Monday, December 08, 2008

That's how they did it in 1865

That's the year that my elementary school was built, but I'm a left-hander, even though I write cursive script with the same slant as a right-hander and not backhandedly, so I didn't realize the way light was intentionally directed through those windows so high that a very long pole was needed to open them or raise or lower the shades. That is, I didn't realize until I read an article by Alison Lurie in the December 18 NYRB pointing out that classrooms were arranged "so that the light came from the left to minimize shadows on the papers for right-handed students." It's true: I can remember that that's how it worked for every single classroom, except kindergarten, where the younger kids went in the mornings and the older kids attended in the afternoons and nobody wrote anything. In addition to that kindergarten room there were two classrooms for each grade, one through five, and one classroom that had been turned into the indoor gym, just the same as the other rooms apart from the mats hanging on hooks. It had the same little classroom spinet piano that every other classroom did. There was no lunchroom; all went home or to a neighbor's house at midday. Even on a dark winter's day, most of the light was natural, augmented to a degree by a few hanging lamps suspended from the ceilings high above us. I still love natural light and am fortunate that I've never had to work by artificial light if I didn't want to.


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