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Education Of The Blind
Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876) was active in various reforms centering on disability. After fighting during the 1820s in the Greek war for independence from the Ottoman Empire, he organized, in 1832, the New England Asylum for the Blind, now the Perkins School for the Blind, and became the acknowledged expert on blind education in the United States. His efforts on behalf of Dorothea Dix and his chairmanship of the Massachusetts Board of Charities from 1865 to 1874 meant that he impacted the lives of people with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities as well as deaf people. He was married to the abolitionist, Julia Ward Howe. The following is his overview of blind education from the North American Review, an influential journal of ideas in antebellum America.
1. Essai sur l'Education des Aveugles: par M. Haüy, Paris. 1786.
2. Coup-d'Oeil D'un Aveugle sur les Sourds-Muets. Par ALEXANDRE RODENBACH, Membre du Musee des Aveugles de Paris et de plusieurs Societes savantes; Auteur de la Lettre sur les Aveugles faisant Suite de celle de Diderot, &c. &c. Bruxelles. 1829.
It has long been to us a matter of surprise that the blind have been so much neglected. Our age, compared with those that have passed away, is truly a humane one; never has more attention been paid to individual man than now; never has the imperative duty of society to provide for the wants of those whom nature or accident has thrown upon its charity, been more deeply felt, or more conscientiously discharged. Philanthropy has, in fact, been pushed almost to folly, and well meaning enthusiasts, in their eager zeal to find new objects, seem half disposed to create suffering for the sake of relieving it; or, at least, would relieve one class at the expense of another; like the good Las Casas, who, in his blind enthusiasm for the Aborigines of South America, tore thousands of Africans from their homes, and made them slaves, that his darling Indians might go free, and walk upright in lordly indolence. England and the United States are peculiarly characterized by associations for aiding the cause of humanity. Every infirmity, every misfortune, every vice even, has a phalanx of philanthropists to oppose its effects: every rank of society, every age, from the cradle to the grave, is provided with associated aiders and supporters. They begin before the birth of the object by the preparation of lying-in hospitals, and sometimes even rescue the victim from the grasp of death, as is seen in the admirable, and not unfrequently successful labors of the Humane Society.
That this spirit of humanity has not always been well directed; that extraordinary efforts and great expenses have been lavished upon one class of unfortunate persons, while others more deserving and afflicted have been left neglected, is apparent in the case of the blind, who have been almost entirely overlooked in the general and eager search after new objects of philanthropy. The very efforts which have been made to lighten the burden of their woes, have only added more weight to it; and those whom nature has bowed down under a load of affliction, have been farther crushed by a sense of humiliating dependence. The cry of the blind has not been merely for bread, it has not been for alms; these are not their only wants; but they claim our sympathies and our patient assistance, to enable them to exert their own faculties, to develope their own powers, and to do something to break the listless inactivity, which constitutes for them the taedium vitae. But instead of administering to their wants, instead of striking at the root of the evil, and preventing blindness from necessarily entailing misery on the sufferer, men have increased its ill effects by diminishing the incentives to action; and the hand of charity has wounded, while it soothed the sufferer. The post of the blind has always been by the highway, in the humble attitude of the beggar; their dwelling place has been the almshouse; where men try to hide and perpetuate much misery, which, by patient attention and resolute perseverance, they might entirely remove.
Discouraged by the apparent incapacity of the blind, men have only endeavored to administer to them physical comfort in the shape of food and clothing. Even the philanthropist has shrunk from the task of endeavoring to combat the ills which blindness entails upon the sufferer; and until within a few years no establishments existed in Europe, where the blind played any other part than that of listless drones and melancholy dependents. It is a little curious, that a Pagan nation should have set a good example to enlightened Christians in this respect. It is said that, in Japan, the blind were long ago made to fill a comparatively useful sphere. The Government keeps a large number of them in an establishment, and their business is to learn the history of the empire through all the remote ages, to arrange it systematically by chapter and verse in their memories, and to transmit it to the young blind, who are to hand it down to the next generation, and thus form a sort of perennial walking and talking library of useful historical knowledge. It would be singular and interesting to enter this library of living books, and consult these breathing archives: to go up to a man, instead of pulling down a folio; to hear him repeat his index, and then to turn over the tablets of his memory like the leaves of a volume, until he comes to the matter in question.
We shall touch but lightly in this article on the physical and moral effects of blindness upon its victim, but confine ourselves to a practically useful view of the subject. We shall discuss the question of the capacity of the blind for receiving such an intellectual and physical education, as will enable them to fill useful and ornamental places in society; we shall notice the system pursued in the different European Institutions, and point out the changes and improvements which, in our opinion, may be introduced in the treatment of the blind.