Groping in the Dark
I REMEMBER that it was the day after the candy episode that my teacher took me to Morris Hall, the Industrial Department of the Institution. There a man showed her several empty boxes of different sizes and shapes, such as my Uncle Charlie used to throw in a heap near his store and let ragged boys carry away for firewood. She selected a box, tucked it under her arm, and led me to the matron’s office in Wissinoming Hall. In a big closet we found some denim, upholstery hair, a hammer, and brass tacks. Using the hair for padding, my teacher fitted the denim over the box and tacked it down a little. Then she put the hammer into my hand to show me how to tack the denim in place, but I refused, because I thought it was a boy’s work. Had she not already mortified me enough by carrying an old wooden box unwrapped under her arm all the way from the Industrial Department? I thought the driveways leading from one department to another were streets and that the Industrial Department was a store. I imagined that many people must have seen us on the street without hats or gloves — my teacher carrying a box under one arm while she wiggled her fingers in my hand! I wondered if people put their hands over their lips and smiled at us.
After my teacher had finished covering the box, she procured some old envelopes from the superintendent’s secretary and a belt pin from the matron; then, placing the envelopes on top of the cushioned box, she proceeded to stick the pin into the paper, showing me how I could feel each prick on the underside. At first I was interested, but as the proceeding did not mean anything to me, and I had no idea that it was leading to something more important, I soon grew impatient. I reasoned that what one did at my home had some purpose or meaning. If Mother set the table it was because we needed the dishes to eat from; if she swept the floor or washed and ironed, the reason was equally apparent. But sticking a pin into a paper was meaningless to me, and if I had had any language then I should have said, ‘What nonsense! Why not get busy and do something? This is not even play.’
On Friday, June 4, I was taken to Wingohocking Hall by my teacher, who left me in the care of the assistant matron and departed for her home. Since the next day was Saturday there was no school, but my teacher came to see if I was pleased with my new abode. She found me installed in a big bedroom which I shared with my supervisor. We each had our own bed, bureau, washstand, and closet. My teacher spent the forenoon with me, watching me take my belongings out of my bag and arrange them unaided. She and my supervisor were amused to see how carefully I arranged everything. My teacher kept asking why I put this here and that there. Her notes show some of my answers: —
Saturday, June 5. — Kathryne is in Wingohocking Hall now, and is delighted with her bedroom. All her belongings were sent to her this morning and she at once, without being told, proceeded, after she had been shown which articles in the room were for her use, to put everything away in a neat and orderly manner: her towels and washcloth on the towel rack; her soap in the soap dish; her toothbrush in the mug on the washstand beside her tooth powder; her night ribbons, clean towels, and washcloths in the washstand drawer; her best shoes and bedroom slippers in the washstand closet; her hair ribbons, ties, beads, bracelets, pins, handkerchiefs, and other trinkets in the top drawer of her bureau; her morning dresses and aprons in the next drawer; her afternoon dresses in the next lower, and her underclothes in the bottom drawer.
I asked her why she had placed them in that order and she replied in gestures that all the things in the top drawer were needed often; that the dresses and aprons in the next lower drawer were not important and that the dust made by opening and closing the top drawer often would not hurt them; that her good dresses and skirts were placed in the next drawer because she wanted to keep them very nice; and that her underclothes were placed in the bottom drawer because they did not stay in the drawer long enough at a time to get dusty. When arranging the top of the bureau, she put her hairbrush on it. I asked her why she did not put her toothbrush on the bureau, too. She put her hand over her mouth in a mocking way, and for a halfminute smiled and wiggled, then led me by the hand to the washstand to show me that the brush was of no use without water. To be sure that I understood, she had me touch the water pitcher. Then I offered to put the soap dish on the bureau. This was too much for her and she ran laughing to her supervisor with her hand over her mouth, while pointing a finger at me.
On Monday, my teacher took me to the room that had been assigned to us by the superintendent. It contained a long, low table and several chairs, and the stuffed box, the belt pin, and the old envelopes had preceded us, as well as the now familiar box of cubes and beads in their original mix-up. We seated ourselves at the table and bowed our heads in prayer for a minute. Then my teacher proceeded to show me how to draw lines on stiff paper, putting the paper on the stuffed box and drawing a line on it with an orange-wood stick, which I thought was a pencil. When the paper was turned over I could feel the lines. At first she drew long horizontal lines, then short ones.
