I am the great-grandniece of Helen Keller (1880-1968), and vice president of Education at the Helen Keller Foundation. I was saddened to learn Texas was considering omission of Helen Keller from the required curriculum for third-grade children – even as Time
magazine recently named her one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. [See "Rewriting History
," Sept. 21.]
Having lost her sight and hearing in infancy from an attack of meningitis, Helen first learned the power of words at age 7 (see The Miracle Worker
). She then became the first blind-deaf person to effectively communicate with the sighted and hearing world.
In so doing, she became an international celebrity from the age of 8, even before the era of mass communication. She was regularly on the front page of newspapers around the world almost until her death in 1968, as she met with every U.S. president and world leaders like Nehru, Churchill, and the Japanese emperor.
Aunt Helen toured 37 countries on five continents promoting accommodations for disabilities by her own stunning example, well before others discovered that any one of us can suffer a disability and remain able in so many ways!
For over two decades I’ve taught Aunt Helen’s story to elementary school children throughout the U.S., as a form of character education. I’ve often seen the amazing reaction a child has upon learning of little Helen breaking through her sight and hearing barriers with the help of “Teacher” – Annie Sullivan.
It’s as if they were each with her at the well, when she learned that water had a name, W-A-T-E-R, as all things do. She later called it “the birthday of my soul,” and the children seem to gain from her experience a similar, soul-deep realization that with effort they too can triumph.
Losing this lesson, within two or three generations – or less, children in Texas will have no knowledge of Ms. Keller, even as her remarkable story continues to be taught to children in schools elsewhere, around the world. Your children will become better citizens for taking that most difficult of journeys with Helen Keller in their classrooms to discover that they, too, can succeed in a challenging world. This is the quintessential Texas can-do attitude that other states and nations have come to admire. Please don’t do it. Don’t make this lesson optional. There really is no effective substitute for the children of Texas.