Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Letter: Keep Helen Keller in the Texas Curriculum

This e-mail was composed and sent to our Texas State Board of Education representative for District 5, Mr. Ken Mercer, on September 26, 2018.

Dear Mr. Ken Mercer,

I am writing to you concerned about the State Board of Education’s recommendation to eliminate Helen Keller from Texas’ 3rd grade textbooks and curriculum.

I’m a Deaf mother of three children with different hearing/deafness etiologies. My oldest son is Deaf and in 8th grade, my daughter is hearing and in 7th grade, and my youngest son, Orion, who is DeafBlind is in 3rd grade. I am currently studying for my M.Ed. in Special Education focusing on orientation & mobility via Texas Tech University. Meanwhile, I will be receiving my academic certificate in DeafBlindness in December 2018.

I understand a rubric was used to evaluate historical figures, with the goal that decisions can be as objective as possible. However, with this rubric, Helen Keller was given 7 points and recommended for removal, yet Billy Graham a pass to be kept in the curriculum regardless of a rubric scoring that was lower than others slated for removal. The rubric configuration that was used is clearly not working and is inconsistent, thus not credible in my eyes.

Helen Keller caused change and enlightenment to take place worldwide. Taking 40 minutes of instructional time to talk about Helen Keller is not only the tip of the iceberg, it opens a door to further development understanding, empathy and many friendships with people who are different. Approximately one out of five Americans have a disability. Our curriculum needs to reflect that. We need to retain exemplary role models who have disabilities for children with or without disabilities.

Although Helen Keller was not the first DeafBlind student in the U.S., she was the first DeafBlind graduate of Radcliffe College. She co-founded what is now known as Helen Keller International, an organization that brings awareness and prevention of blindness worldwide. Helen Keller met several US presidents, she challenged the Lion’s Club to aid the blind and visually impaired which they proudly still do to this day, she worked for the American Foundation for the Blind until her death in 1968. Her body [lies] in rest at the Washington National Cathedral. Keller was so famous that anywhere she went, people paid attention to her and what she had to say, making a positive difference. Helen Keller was not only an extraordinary DeafBlind person, she was a notable, exceptional person regardless of her abilities.

The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) was established in 1967 after the Helen Keller National Center Act was passed to provide rehabilitation training for individuals who are DeafBlind.

In 1964, Helen Keller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Baines Johnson, our US president who hailed from Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott, proclaimed June 2018 as “Helen Keller DeafBlind Awareness Month” in the state of Texas. (Direct link to an online image of the document:

Initially people are impressed by Helen Keller’s story as a person who is DeafBlind. Eventually, people will see quite a resume of accomplishments by anyone regardless of ability. I will be satisfied when the Texas State Board of Education withdraws their recommendation for removing Helen Keller from the curriculum. I thank you and the State Board of Education for your time spent on considering this very important, far-reaching matter on hand.


Heather Lightfoot Withrow
Austin, Texas