Based on her autobiography The Story of My Life, how was Helen Keller as a child and as a student?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In her autobiography, The Story of My Life, Helen Keller confesses to having been quite a wild child before she met her teacher Anne Sullivan. Her wildness is seen in the fact that she was prone to temper tantrums and used manipulation to get her way. But she also explains that her temper tantrums were a result of feeling angered by being trapped in a world she didn't understand and her poor behavior a result of having no way to learn morals.

One example she gives of a tempter tantrum due to frustration concerns the times she observed people around her moving their lips to communicate. After recovering from her high fever, as she got older, she explains that she felt a basic need to communicate with others around her and started making gestures to do so:

A shake of the head meant "No and a nod, "Yes," a pull meant "Come" and a push, "Go." Was it bread that I wanted? Then I would imitate the acts of cutting the slices and buttering them. (Ch. 2)

At some point in her early life, she realized that other people didn't use gestures to communicate. She used to stand between two people she knew were talking and touch their lips. She could feel their lips moving but didn't understand why. She tried moving her lips too but knew she wasn't communicating anything by doing so. As she explains, "This made [her] so angry at times that [she] kicked and screamed until [she] was exhausted" (Ch. 2).

She also explains that she spent all of her time with their cook's daughter her age named Martha Washington, mostly because she "seldom had any difficulty in making [Martha] do just as she wished" (Ch. 2). She further says she realized when she was behaving badly and felt something "akin to regret" anytime she hurt someone with her kicking but not enough regret to stop herself from behaving that way in the future.

However, all of this changed when she started learning from Sullivan. The lessons were very challenging at first, but, soon, Helen learned manners, how to do new tasks on her own, and how to communicate, which opened up the door for her to be able to understand kindness, compassion, and moral behavior.

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