I thought this was another queer streak of hers, and, taking the stick from her, I undertook to show her that no one wrote her way. I moved it up and down as I had felt people’s hands moving when they were writing. Then, thinking I had done something very sensible, I turned the paper over, felt my writing, and, glowing over it, showed it to my teacher. She in turn felt my writing, then touched her eyes and head with my hand, at the same time shaking her head. This told me that neither her eyes nor her brain could make anything out of my scribbling. I was crestfallen for the moment, but she quickly seized the pedagogical opportunity thus offered and, placing the stick in my hand, guided my hand up and down on the paper. After examining what we had scribbled, she placed my fingers on her lips and the side of her nose, while she said ‘Mama’ as Father did when he said ‘Mama’ to me. We did not write ‘Mama,’ but ‘mam,’ because I objected to beginning at the right-hand side of the paper, and ‘mam’ in large Roman letters can be read backward and forward without changing the word. I was delighted, and we practised this for a long time.
Then my teacher showed me how I could write ‘mam’ unaided. To do this she placed my middle finger and forefinger close together on the paper and ran the pencil around the tips to form ‘M.’ Then a little to the right she placed only the forefinger on the paper and drew a line around the tip, forming a sort of arch. Across this arch she drew a line, and told me that I had written ‘A.’ Then I repeated the ‘M,’ completing the word.
Still I had no idea about the use of letters and written words. I soon tired of trying to write ‘mam’ alone and stopped work. My teacher did not seem to mind, which set me wondering. Long afterward she told me that she never wanted me to work at anything when I found it tiresome, and that as soon as I was weary of doing anything she would change my work.
Putting aside the orange-wood stick, paper, and box, my teacher led me around the room, showing me different objects and touching me under the chin, which meant that I was to try to say the names of the things that I touched. This I could not do. Nevertheless, a short time every day was given to similar attempts. The object was to help me to recall, if I could, any spoken words I had known before I lost my speech. (My parents had already succeeded in helping me to recall the names of some of our relatives, though only a few could understand me.) Meanwhile my teacher kept wiggling her fingers in my hand. I learned later that she was spelling slowly the names of objects to me.
Next we tackled the box of cubes and beads. I hesitated for a moment about helping her, thinking it was useless, since she would only get them in disorder again; but, understanding from her gestures that she would not take me into the yard to run until the beads and cubes were attended to, I decided I might as well hurry and have the disagreeable task over. So I worked away and had nearly all of them on the string when Miss Bliss, the principal, came into the room. The beads were shown to her and she made much ado over my work, patting me on the head and shoulder while she nodded her head up and down in approbation. I felt proud because I had done something of which others approved.
It dawned on me that the principal had more authority than my teacher, because the principal was the mother of that, house. I wondered where the father was and thought that perhaps he had gone to work. I wondered why the father in the other big house, Wissinoming Hall, did not work, but stayed at home all day. Recalling that his clothes seemed to me to be Sunday clothes, I supposed he was rich and did not have to work, but lived in the big house with the smooth marble floor in the hall like the one in the big house in Harrisburg where my father had taken me to see some men who shook hands with me and told him that they would send me away to school. I knew that the big house in Harrisburg was important, because Mother was so particular about everything when she dressed me to go there. I later learned it was the Capitol. I thought Governor Stuart was the father in that house, and I wondered where the mother was. The father in Wissinoming Hall seemed like the Governor to me, and I was proud of having spent my first week at the Institution in the house where the father did not have to work.
I have always been fond of work or action of any kind, so I am at a loss to know how I had acquired such snobbish ideas — surely not from my parents. Perhaps I had picked them up from other children before I became handicapped. Also I had not forgotten that money enables one to get almost everything desired — or, at least, all the necessities. This idea probably was derived from the fact that my mother always had to take me with her when she went shopping and to market. My sense of smell and touch told me when things were beautiful or objectionable, and I was aware that people who were well-to-do generally had beautiful things.
