Sufficient Impacts on the History of Special Education

Special Education, over the years, has grown and improved substantially. The history of it contains many admirable historical figures and events that have defined and impacted Special Education. I, however, picked 4 people and one event that I thought had a great impact on Special education. Without these people, special education would not be where it is today. I believe Jean Itard, Edouard Seguin, Helen Keller, Samuel Howe and the Brown Vs. Board of Education, were all important highlights in the history of Special Ed. Although they are not the only ones that should be commended for doing an outstanding job in improving the status of Special Ed, education would not progress as much without them.

Jean Itard is perhaps best defined as “the Father of Special Education” Although he was not aware that his work would have been defined as Special education, his work had a profound effect on future generations. Itard was educated to be a tradesman. However, during the French Revolution, he joined the army to become an assistant surgeon. After the war, he took upon a new and challenging project called Victor. Victor was a wild, animal- like boy that was found running around in the forest. In 1800 he was bought to Paris for observation. When Itard saw the wild, uncivilized boy, he assumed that he had been recently abandoned by his parents. Like a wild animal that does not like to be caged, Victor escaped a couple of times from a widow’s bedroom window. He was normally deficient, but Itard believed he could educate the boy through experience. During Itard’s time, it was a common belief that mentally disabled people were uneducable. The remarkable guru spent five years trying to “cure” him. After 5 years, Victor could read and speak a few words, and could also show affection towards his caretakers. Unfortunately, he never reached normality. Itard thought he had failed as a teacher, but his experience with Victor taught others that in order to achieve the smallest success, he had to accept Victor as a person. His work implemented the most important truth of all, and that was that education had to be in harmony with the dynamic nature of life. 

The next important historical figure was not a teacher, but a remarkable student. Helen Keller had an illness which left her blind and deaf. As a young child, she suffered through severe retardation. She made animal like sounds, ripped her clothes off, and was not toilet trained. It was apparent that she lacked civilized traits. Many years later, even she said “I was an animal.” Poor Helen had become a very difficult child. She terrorized the house hold, and often endangered the people in it. The Kellers were advised to visit an expert on deaf children. This was the well known Alexander Graham Bell. Bell suggested that the family seek an instructor from Perkins University.

On March 3rd, 1883, she met her teacher and caretaker, Miss Anne Sullivan. During the first meeting of theirs, Anne spelled out the word d-o-l-l on her arm. After writing the word on her arm, Anne gave Helen a doll, to show her what “doll” was. The next word she was spelled out was “cake” Although she could quickly repeat the same finger movements, Helen never really understood what the words meant. While Anne was struggling to help her understand the meaning of a word, she also was struggling to try to control Helen’s undesirable behavior. Making her educated and civilized was a great challenge for Anne. After a month, her behavior did improve. It was that initial month that the bond between Anne and Helen was established. After that month was the time that people referred to as the “miracle. It was not until 1887, that Helen began to grasp an understanding of the words. Anne pumped water on to Helen’s hand, and spelled out the word on her hand. Something about this activity helped Helen understand the meaning of the words.. Helen progressed as an individual over the years.

The life that she lived has had an impact on teaching methods, as well as technology. With the aid of Anne, through her writing, lectures, and the way she lived life, she has shown people that being disabled is not the end of the world. Her impact on education can be shown through this quote of hers: “The public must learn that the blind man is neither genus nor a freak nor an idiot. He has a mind that can be educated, a hand which can be trained…”