“The Miracle Worker”
July 26, 2011, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Behavior, Mind, Spirit

I needed some entertainment last night in my lonely little apartment, so I was perusing the DVDs at the local library for about fifteen seconds before “The Miracle Worker” popped out at me.  The film, a 1962 work by Artur Penn, tells the story of the early life of Hellen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Hellen Keller has left an amazing legacy and her teacher was the first one to truly believe in her and push her to communicate. I turn to her quotes a lot for inspiration. They hold such wise universal truths about the human spirit.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” – H.K.

One of the errors made by Hellen Keller’s parents in her early life was assuming she could never learn, pitying her for her weaknesses and thereby enabling her to behave however she wanted to because she lacked the normal functions of other children. Sullivan couldn’t swallow that pill and decided to stop Hellen’s bratty behavior by not allowing her to grab food from her plate at the dinner table. Hellen’s parents were shocked and argued that Sullivan’s philosophy was too hard and demanding. But Sullivan said Hellen needed to learn obedience and discipline before she could ever learn to communicate.

What ensued next was an hour-long temper tantrum and physical struggle to get Keller to understand proper table manners. Anne did this mostly through touch and repetition. This tantrum scene was amazing, hilarious and entertaining – reminded me of TSS work. We tell parents and caregivers that when tantrums and poor behavior are confronted and put to a stop the child’s behavior will often get worse before it gets better and it takes time and discipline to create true learning. So initially, Hellen’s parents did not believe or want to follow through with Sullivan’s tactics because they saw Hellen’s tantrums. (It is much easier to indulge a child, after all.) It wasn’t until they started seeing the fruits of Sullivan’s labor (Hellen folded her table napkin) that they agreed to continue.

Anne Sullivan was virtually blind herself as a child, and went through a series of operations, which restored her sight. She grew up in a home for children with disabilities and saw much human suffering. Hellen’s mother stared at her with tears in her eyes, pitying Anne’s experience. “No!” she said to her. “It made me strong.” Anne’s tough persona is what empowered Hellen to learn. It was a beautiful scene in the movie when Hellen began connecting the signs she was learning with the objects she was touching. She ran to her teacher and hugged her. The realization seemed to happen all at once. Had it not been for Anne empowering Hellen, despite her weaknesses, she might never have moved on to be the powerful educator and person she was.

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn whatever state I am in, therein to be content.” – H.K.


2 Comments so far
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I think of my own parenting, and the times where I have given in to my child’s pouting or attitude (which is just an older version of a tantrum, lol) because I sympathize with them upon listening to their side of the story, instead of holding on to what I know to be right as a parent. As Anne grew up in a home for children with disabilities seeing much human suffering, our children are too growing up in a spiritually disabled world with much human suffering as a result of that spiritual disability. Anne’s toughness with HK is proof that as a parent it only benefits our children to remain lovingly tough and I believe one day that my kids will also say that mine and Tony’s toughness have made them strong.

Comment by Daidree

Beautiful words, Daidree. You are right on so many levels about the world being “spiritually disabled.” And imagine navigating it without the unconditional, but firm love of good parents… it breaks my heart to see children who lack that involvement and intervention in their lives. But, luckily, I think this saying holds true; “It takes a village to raise a child” and feel that any adult (or even peers) can be guides for children who need that hope and light in their lives.

Comment by simplyenjoy

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