Left-handedness is an unusual thing to find displeasing about a person, but the situation wasn’t funny; for reasons that made no sense to anyone in the fourth grade, the boy just hated lefties. Boulder expressed his loathing quietly, at the beginning, back in September. He would whisper nasty comments to the one or two kids in his class that wrote with their left hands. “Lefties are weak,” he’d murmur. “People of strength are always right-handed.”
His comment took the kids by surprise, and they didn’t say anything in reply. In Boulder’s mind, their silence proved his point. ”Weak, weak, weak,” he thought to himself.
By the end of September, Boulder got bolder. Whenever he was writing or eating beside a left-handed kid, he would use his right arm to jab his elbow into theirs, which sent their pencils or forks flying across the room. Once he bashed his elbow into a kid eating soup, and she actually burned herself. When their teacher scolded him, Boulder claimed that it was an accident… but when the teacher walked away, he hissed, “You are the accident, Lefty.” The left-handed girl cried then, nursing a welt on her hand from the scalding soup and a wound on her heart from his hurtful words.In October, one of these persecuted kids finally told somebody what was happening. The teacher did what they could -- a letter home, a brief detention, a stiff warning from the principal -- but as is so often the case with this kind of thing, adult intervention proved to be a temporary solution. As soon as they stopped watching Boulder’s every move, he started his assault again, even more aggressively than it had been before.
But the teachers weren’t the only people who heard about the bully’s vendetta against the left-handers. Everyone in the fourth grade suddenly knew about the war that had been raging all around them, somehow unseen for weeks. Some of the kids got together with the lefties on Saturday in the park, to talk about what had been happening. The bullied students told them everything: all of the snide remarks, the cruel jokes, the taunting and name-calling and elbow knocking. Now it was the right-handers’ turn to be shocked by Boulder’s behaviour, but if you think their stunned silence meant weakness, you’d be as wrong as the bully.
Eventually, Ronan broke the silence. “We have to do something -- but we can’t just bully him back. If we decide to be mean, we could all get in trouble or worse, make him even angrier.”
Abigail nodded. “We have to stand up to him, but we can’t fight him. This is so tricky. What can we do?”
Ronan didn’t smile while he explained his plan, but he did have one. They agreed that until Boulder made a public apology to all the left-handed kids in their grade, and vowed to stop acting cruelly toward them, everyone would be left-handed. They would stand together with the true lefties in a show of solidarity. They would support the minority of students who were under attack by uniting together through a peaceful protest.
They made their move on Monday.
When Abigail was called on to answer a math problem at the front, she picked up the whiteboard marker with her left hand, staring at Boulder as she did so. Then, in large, wobbly movements, she wrote out the answer. “Those numbers look pathetic,” hissed Boulder as she took her seat. Abigail shook her head, but said nothing. Two more kids went to the board to answer a question, and both of them used their left hands. Then Ronan went to the front, and then three more. Boulder scowled and seethed. Their teacher, Ms Kuenzel, gave them curious looks, but she didn’t ask them to change how they were writing. At first recess, Ronan told his teacher what was going on, and she congratulated their efforts. Then he told Boulder, who spit at him. By lunchtime, Ms Keunzel was mysteriously left-handed too. I can’t tell you exactly how long it took Boulder to make that apology, but he held out longer than you might think. It took him long enough that many kids in class got pretty good at being left-handed, and some are ambidextrous to this day. But he did eventually cave in. He made a formal apology, and he wrote letters to the kids he had bullied the heaviest. But the biggest success was this: their classroom felt a lot safer for everyone after that, no matter what it was that made them different from the crowd.