Next, a big box of empty spools of all sizes and shapes was given to me, and with them two long strings to each of which was attached a bodkin. I was to put the largest, spools on one string and the smallest on the other, putting only spools of one size and shape on each string and discarding all except the very large and very small spools. While I was working I was wondering if we should ever get the room in shape. I had taken a liking to my teacher when first we met, and had tried in my own mind to excuse her seeming disorderliness by thinking it was house-cleaning time. But why was she so late about it? Mother had finished house cleaning long before that. I was rejoicing over the thought that Mother was much smarter than other folks when my teacher interrupted me to say that I should be more careful in measuring the spools. I went over every spool that I had strung and found that I had made two mistakes. She told me that when I was in doubt about the size of a spool I should measure it by the first spool on the string.
All this was only one of the many steps in training my sense of touch, to enable me to take up the more exacting work of reading Braille. Few people realize the difficulties involved in teaching the blind. Many think that all that is necessary is to give the child a sheet of dotted print and in a short time he will learn to read. Such is not the case; much preliminary training of the sense of touch is required. The problem of training me was even greater than in the case of the average blind child, for a child sightless from infancy would, on reaching the age of nine years, have already fairly welltrained finger tips, and small dots would not present the difficulties to him that they did to me when I started out on my school career.
Not knowing the object in having me do so much measuring and weighing of things in my mind, I suggested to my teacher that she place the large spools on one side of the table and the small ones on the other side, showing her what I meant by putting a few large spools on the table on the right of me and a few small ones on the left. I touched my eyes, pointed to the spools, shook my head, then touched her eyes and nodded my head, while pointing to the spools, to tell her that I could not see them and she could and that it would hurry things along if she would do as I suggested. Not knowing that ’there is no royal road to learning,’ I thought she was a very useless person, but I did the best I could with the spools and won her approval.
Weather permitting, we worked on the schoolhouse steps or in the yard, using our schoolroom more as a storehouse and museum, for I would not allow any of my work to be discarded; I wanted to save it all to show my parents. Each day my teacher brought something new for me to do, and I always looked forward joyously to it. She made for me drawing cards which,
I have since learned, she invented for the blind, and which are now in general use in kindergarten classes. She cut a square, or some other geometric figure, in a piece of cardboard, then put a sheet of paper over some blotting paper and placed the cardboard with the design cut in it over the paper. After she had fastened the three together, she gave me a pointed orange-wood stick and showed me how to run the stick around the inner edge of the pattern cut in the cardboard. On examining the sheet of paper which had been placed between the blotting pad and the cardboard, I could feel the outline of the design. With scissors I cut along the lines I had drawn, and then pasted the design in a blank book.
There was no end to the variety of ways my teacher had to keep me busy, all of which she called kindergarten work, but many of which she invented for me. While I was at work she was never idle, although she kept an eye on me all the time and pointed out any error that I made. After I had learned how to do a new thing I was kept practising it a few minutes every day until I had become expert in its performance. Soon our programme became so full that one thing after another had to be dropped as we took up something new. While supervising my work at things that did not need much attention, my teacher would prick holes in cards. I liked to keep my hands on hers to find out what she was doing, but after I discovered that she was just making holes in cardboard with a belt pin I thought it more profitable if not more amusing to be measuring and stringing spools or sorting out blocks. I did not know that I should have to deal with these pricked cards later on, or what pleasure I should derive from them.
For over a week my teacher kept up the wiggling of her fingers in my hand — not so persistently as she had the first few days, but enough to make me rebellious. During my second week at school she showed me how the other girls wiggled their fingers to spell, but still I did not understand and would have none of it. Besides, I did not want to be like girls who walked on the street on Sunday hatless and wearing aprons. Then, too, Mother and Father never wiggled their fingers.
You see, I had brought from home a pattern in my brain of how things should be done, and I expected everyone to conform to this pattern. My awakening came slowly, and not without many heart wrenches, for I had formed a crude little philosophy of my own, and who among us likes to have his cherished idols disturbed by something or someone whose motives he does not understand?
