The Education Of The Deaf
by Helen Keller, from Out Of The Dark, 1920
Note: This Excerpt is An Address of Miss Keller before the International Otological Congress, at the Harvard Medical School, August 16, 1912.
I am glad that this congress of doctors is going to give some time to the problem of the deaf, to the problem that must be solved, not by surgery, but by education. You have devoted yourselves nobly to the study of the organ of hearing and to the treatment of its diseases. But those whom you could not help, and who therefore ceased to be your patients — you have left them to the school-teacher. You have done splendid work in the laboratory and the consulting room; but you have not usually followed your patient into the schoolroom and into the paths of life where he is part of the human throng. You have not shown much interest in his efforts to understand the speech of men and to make his own speech intelligible.
This gathering is an indication that your interest will henceforth embrace the deaf pupil and the deaf citizen as well as the diseased ear, that you will cooperate with the teacher, that, in words of Dr. James Kerr Love, you will “raise the deaf child to the rank of a patient.” I am very grateful, to you, gentlemen. This is a new day in the education of the deaf — the day when the physician is no longer content to fight the hostile silences with medicine and surgical instruments alone, but helps the teacher to pour the blessed waters of speech into the desert of dumbness.
The physician of olden times had no duty but to heal wounds and give medicine. It was his function to make sick people well. The modern physician is labouring to keep mankind well. He is a sanitary engineer, a sociologist, a constructive philanthropist. I am but urging you in the direction which your profession has already taken, when I ask you to look beyond the deaf ear to the deaf child, to the human being whose problem it is to recover, despite deafness, his golden birthright of spoken words. You will look behind the closed doors of sense and see the impatient spirit waiting to be set free. It will become your painful duty to tell the parents that their child will never hear. Resist the tendency some physicians call it humane, I call it barbarous — of leaving the patient in hope of ultimate recovery when you know that it is impossible. I have heard of doctors who continued to prescribe useless remedies, such as electricity and osteopathy and even Christian Science, when they knew that there was no hope, simply because they had not the courage to tell the truth. Such kindness is expensive consolation. It would be much more to the point to prepare the unfortunate one for his fate, to help him arrange his life in anticipation of the changed conditions under which he must henceforth live.
I was about six years old before any of the specialists whom my parents consulted was brave enough to tell them that I should never see or hear. It was Doctor Chisholm of Baltimore who told them my true condition. “But,” said he, “she can be educated,” and he advised my father to take me to Washington and consult Doctor Alexander Graham Bell as to the best method of having me taught. Doctor Chisholm did exactly the right thing. My father followed his advice at once, and within a month I had a teacher, and my education was begun. From that intelligent doctor’s office I passed from darkness to light, from isolation to friendship, companionship, knowledge. The parent who brings his child to your office, to your hospitals, should find in you, not a teacher, perhaps, but one who understands how far it is possible to right the disaster of deafness.
You should know about such work as that of my friend Mr. John D. Wright. When you know about the work that he and his teachers are doing, you will not be satisfied until every deaf child within your knowledge receives oral instruction.
How splendid it will be, what new courage we shall feel, if all aural surgeons henceforth use their influence to secure for every deaf child the opportunity to speak! The deaf and the teachers of the deaf need your help, and I am sure that you will help them in all the countries of the world from this day forth. Gentlemen, I thank you.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Keller, H. (1912). The education of the deaf. In H. Keller, Out of the dark. New York, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company. Retrieved [date accessed] from /issues/education-deaf-1912/.