Anne Sullivan is best remembered as Helen Keller’s teacher — the “miracle worker” who taught a deaf and blind girl to communicate, using creative and unorthodox but hugely successful methods. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, Keller became the first deaf and blind college graduate, and achieved international acclaim as an author, inspirational speaker, and disability rights advocate. For educators, Sullivan has long been a source of hope and inspiration.
Not one to follow the rules, Sullivan created her own teaching methods when working with Keller. She threw the idea of a hard and fast curriculum out the window, opting instead to go with what interested her student. She stimulated Keller’s thirst for knowledge with novel experiences, such as pouring water over Keller’s hand to teach not only the word but its meaning, by associating a feeling with the water that differentiated it from, say, a mug or glass. She remained devoted to Keller as her teacher through college, and when Sullivan’s own sight failed in the 1930s, Keller became her companion and helper.
Sullivan faced challenges of her own growing up. As a young child, she contracted trachoma, an eye disease that left her vision impaired. After her mother passed away, her father left Sullivan and her brother Jimmie at a poor house that was dirty and overcrowded. Her brother died within three months, but against all odds Sullivan went on to attend Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, where she eventually graduated as class valedictorian.
Being a wallflower was not in Sullivan’s nature. Though she was reportedly a reluctant public speaker, she was a fiery-tempered and headstrong woman throughout her life, until her death in 1936 at age 70. She was also an elegant writer, as these insightful quotes from her letters and speeches convey.
There is always satisfaction in the reflection that, if there were no trials, there would be no victories.
Things impressed themselves upon me because I had a receptive mind. Curiosity kept me alert and keen to know everything.
I have lost my patience and courage many, many times; but I have found that one difficult task accomplished makes the next easier.
Duty bids us go forth into active life. Let us go cheerfully, hopefully and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our special part.
To a certain extent our growth is unconscious. We receive impressions and arrive at conclusions without any effort on our part; but we also have the power of controlling the course of our lives.
We can educate ourselves; we can, by thought and perseverance, develop all the powers and capacities entrusted to us, and build for ourselves true and noble characters. Because we can, we must.
Self-culture is a benefit, not only to the individual, but also to mankind. Every man who improves himself is aiding the progress of society, and every one who stands still, holds it back.
It is a constant pleasure to me, to watch her mind unfolding day by day, and to see her face light up with the beauty of intelligence.
Unexpected good has filled the chinks of frustration in my life.
The misfortunes of the disinherited of the world rouse in me not only compassion but a fierce indignation.
Through all the vicissitudes of my life, through all the twists and turnings and the cross currents of my extraordinary experiences, poetry has been the noblest and most spiritualizing influence I have known.
It is wonderful how words generate ideas!
I felt that the future held something good for me. And the loneliness in my heart was an old acquaintance.
The number of subjects taught is not so important as that the children should learn language for the joy of it. The miracle of education is achieved when this happens.
Love is the very essence of life itself. Reason has nothing to do with it! It is above all things and stronger!
I realized that the acceptance of my fundamental idea, that the child should be free, would mean a revolution in education; that it went beyond the schoolroom and met the dawn of a new democracy that shall include all men and women and children.
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