One of the first historical figures I read about as a young child was Helen Keller. Her story is an excellent example to share with children regarding overcoming great difficulties.
When I have tried to figure out the right combination of strategies to communicate with an autistic child I’m often encouraged by the courage and determination of Miss Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan.
The picture with this post is a brand new one recently found showing Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. It just may be the earliest picture of the two together. Miss Keller is probably around eight years old. You can read all about it here.
As an adult Helen Keller was very involved in politics and social issues. Textbooks covering women’s issues usually mention Helen Keller, but rarely go into much detail because of her radical (some for the time period) ideas. Besides her involvement with Helen Keller International, her non-profit organization for preventing blindness, she also worked as a suffragist, spoke out against war, and supported birth control (a very radical idea for the times).
She was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1920s and was a known radical socialist. As a member of the Socialist Party she campaigned for Eugene V. Debs when he ran for president.
I’m glad that in today's classrooms students can access resources that explain the whole story of Helen Keller’s life….not just a cleaned up version that meets someone’s idea regarding what a good American looks like. Helen Keller and other high profile individuals who lived during the early part of the twentieth century are perfect examples for students to analyze the life choices historical figures made along with actual historical events and social issues of the time.
When examining a historical figure it is helpful to dig a little deeper to understand why someone makes the particular life choices they make. Putting events and life choices in context with the times being studied help to build critical thinkers, and that should always be the ultimate goal in a study of history not a regurgitation of causes, effects, and dates.