Helen Keller's Impressive Reading List

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At MomThink, we are fond of encouraging an educational approach known as classical education. As the standard - but rigorous - educational model practiced from ancient times to the early twentieth century, classical education offers an antidote to the low proficiency scores and non-challenging curricula currently offered in the public school system.

The phrase “classical education” can be frightening for many, for it seems to denote a level of academic rigor unattainable for anyone but the most brilliant student. Yet such an assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth, as was recently brought to my attention through the life of Helen Keller.

Helen, as many know, was blind, deaf, and mute. And initially, she was rather uncontrollable, tyrannizing her family with many outbursts. But things changed when her teacher, Annie Sullivan, opened up the world and its mysteries to her through what we would today call an "Individualized Education Package" (IEP). Yet Ms. Sullivan did not craft an easy IEP for Helen. Instead, she drew on the classical education curriculum common at that time and patiently adapted it to her student’s disabilities. 

For proof, one need go no further than Helen’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. Her descriptions portray a voracious reader devouring many titles common to a classical curriculum. Judging from the dates recorded in The Story of My Life, it seems that Helen was likely between 8 and 11 years-old when she read these books, having only been introduced to the world of language at age 6.

To our modern mindset, many of these titles may seem a bit challenging for a little girl like Helen, particularly due to her multiple handicaps. Yet she accepted the challenge and reveled in the books she read, even reading a few of them in their original languages of German, French, and Greek.

The fact that a blind, deaf, and mute child like Helen could climb to great heights under this type of instruction suggests that classical education is not only for the handful of high-performers in our population. Instead, it demonstrates that, with the right teacher, a rigorous, well-rounded, classical education can lift students of any ability.

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