There were two or three girls at the Institution who were having their eyes treated and were not allowed to go to school. They spent their time walking around in the yard doing nothing. But my teacher never allowed anyone around her to remain idle long if she could possibly help it. Everyone must either work, play, read, sleep, or keep away from her. So she pressed these girls into service as soon as they came to stare at us. Calling one of them to her, she took the girl’s hands in her own and had me place mine over both of theirs so that I should know what she was doing. Holding the girl’s hands, she made the sign for ‘ box ’ and pushed the girl and me toward our box, which was on the doorstep a little distance away. The girl held my hand and led me to that everlasting old stuffed wooden box, which she picked up and carried to my teacher, who shook her head to show me that it was I who should have brought it. She patted the girl on the shoulder and gave me a little push, which I did not like, for I understood she was telling me that the girl was smart and I was not. When we repeated the act, I grabbed the box, hurried to my teacher, and received a well-earned pat.
After several repetitions, an orange was placed beside the box, and I was shown where both were. Then, summoning the other girls, my teacher told us each individually, in signs, to get the orange. How we laughed when one girl brought back the box instead of the orange! Gradually other objects were placed on the doorstep near the box and I, fearing that the other girls had the advantage of me because they could see, complained. My teacher then blindfolded all of us. At last I was able to play the game with the other girls on an equal footing, and we had a glorious time.
After we had practised this game for a few days my teacher put a box and an orange on a small table in the yard, and on the box placed a card in which she had pricked a large Roman B and on the orange a similar card bearing the letter O. After I had examined the cards carefully, she took them in her hand and, standing at some distance from the table, gave me the O card and the B card and told me to place them on the orange and the box, respectively. I did not understand until the girls had gone through the act first. When I understood, my teacher stopped making signs and made O with her fingers, showing me that when she did this I was to bring her the O card. After we had a turn at this, my teacher showed me that when she held up the four fingers of her right hand with the thumb on the palm, she wanted the B card. I understood at once, and did my act so well that I was rewarded with an extra pat on the back.
Then a C card was placed on a small round cake, and afterward put with the two other cards. Since it is easy to make the letter C with the fingers and to read it, too, I was able to get C and give it to my teacher the first time she called for it, but not so with one of the other little girls. The first time she went for C she took a big bite out of the cake, pretending she could not find the card. She explained to my teacher that she did not know the cake from the box and orange until she had tasted it. I was shocked at the girl and shamed her by rubbing one of my fingers over the other toward her. I put my hand on my teacher’s face to see how she took the matter, and was surprised to find her shaking with laughter.
Soon the box, orange, and cake were removed and only the three cards were left on the table. Then my teacher called for the cards by making the letters with her fingers. We girls took turns at being teacher and made the letters with our fingers when calling for a card. In this way I was learning to read both Roman and manual letters, and also to make the letters with my fingers, the latter being called ‘manual spelling.’ Besides, I was beginning to see that the teacher’s wiggling fingers meant something, and my attitude toward the wiggling and the box began to change.
We played this game for an hour or so every day, and at the end of three weeks, when my parents paid their first visit to the Institution, I was able to read six of the large Roman letters that were pricked on cards. I could also make the same letters with my fingers. I took great pride in showing my parents what I could do, and insisted that my father try to spell with his fingers. The result was that in the few hours he spent with me that day he learned to make several letters with his fingers. I was beside myself with joy at the thought of Father’s being able to play this new game with me when I went home.
Nevertheless, I had yet to discover that by grouping the letters in certain ways words and sentences could be formed, and that by learning to read and understand these sentences a new world would be mine. Nor did my parents, at this time, know how much skill and thought it required to bridge over the gulf that lay between the knowledge I had acquired from experience and the unknown realm of abstract knowledge. But my teacher tells me that Dr. Crouter, the superintendent, understood, and that he watched with great interest every attempt she made to enlighten me.
Some interested observers of my teacher’s work, who did not foresee the results she hoped to reach, thought it was all wrong to teach me Roman letters before I took up Braille, and they did not hesitate to say so. They had met educated, sightless, hearing people who knew nothing of and had no use for Roman letters, so why waste time bothering me with them? To this my teacher tells me she made no reply, although she had a threefold purpose in mind in teaching me Roman letters. First, they served as an excellent means of training my sense of touch. Second, she wished to recall to my mind any knowledge I might have gained of printed letters before I became blind. Finally, she wished me to know the printed letters and later the written forms of letters so that I could understand people at home if they wrote on my arm or in the palm of my hand.
