Speech delivered by Helen Keller at Helen Keller Day Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, November 6, 1915. The inset photograph on the top left-hand side of the reprint shows Helen seated on a stone wall with Anne standing next to her. Both women are facing away from the camera holding each other's hand. Their hands lie on top of a book that is resting on Helen's lap. The text of the reprint is shown below.
Anne's contribution to education was increasingly recognized, as was her stature as an important American woman. At the time of her marriage to John in 1905, Century Magazine editor and good friend Richard W. Gilder, wrote the following to John:
...She is one of the women of our times, - her fate, her happiness are matters of interest to many. She, too, should be a writer -- for she has shown great force of direct, sincere, discerning narrative...
In 1915, Anne was honored with a "Teacher's Medal" at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The following excerpt is from the speech that she gave at that event:
[Our schools]...uproot the creative ideals of childhood and plant in their place worthless ideals of ownership. The fine soul of the child is of far greater importance than high marks, yet the system causes the pupil to prize high grades above knowledge, and he goes from the schools into his life work believing always that the score is more important than the game, possession more praiseworthy than achievements.
The other honoree was the famous educator Dr. Maria Montessori. During this event, when Montessori was drawn to talk about Anne she said "I have been called a pioneer...but there is your pioneer."
At the event, Helen was annoyed as she felt that yet again, the focus of attention was on her and not her teacher. This feeling was only reinforced by the fact that the event took place on a day designated as "Helen Keller Day."
Full Text of Newspaper Article and Transcript of Anne's Speech
HELEN KELLER DAY
RELEASE MORNING NOVEMBER SEVENTH
Address Delivered by Miss Helen Keller Before Teachers and School Children of San Francisco at the Helen Keller Day Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, November Sixth. Miss Keller's Teacher, Mrs. John A. Macy, and Dr. Marie Montessori Received the Teacher's Medals of the Exposition at the Same Time. The A.P. Will Send a Lead.
I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the great honor that has been conferred upon Mrs. Macy and myself. Many fine compliments have been paid me today. They are pleasant to me, but the recognition given my teacher delights me still more. I am glad that competent judges everywhere approve of her and of her work-a work of devotion that may well stand as an example to the teachers of all generations. I am gratified that her teaching is recognized here at the magnificent exposition where all the triumphs of education are so impressively placed before us. But she has achieved more than a triumph of education; hers is also the triumph of a noble life.
We have known each other for twenty-eight years. How wonderful it all seems as I think of the day when she came to me in a small out-of-the-way town in Alabama to open the doors of the world and let me come in out of the silence and the night. She was a young woman, alone. She had been blind from childhood and her sight had just been partially restored. Everything before her was new and unfamiliar. With little equipment except an extraordinary mind and a fine, brave heart, she began her difficult work.
Handicapped by imperfect vision, without help or counsel or any previous experience in teaching, she struggled bravely and wisely with the difficulties of a new field of education. By genius and observation she worked out her own methods of teaching. New obstacles arose daily, but they did not defeat her. She never shirked her tasks, no matter how discouraged she might feel; she never shrank from her responsibilities, however painful they might be.
My teacher was irregularly instructed. There were gaps and deficiencies in her education that she had the rare wisdom herself to see. She brought to her work a freshness, a clear open-mindedness that contributed much toward her success. She was fearless in her experiments. All the qualities of the teacher born were hers. She stimulated in her pupil a desire to know more than she had time or knowledge to teach. She aroused curiosity, aspiration and joyous effort.
Young, eager, impulsive; she was a delightful companion. Her perception was so keen and her sympathy so quick that she could at any moment herself become a little child. She entered into all my experiences and discoveries with the spontaneous joy of a fellow explorer. To this youthful interest in everything, she added a smiling tact and endless ingenuity in explaining what I did not understand. Above all, she had a discerning love, which is a higher educational asset than any knowledge.
The stimulating contacts of life that had been denied me, she strove constantly to supply. She was ever at hand to keep me in touch with the vivid world of men and women while I was dumb. With high faith and perseverance she helped me to tear away the bands of silence so that I might have the joy of speaking, if most imperfectly, to a few intimate friends. And behold, she has faced the same tremendous struggle again so that I might speak more distinctly and be understood by many people. When I was in college she would use her poor sight and her supple, speaking hand for many hours each day to read to me and spell out the lectures. She has continued to bring me, day by day, the best thoughts of men and the news of their achievements.
