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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:00:17
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In the many discussions of this question writers seem to throw us from one horn to another of a dilemma--either a born genius in Helen Keller, or a perfect method in the teacher. Both things may be true at once, and there is another truth which makes the dilemma imperfect. Miss Sullivan is a person of extraordinary power. Her method might not succeed so completely in the hands of any one else. Miss Sullivan's vigorous, original mind has lent much of its vitality to her pupil. If Miss Keller is fond of language and not interested especially in mathematics, it is not surprising to find Miss Sullivan's interests very similar. And this does not mean that Miss Keller is unduly dependent on her teacher. It is told of her that, as a child of eight, when some one tried to interfere with her, she sat sober a few moments, and, when asked what was the trouble, answered, "I am preparing to assert my independence." Such an aggressive personality cannot grow up in mere dependence even under the guidance of a will like Miss Sullivan's. But Miss Sullivan by her "natural aptitude" has done for her pupil much that is not capable of analysis and reduction to principle; she has given the inspiration which is in all close friendship, and which rather develops than limits the powers of either person. Moreover, if Miss Keller is a "marvel of sweetness and goodness," if she has a love "of all things good and beautiful," this implies something about the teacher who has lived with her for sixteen years.

Since I have abandoned the idea of regular lessons, I find that Helen learns much faster. I am convinced that the time spent by the teacher in digging out of the child what she has put into him, for the sake of satisfying herself that it has taken root, is so much time thrown away. IT'S MUCH BETTER, I THINK, TO ASSUME THAT THE CHILD IS DOING HIS PART, AND THAT THE SEED YOU HAVE SOWN WILL BEAR FRUIT IN DUE TIME. It's only fair to the child, anyhow, and it saves you much unnecessary trouble.

Of all the subjects which perplex and trouble Helen, none distresses her so much as the knowledge of the existence of evil, and of the suffering which results from it. For a long time it was possible to keep this knowledge from her; and it will always be comparatively easy to prevent her from coming in personal contact with vice and wickedness. The fact that sin exists, and that great misery results from it, dawned gradually upon her mind as she understood more and more clearly the lives and experiences of those around her. The necessity of laws and penalties had to be explained to her. She found it very hard to reconcile the presence of evil in the world with the idea of God which had been presented to her mind.

If Miss Sullivan wrote fine English, the beauty of Helen Keller's style would, in part, be explicable at once. But the extracts from Miss Sullivan's letters and from her reports, although they are clear and accurate, have not the beauty which distinguishes Miss Keller's English. Her service as a teacher of English is not to be measured by her own skill in composition. The reason why she read to her pupil so many good books is due, in some measure, to the fact that she had so recently recovered her eyesight. When she became Helen Keller's teacher she was just awakening to the good things that are in books, from which she had been shut out during her years of blindness.

Captain Keller has had two interesting letters since the publication of the "Report," one from Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, and the other from Dr. Edward Everett Hale. Dr. Hale claims kinship with Helen, and seems very proud of his little cousin. Dr. Bell writes that Helen's progress is without a parallel in the education of the deaf, or something like that and he says many nice things about her teacher.

I, little ignorant I, found myself explaining to the wise men of the East and the West such simple things as these: If you give a child something sweet, and he wags his tongue and smacks his lips and looks pleased, he has a very definite sensation; and if, every time he has this experience, he hears the word SWEET, or has it spelled into his hand, he will quickly adopt this arbitrary sign for his sensation. Likewise, if you put a bit of lemon on his tongue, he puckers up his lips and tries to spit it out; and after he has had this experience a few times, if you offer him a lemon, he shuts his mouth and makes faces, clearly indicating that he remembers the unpleasant sensation. You label it SOUR, and he adopts your symbol. If you had called these sensations respectively BLACK and WHITE, he would have adopted them as readily; but he would mean by BLACK and WHITE the same things that he means by SWEET and SOUR. In the same way the child learns from many experiences to differentiate his feelings, and we name them for him--GOOD, BAD, GENTLE, ROUGH, HAPPY, SAD. It is not the word, but the capacity to experience the sensation that counts in his education.

The following extracts from a few of her published letters give evidence of how valuable this power of retaining the memory of beautiful language has been to her. One warm, sunny day in early spring, when we were at the North, the balmy atmosphere appears to have brought to her mind the sentiment expressed by Longfellow in "Hiawatha," and she almost sings with the poet: "The ground was all aquiver with the stir of new life. My heart sang for very joy. I thought of my own dear home. I knew that in that sunny land spring had come in all its splendour. 'All its birds and all its blossoms, all its flowers and all its grasses.'"

"I caught fish with hook and line and pole. We climbed high hill and teacher fell and hurt her head. I ate very small fish for supper. I did read about cow and calf. The cow loves to eat grass as well as girl does bread and butter and milk. Little calf does run and leap in field. She likes to skip and play, for she is happy when the sun is bright and warm. Little boy did love his calf. And he did say, I will kiss you, little calf, and he put his arms around calf's neck and kissed her. The calf licked good boy's face with long rough tongue. Calf must not open mouth much to kiss. I am tired, and teacher does not want me to write more."


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