My teacher had confidence in her own plan, and as Dr. Crouter approved of what she was doing, she went right on with a clear conscience. She knew that to the casual observer there seemed to be simpler and decidedly easier ways of reaching me and accomplishing what was desired. For instance, why did not my teacher keep on spelling in my hand until I had awakened to the fact that a letter, no matter how made, ‘is a mark or sign used to represent a sound of the human voice, or a conventional representation of one of the primary elements of speech’? The answer is in my teacher’s notes: ‘Spelling and any attempt at having you read or make dotted print were already causing you to become rebellious. To prevent you from forming a dislike for school work I had to invent other and more interesting ways.’
My teacher kept making slight changes in the alphabet game previously described. As soon as I had learned that I should put the B card on the box and the C card on the cake, and so on, when they were handed to me, the cards were shuffled and placed in a heap on the table and my teacher called for a certain card by making a letter with her fingers. My task was to select, unaided, a card from the table bearing a letter corresponding to the one she was making with her fingers. When I became adept in playing all the games I have mentioned, the cards were put away and I was required to give my teacher immediately any article on the table when she made the letter with which the name of the article began. The girls and I had great fun playing this game until a bun was added to the collection of objects with which we were playing. Before the bun was put with the other articles, I was told that it was a B article.
When it came my turn to play and my teacher called B, I hesitated for a second, because I knew that if I gave her the wrong article I should have to stop playing until the other girls had had their turns, and as I did so love to keep on the jump I did not want to lose my play so early in the game. With this in mind, I seized the box and bun and hurried to her with them, but to my surprise she did not take them. I put my hand on her face to see what was amiss and found her lips drawn in and pressed tightly together, while not a muscle of her face moved. This was to let me know that it was a matter for me to think out before I could expect help from her. I waited for a second or two, but she remained sphinxlike, so I put the box and bun in my left hand and, making B with my right, touched the box and bun to show her that both were B. Then I touched her and threw my right hand out with a quick movement, palm turned up, signifying that she had taught me that ‘ box ’ and ‘ bun ’ were both B; how was I to know which B article she wanted? First she nodded and made B while holding up one finger, then shook her head while holding up two fingers, to tell me that the rule of the game called for only one article at a time. Then she showed me that BU was for ‘bun’ and plain B was for ‘box.’ I got the alphabet cards I had learned and showed her that there was no U among them. She very quickly got a U card, showed it to me, and placed it with the letters that I had learned. She repeated this act every time there was a call for a new letter, until there were no more letters to add to the stack of cards.
We resumed our playing, and when she called for BU, I promptly got the bun. Soon she took her luncheon from the closet, scraped a little butter off some bread, and put it on a piece of paper, which she placed beside the bun and the box. She let me taste the butter and told me that it was BU, but I showed her that the bun was BU; then she showed me an N card and told me that BUN called for the bun, BU for the butter, and B for the box. Now she added a book, telling me that it also was a B article. I indicated again that, when she made B, I should not know what she wanted. Then she spelled into my hand slowly: ‘Bun, butter, box, book.’ She had me repeat the spelling over and over until I had mastered these words.
My teacher has told me recently that some psychologists might not approve of the method she followed in associating first one letter, then two, and finally all the letters of a word with an object, instead of spelling the entire word to me at first and later breaking it up into its component parts, as is done in teaching children to read. She explained that she could not do that for several reasons. First, I did not have a concept of the meaning of written words. Second, it would have been too difficult for me to master all at once all the motions involved in forming one word. Finally, she wished to set me thinking, as she surely did when I encountered different words beginning with the same letter.
