The Miracle Worker

Many of us know about the extraordinary story of Helen Keller. At 19 months old, young Helen contracted an illness - no one is quite sure which, but the symptoms could have been an indication of meningitis, rubella, or scarlet fever - which left her deaf and blind. The disabilities made it nearly impossible for her to develop the way other children did.

However, on March 3rd, 1887, a young woman by the name of Anne Sullivan came into Helen Keller's life and set into motion a series of events which would change the lives of the Kellers and the lives of many Americans with disabilities in the years to come. Join the Science Wizards today in learning more about Anne Sullivan's life and work.

Anne Sullivan was also rendered blind by illness. At the age of five, she suffered an ocular disease called trachoma which severely damaged her eyesight. This setback was simply one of many in Sullivan's life, but she overcame each hurdle in time. Her mother died when she was only eight years old, and her father abandoned her family a few years later. Anne, however, was determined to succeed. Learning of schools for the blind while living in a poorhouse called the Tewskbury Almshouse, she became resolute in seeking a better education for herself.

At fourteen, she was afforded the opportunity to study at the Perkins School for the Blind and also underwent a surgical procedure to help enhance what visual capacity she had. Despite her personal setbacks with learning, she developed positive relationships with teachers and faculty, taking strongly to the school's director Michael Anagnos, who would be the one to connect Anne with the Keller family.

Though Anne Sullivan graduated as valedictorian of her class, nothing could have properly prepared her for the challenges she would face as Helen Keller's teacher. Helen had gone nearly her whole life without two of her five senses, could not talk, and otherwise could not properly communicate her thoughts or feelings to anyone. She was rebellious and violent, and her family only seemed to hinder the girl's progress. 

Anne had studied the Tad-Oma method, a touch-teaching style that gave deafblind students a new way to correlate language with objects and experiences. Utilizing her prior knowledge of this tactic, Sullivan translated and refined it to better suit Helen's needs. Once Helen was separated from her family and able to focus on learning, she experienced great leaps and bounds in understanding thanks to Anne's patience and ingenuity. 

Much of what we know about Anne Sullivan teaching Helen Keller seems to span the early years after their initial meeting. However, their studen-teacher relationship would continue for the duration of Sullivan's life and blossom into a very unique friendship. Anne taught Helen to read and write. As a teenager, Helen would learn to speak - meagerly at first, then more refined with the help of a new technique later in life. Helen graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, wrote a book with the help of Sullivan, and the two even went to Hollywood to film a movie called Deliverance about their extraordinary story.

Anne Sullivan died at the age of seventy in her home with Helen at her side.

At her funeral, Bishop James E. Freeman said, "Among the great teachers of all time, she occupies a commanding and conspicuous place. . . . The touch of her hand did more than illuminate the pathway of a clouded mind; it literally emancipated a soul."

Sometimes, all it takes for a reluctant learner to love education and discovery is a fantastic teacher, which is why Captain Vic and the Science Wizards so wholly value real student-instructor connection. Like Anne Sullivan, we know that some kids just need a change in method to grasp the concepts that were so difficult for them before.

Do you have a great teacher that inspired you to do great things? Are you a teacher who has connected with a reluctant learner? Share your stories with us in the comments below!