and ideas of others through reading, and how to express my own through writing, was a gift the gravity of which I don’t think I could have understood from my position at five years old.

6 Comments so far
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I totally relate to your realization that literacy is a privilege. In primary and elementary schooling, the tasks of writing letters constantly seems tedious and boring. However, we quickly developed skills and became decent writers before the age of ten. Many children across the world do not have the same access to education as we do, and the situation is completely disheartening. Hopefully this class-divide within education disappears in the future, but I have a terrible feeling that will not happen.

   Jacob DeCarli 09.19.18 @ 6:06 pm

I have always thought of left-handed writer as unique since not many people can perform that task, especially in my home country. However, I have never understood the struggle of bearing that uniqueness; it must have been hard to go against the so-called right-handed-wash of the world. Your experience is truly insightful. Thank you for sharing this.

   Scarlett Nguyen 09.19.18 @ 10:00 pm

Love the title so much! I really appreciate this post because it does acknowledge the fact that we all have had the privilege to learn how to read the way we did. Like Jacob said in his comment, I agree that literacy is something we take for granted. I know I have come to appreciate it much more over the years, especially because I have become more informed about how literacy is perceived all over the world. I know many, if not all, of us feel the same.

   Ainslie 09.20.18 @ 1:17 pm

To start, the title is fantastic. It’s cool that you just picked which hand to write with based on what looked better. I agree that learning to read and write is a privilege, and it is extremely important to society today. I had somewhat of a similar experience learning to write. My mother told me it took a long time, as it was a difficult process. Overall, great blog and I really found it interesting.

   Evan Rosenberg 09.23.18 @ 1:50 pm

The way that you recount writing at a young age is super accurate. I remember the exact same cramping of the hands and unfamiliar grip of the pencil. I really love how you touch on Douglass with his confrontations and restrictions. I also totally share your belief with how expression is coherent in writing. Words make people feel.

   natasha 09.23.18 @ 7:14 pm

Julia–wow! This post clearly struck a chord with our seminars! Let me add that I, too, appreciate your emphasis on the physical experience of learning to write, which beautifully underscores your larger realization that literacy is not a given, but a privilege.

   Professor Seiler 09.25.18 @ 9:11 am

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