After I had learned a few words, my teacher showed me how, by moving letters from one place to another, I could spell several words with the same letters. Taking four cards, — two O cards, one D card, and one G card, — she showed me how to spell ‘God,’ ‘good,’ ‘go,’ and ‘dog.’ I was greatly interested, for I had now grasped the idea that everything has a written and spelled name as well as a spoken one. My parents had not allowed me to forget that everyone and everything has a spoken name, even though I could not pronounce it, but I was slow in awakening to the fact that combinations of letters make words and that sentences consist merely of a combination of words. Having once understood what my teacher was trying to have me discover, however, I was all eagerness to proceed and to learn, no matter what problem was given me.
I no longer thought that my teacher was odd. I was delighted to sit by her, or go around with her and have her place my hand on everything we could reach, while she spelled the names to me. After I knew the names of several objects and could spell them with ease, I was given a few verbs, such as ‘go,’ ‘run,’ ‘walk,’ ‘fall,’ ‘eat.’ When the verbs were spelled to me I acted them out, and when I spelled the verbs to my teacher or to the girls they would perform the acts indicated.
I did not spell any words of my own accord, however, until I had been in school nearly a month. The other pupils were going home then for their vacation and some change had taken place in the school hours; there was no recess. The first day my teacher and I kept on at our work as usual, since we were not to have a vacation. We were working in the shade out in the boys’ yard, and I felt that we had been a longer time than usual at work without stopping to exercise and have a bite to eat. Every day the pupils were given buns at recess, and I always had one. I was feeling hungry, and my teacher made no attempt to stop work. Therefore I slipped away from her and ran to the schoolhouse steps to see if the sun had reached the point where it always was at ‘bun time.’
Sure enough, the sun was creeping up the steps far ahead of where it should be at recess, so I went back to my teacher and dragged her, seemingly much against her will, to the steps, and showed her that the sun was far ahead of the ‘bun’ mark. She did not. seem impressed. I led her around the yard looking for the chair on which the basket of buns was put every day, but there was no chair, no basket, nor were there any crumbs on the cement floor of the court, as I made sure by rubbing my foot around. In desperation, I dashed to my teacher and spelled ‘ bun ’ with my fingers.
This was the first word I had spelled voluntarily. My teacher clasped me in her arms and kissed me. Then she led me to the kitchen, and I felt her lips moving as if she were talking to someone. In a jiffy a woman brought me a big slice of bread and butter, and as she gave it to me she kissed me. I afterward learned that she was the housekeeper and did all the cooking for Wingohocking Hall. I thought her then — and do still — a very capable and important person, and all through my stay in Wingohocking Hall we were very good friends. She did not give any bread to my teacher, so I offered her some of mine, but she bowed and shook her head, which at that stage of my education meant, ‘No, thank you.’ I ate the big piece of bread all by myself, for I was just plain hungry.
Next day came recess time again without buns, so, remembering my experience of the day before, I promptly spelled ‘bun’ to my teacher when I discovered that there was no bun basket in the yard. For this I was again rewarded with a bread-andbutter sandwich, and my teacher told me, by spelling ‘bun’ and shaking her head while pointing to the bread, that it was not a bun, but ‘bread.’
I had learned at home to distinguish my uncle and grandparents by special signs made to me, therefore I found it easy to pick up signs used to designate the various pupils with whom I associated. My teacher was well aware that it was against the rules for the pupils to sign and spell, but she seemed to regard their signing to me as an exception to the rule. Knowing the pupils as I do now, I am of the opinion that much of their attention to me was an excuse to express themselves freely by signs.
My school hours were from a quarter to eight to half-past four, with half an hour at noon for my dinner. All my time was not spent in the schoolroom, for my teacher took me around, spelling to me all the time, and I never lost interest in what she did. As soon as she was sure that I understood the use of letters, she led me to a girl whose sign I knew, placed her hand on the girl’s chest, and spelled ‘Who?’ Then she held up one of my hands to indicate that I was to spell the girl’s name. Of course I could not do this, so I answered by making the girl’s sign. My teacher spelled ‘No, no,’ shaking her head, and then made M, which was the first letter of the name of the girl in question. The other girls in the yard stood watching me, as usual, and my teacher stayed with me until supper time, giving me the initial of each girl who happened to come near us, because I was so interested. Her method was always to strike while the iron was hot.
