Helen Keller is credited with saying, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” It turns out that we are not as fragile as once was thought. We actually can handle the truth and the emotions that come with it.
I have always had a love affair with history. Not the passionate, obsessive kind of affair, but the slow-moving, gathering of sentiments kind, a relationship that I have fostered over decades, as I indolently collect facts, make sense of things, process during long walks, reflect and then write.
I am aware that my white privilege contributes to affording me this luxury and this hobby, and that my Catholic guilt edges me to use it for good. I am aware of all of these influences, but I guess what makes me uber infuriated is that parts of the stories (many, many stories) were intentionally deleted out of the elementary and secondary textbooks, creating a brittle foundation for my bequeathed sideline. The public education I received is now on shaky grounds and the only respectful thing to do is go back and re-learn the facts.
A few things might have been happening with the writers, editors and publishers of historical textbooks back in the mid 1900s. Either they were consciously trying to sway the minds of impressionable students toward a skewed white supremist narrative, or they were embarrassed by the truth and felt omitting details could do no harm, or, they thought the generations who were going to rely on their texts could not handle the truth.
For me, adulting contributed to the realization that honesty really is the best policy. But this creed was dismissed long ago and now there are several generations who are outraged, and rightly so. And the big sting is not only that we were lied to but that the stage was then set for a leader who would ultimately lie daily to his country women and men, for four straight years, while we watched, some of us in a paralyzed and muzzled rebellion, as the numbness to the denigration pervaded.
Our founding fathers had flaws, some of the heroic Suffrages were racist and yes, even Helen Keller had skeletons in the closet. In Carlyn Beccia’s article for Medium 6 of Your Childhood Heroes Who Kinda Sucked, I learned Helen Keller supported the eugenics movement, where doctors refused to perform life-saving operations and procedures on babies, children and adults who had disabilities. Yes, that is correct, one of the most revered and most challenged persons in the 1900s counseled against medical procedures that would save the life of people who were experiencing challenges similar to hers. Helen Keller was actually a sort of reverse advocate in this light, and although these facts do not take away her accomplishments, it does create a new narrative about her values, her vulnerabilities and her influences.
Continually robbing our children from verity is an injustice that happened then, and is playing out now. It has created a reckoning and a mistrust of the very footing of our educational system. We all have to work now to get the stories right, however horrible or wonderful they are. I can handle the truth, in fact, it’s all I have ever wanted.