Friday, August 19, 2005



In a textbook example of whitewashing, if today's America knows Helen Keller (1880-1968) at all, it's the easy-to-digest image portrayed in the 1962 film, "The Miracle Worker." Brave deaf and blind girl "overcomes" all obstacles to inspire everyone she meets. "The Helen Keller with whom most people are familiar is a stereotypical sexless paragon who was able to overcome deaf-blindness and work tirelessly to promote charities and organizations associated with other blind and deaf-blind individuals," writes Sally Rosenthal in Ragged Edge.

But, in 1909, Helen Keller became a socialist. Soon after, she emerged as a vocal supporter of the working class and traveled the nation to voice her opposition to war. "How can our rulers claim they are fighting to make the world safe for democracy," she asked, "while here in the U.S. Negroes may be massacred and their property burned?"

here for the rest.

I first read about Keller when I was in the third grade, seven or eight years after her death. Her struggle against her disabilities was engaging enough to keep me away from the television and playground while glued to her biography. But I didn't learn about the really fascinating aspects of her life until I read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States back in the late 90s. It strikes me as amazing that, if Keller is an important enough figure to be a part of every public school history curriculum in the United States, her influential adult career as a left-wing political activist is not mentioned at all!!! It is impossible that such an omission is simply some sort of an oversight; it is too consistent, too across-the-board, too cut-and-dry. There's only one explanation of the historical eradication of Keller's leftism: it is deliberate political censorship, performed by numerous individuals over the years, acting individually. Keller's values would be disruptive to the unjust American social structure, and therefore inappropriate for school.

What might this tell us about how public school handles history in general?