Some of the girls had the same initials. Remembering my experience with B and BU, and with ‘bun’ and ‘butter,’ I held up my teacher’s hand until she had spelled all the letters that formed the names of the girls whose initials were the same. My teacher told the girls that any one of them who succeeded in teaching me how to spell her name correctly would be rewarded with some candy. Therefore my next few days were very busy. I enjoyed these days with the girls, because I imagined I was doing them a great favor by helping them win their prizes. I did not know that it was I who was being helped; it was all play to me. Here is an extract from my teacher’s notes relating to this episode: —
June, 1909. — Kathryne is making much ado over her playmates. When going to them, she throws her head back, walks with a quick, short step, swaggers, and bends over them in a very patronizing way. To-day I asked her by imitating her why she had changed her manner of approaching the girls, and she replied in signs: ‘I teach girls. Many girls no spell. Shame! Shame! No smart. G wrong, Q wrong’ — which means that some of the girls could not make letters with their fingers and others made Q for G. This is a very common mistake with orally taught pupils when they spell. It is very evident that Kathryne is not troubled with any feeling of inferiority. I must be careful how I allow others to praise her or she will become arrogant and unmanageable by the time she reaches her teens. Where has she obtained this idea of superiority? If she is imitating any teacher’s bearing, I hope I am not that one. She can now express herself fairly well in signs, considering the short time she has been associating with the deaf. I have taught her only three signs, — box, orange, bun, — and these three signs have been dropped by both Kathryne and me since the day I first substituted letters for the signs.
The day after my teacher had shown me how to substitute letters for the girls’ signs, we met. Dr. Crouter on the driveway, and while I was shaking hands with him she spelled ‘Who?’ to me. I promptly made C and placed it on my chin. The girls had told me that that was the way to make the sign for Dr. Crouter. While I was doing this she spelled into my hand, ‘ Dr. Crouter.’ After he had passed she cautioned me about making a sign for the superintendent’s name and told me always to spell ‘Dr. Crouter’ when speaking of him. I spread out my hands in front of me and shrugged my shoulders, which was my way of asking ‘Why?’ and ‘What is the difference?' My teacher replied in gestures: ‘Many little girls no hear, no talk, no write, no spell, no smart. Sign, yes; baby, yes. Little girl spell — smart, yes; good, yes. Little girl write — smart, yes.’ All this made it clear to me that by spelling I should be considered smart, and by signing I should be classed with babies.
I shall never forget what an impression this short impromptu lecture made upon me. On returning to our schoolroom, I shut the door, drew two chairs up to the table, motioned to my teacher to be seated, and then walked around the room to make sure we were alone. Seating myself beside my teacher, I placed my forefinger on my lips, which meant that she was not to mention what I had to say. She promised by nodding her head, and I proceeded to make C and place it on my chin, point to myself, and then knock on my forehead with the knuckles of my closed fist, while I shook my head slowly in a mournful way. All this meant, ‘Does Dr. Crouter think that I am a dunce because I signed?’ (Incidentally, the sign for ‘dunce’ was the first one I had learned from the other pupils, although how I happened to catch the meaning of this so quickly I am entirely unable to say.)
My teacher was all sympathy, and replied: ‘No, no. He thinks you are bright and that you will soon learn to spell.’ She did this by shaking her head and spelling first ‘No, no’ and then ‘Dr. Crouter’; by patting her forehead with the fingers of her open hand, which meant ‘know’; and finally by pointing to me as she tapped my forehead several times with her forefinger, which meant, ‘smart.’ I was delighted. A great load had been lifted from my heart, for I wanted to find favor in the superintendent’s eyes. Was he not the ‘father’ of this large beautiful place where I was? In my estimation then, and even more as time went on, he was a great man whose friendship and good will were well worth cultivating.
Having obtained a clear idea that signs, gestures, the alphabet, manual spelling, and writing could be used as a substitute for speech, there seemed at last to be a royal road to learning for me. But no; every step I took toward obtaining knowledge, even the writing of a simple sentence, though pleasant and very interesting, required steady, laborious work on the part of both my teacher and myself.
(A culminating chapter, ‘Light at Last,’ will appear in June)
- This authentic record of Kathryne Frick’s triumph over blindness, deafness, and loss of speech began in the April Atlantic. — EDITOR↩