She could have lived her own life, and had a better chance of happiness than most women. Her power of diamond-clear, audacious thought and the splendor of her unselfish soul that have made her a teacher of teachers, might have made her a leader in the great emancipation of women that our day is seeing. The freshness and lucidity of her writing would have won high distinction. But she has closed these doors to herself and refused to consider anything that would take her from me or interfere with her labor of love. Even now, when she has a household and new demands are always being made on her time and strength, she never lets pass a chance to lighten the weight that burdens my activities and hampers my work. The story of her teaching is the complete story of her life, her work is her whole biography.
She has given me the best years of her womanhood, and you see her still giving herself to me day by day. She has known suffering and sacrifice that few, even among women, can fully understand. Yet she has emerged from her struggle a strong, sweet woman. Her unusual mind, her large charity for everyone, the energy and beauty of her helpfulness and counsel fill me with wonder. She has done much for me that cannot be defined or explained. By the vitalizing power of her beautiful friendship she has stirred and enlarged my faculties. She has held me up to the ideals of the great and the good. She has opened my eyes to find my fellow men that need help, and it is the dearest joy of her life to have me do the most that lies in my power for them. She inspires me so that my good impulses are freer, my will to serve others stronger, my judgments broader and gentler. Her sympathy is a celestial flower that blooms in my life and gives to it whatever beauty it has.
Slowly, slowly out of my weakness and helplessness she has built up my life. No one knowns better than she and I how that life falls short of what we should like to make it. But, such as it is, she has built it and thousands of people are stirred by the story of her achievement. And her own life-what shall we say of it? She has spent it in an unpromising work, and lo, you see it, brave and unselfish, complete, aglow with the splendor of genius.
So the distinguished honor you pay us today is due to the great woman as well as to the great teacher. She has given more than the story of my life and education. Her richest gift to us all is zest in overcoming obstacles, zest in understanding and helping the lives of others, zest in putting joy and beauty into our work.
Transcript of Full Speech
Anne's Speech at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (1915)
From my heart I thank the department of education and the Panama-Pacific Exposition for the distinguished honor they have conferred on my pupil and myself. The beautiful medal I accept not only as a personal tribute, but as an earnest of your faith in new and more free methods of education. The medal, Helen Keller Day, the splendid compliment paid us by this great assemblage all celebrate an achievement in education. No greater honor can be paid a teacher than the recognition of her work. You see before you a teacher whose mature years have been passed wholly in the performance of one task, the training of one human being. For years I have known the teacher's one supreme reward, that of seeing the child she had taught grow into a living force in the world. And today has brought me the happiness of knowing that my work is an inspiration to other teachers.
In honoring Helen Keller and her teacher you declare your faith that in every child born into the world there are latent capacities for the development of an individual that shall be an honor to the human race; you attest your belief that every teacher worthy [of] that exalted name is able and willing to help to build the school of the future, the school of freedom.
Each of us has come here with dreams and hopes and plans for this new school. To many Helen Keller is a living example of the potency of the new education, one of the first pupils of the school of the future. That is why there is a Helen Keller Day at the Panama-Pacific Exposition.
Here is no dazzling personage, no startling circumstance. A young woman, blind, deaf and dumb from infancy, has, through the kind of education that is the right of every child, won her way out of darkness and silence, has found speech and has brought a message of cheer to the world. Men and women have listened and rejoiced, the[y] have learned to love the brave girl. They love her for her sweetness and courage, and for the lesson she has taught.
What she has accomplished without sight and hearing suggests the forces that lie dormant in every human being. And may we not hope that her education foreshadows the results that will be attained when the minds and senses of normal children are cultivated to their highest efficiency? If Helen Keller, lacking the two senses that are usually considered the most important, has become a writer of ability and a leader among women, why should we not expect the average child, possessed of all its faculties, to attain a far higher ability and knowledge than the schools of today develop? Many realize that there is something radically wrong with a system of education that obviously does not educate.
Every child begins life an eager, active little creature, always doing something, always trying to get something that he wants very much. Even before he can utter a word, succeeds in making known his desires by cries and grimaces. He invents and devises ways to get the things he wants. He is the star performer in his little world; he is the horse, the coachman, the policeman, the robber, the chauffeur, the automobile. He will be anything that requires initiative action. The one thing he never voluntarily chooses to be is the grown up personage that sits in the car and does nothing.
Our educational system spoils this fine enthusiasm. We impose the role of passenger upon the child, and give him no opportunities to exercise his inborn creative faculties. The alluring joy of creation is not for him. He is deluged with accomplished facts. Naturally, he becomes mischievous and difficult to manage. He is compelled to defy his teachers in order to save his soul.
