Monday, June 22, 2009

Helen Keller's The Story of My Life

I picked up Helen Keller's autobiography recently, The Story of My Life, because I was so unaware and curious about her life as a blind and deaf individual. Obviously I knew the bigger details surrounding her life, but I was still curious to understand how this individual live.

Now, I'm not trying to sound like a skeptic in this blog post, but I am trying to come to terms with her understanding of the world. Since Keller wrote this autobiography, she had a means to communicate words onto paper. She mentioned using a typewriter, which would make sense. In terms of her understanding and communicating with other people, did they have to sign words into her hands all the time since she couldn't see sign language and since braille was only available for published works?

I'm also curious about this fact as well: How could Keller understand such complex concepts if she could not see them or hear about them? Some concepts and vocabulary are very complex and take a great deal of teaching in order for someone to hear them. Keller had a very sophisticated vocabulary and understood very rich and deep concepts that would be hard for someone to understand, even if they didn't have severe handicaps. I'm just baffled at the thought!

I mean, Keller explains in The Story of My Life how she came to understand the concept of love. It took her teacher many, many tries with many explanations to have her understand love. She had to make her feel it from the sun as well as spelling words into her hands to make her know. I just don't see how a person who can't see or hear can even make sentences together because they are not exposed to language as much as someone else. I know she eventually grows to read braille, and not only does she read, but she reads in like three languages! This also blows my mind. I can't get over some of these facts!

I couldn't imagine living in the dark world Helen did, but I feel like if I had the same handicaps, I don't know if it would have been easy to understand the world as much as she appears to. It blows my mind. But, is she supposed to blow our minds? Isn't she supposed to be the symbol and the figure that stands for beating all the odds and going against expectations?

I was a bit cynical at first and still have some doubts. She really makes me question when it comes to the abilities and inabilities of humans. A friend of mine was talking about learning, and he was saying that just because Keller couldn't see or hear doesn't mean that she couldn't use her other senses to make up for what we have. Using those other senses, she could then learn what we can. You don't need every function to learn something, but I just wonder how deep her understanding is of those concepts when she does not have every function of every sense.

Maybe since I'm a visual learner, it's hard for me to conceptualize a person who does not have that function and can still process information fine. I just think that having BOTH handicaps puts her at a great disadvantage. I wonder how and what she was able to know based on both of these weak areas.

I hope I'm not sounding too mean; I'm just trying to come to terms with understanding her life and her abilities. Her autobiography was filled with sophisticated language and lists of books and studies she's completed. I find it honorable that she can complete so much and have such a thirst for knowledge when she had so many things against her. Some of my students who have no handicaps whatsoever do not have the drive that she did, nor do they have the focus to accomplish a lot of what she did. When under those kind of circumstances, there must be more of a reason to prove onself. Nowadays, not many really strive for it (or at least that's what I'm seeing in public schools). I hope to reverse that some day!

I really do believe that every person on this earth is put there for a reason, and many of us face challenges that would be too difficult for others. Stronger people are given harder challenges, or they have the potential to be strong and they rise to the challenge. I could see Keller as one of these individuals, and I honor the fact that she lived a life that many of us shun to think about (who would want this for a life?) but she seemed to make the best of it despite the odds. It's quite an admirable quality.

Anyway, Keller's book made me think about some really intense ideas about human's abilities with certain handicaps. Maybe someone knows more to shed light on what's missing from my interpretation.

So what do you think of The Story of My Life by Helen Keller?


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