Our schools give no encouragement to assimilation, reflection, observation. They kill imagination in the bud. They uproot the creative ideals of childhood and plant in their place worthless ideals of ownership. The fine soul of the child is of far greater importance than high marks, yet the system causes the pupil to prize high grades above knowledge, and he goes from the schools into his life work believing always that the score is more important than the game, possession more praiseworthy than achievement.
We try to model our children after a pattern we have in our own minds. We read and talk a good deal about evolution, individuality, natural tendencies; but we seem to be unable to fit these ideas into our system of education. We continue to impose our wills upon children. We deny them any right to wills and natures of their own. We reverse the known laws of evolution, we mark out our own path for the child's development and suppress his spontaneous impulses.
We have followed this mechanical method of education for a good many years, with what result? Our children leave school uneducated, doomed to go through life unreceptive, lacking imagination and initiative.
In Helen's education she never played the part of ignominious passenger. I early abandoned the conventional system of lessons; arithmetic at nine, language work at ten and so on. Regular lessons seemed to benumb my little pupil's natural impulses and self-educating instincts. Slowly the conviction formed in my mind that it is the child's prerogative to take the initiative, and the teacher's duty to follow the pupil's adventures and discoveries as intelligently and as sympathetically as she can. It is a waste of the teacher's time and of the child's energy to make him read when he wants to build castles with his blocks, to make him do sums in arithmetic when his whole mind is absorbed in the problem of keeping his boat right side up in the water. The child will learn more if the teacher lets the arithmetic go and turns her attention to navigation. This is not always the easiest way for the teacher, but it is the pleasantest and most profitable for the child.
I made it a rule to change the lesson the moment I noticed that Helen's interest in it flagged, and to follow her initiative in the choice of the next lesson. At first I had many misgivings as to the wisdom of what seemed a haphazard course. I had periods of profound melancholy when I thought that my pupil's mind was not receiving proper discipline. I was haunted by the fear that because our work was so pleasant, there must be something wrong about it. But, as time went on, my fears faded before Helen's joyous activity. All day long she was receptive, responsive, happy. Her delight in everything kept us all at a high pitch of enthusiasm, and enthusiasm makes work succeed.
It did not occur to me for some time that my experiments and deductions in the teaching of a deaf, dumb and blind child had any bearing upon the education of normal children. My task seemed to me a special one, quite apart from general education. I was trying to make the process of teaching a child that lacked two important senses pleasant to the child, and at the same time interesting to me. But as my work advanced, I saw that my ideas were proving successful. People began to talk about Helen's amazing progress, and to compare her mental development to that of normal children. Here was a little girl, without sight, without hearing, who was learning faster than most children with all their faculties. It began to dawn on me that my method, or lack of method, might have a broader application, might be of value to teachers of children with all their senses.
The more I read the more clearly I saw that my work with Helen offered a partial answer to many half-articulate doubts, and half-formed hopes of a new conception of education. 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.
To that wonderful woman, Dr. Marie Montessori, belongs the honor and the everlasting gratitude of mankind for having systematized these ideas of education and recorded them in her book, a book that is at once a thrilling human document, a scientific text book, a prophecy and a torch unto all those whose work it is to teach little children. Dr. Montessori learned, as I learned, and as every teacher must learn, that only through freedom can individuals develop self control, self dependence, will power and initiative. There is no education except self-education. There is no effective discipline except self-discipline. All that parents and teachers can do for the child is to surround him with right conditions. He will do the rest; and the things he will do for himself are the only things that really count in his education.
The hope of the future lies in the right education of the child. He must begin with a new outlook on life. We must awaken in his soul the will toward emancipation. Let us begin now and apply all that we know, and progressively all that we shall learn to awaken and develop in his soul the will to be free.
I am convinced that restraint arises from ignorance. Every teacher worthy of the name obtains results through the spontaneous response of the child. The new education will permit the child to grow in the environment in which he lives. Real impressions and observations will take the place of book learning. The child's natural desires and idiosyncrasies will be given wise and sympathetic direction. In the school of the future the child will be the important thing. If we get no further than this, we shall have prepared the way for the child's deliverance.
I am aware that the freedom of the child cannot be won without a hard struggle. But our battle for the freedom of the child is part of the age-long battle of mankind up from serfdom to freedom; a battle that began in the dateless past and will continue as long as new hopes and new visions arise in human minds.
This is the lesson that Helen Keller's education has for the world.