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Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1907
Publisher: Teachers' College, Columbia University
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Our instruments of teaching must be those which go directly to the point. In view of that necessity, we must use object pictures, photographs, cards, patterns, figures, wax, clay, scissors, compasses, glasses, pencils, colors, even books.


Let us carry all our exercises through pure air, and never command in-doors what can be accomplished without.


We must not forget to create gaiety and mirth several times a day; happiness is our object as much, nay, more than progress, and children will not be sick if they laugh.


We reserve for another part the exposition of the principles involved in the moral training; it would be more philosophical to emit the whole of them at once, but for the sake of clearness we divide once more in theory what must be a unit in practice, the physiological training.


Training and education begin where previous functions and acquirements ceased. The beginning of the treatment of each child is where his natural progress stood still; so many children, so many beginnings. For every function or capacity the start varies as much. Such a child uses one series of organs to a certain extent, and other series to a lower or higher point. One child is forward in talking, and backward in the use of his sight; another forward in imitation, and backward in comparison, etc., etc. From these discrepancies in the range of the diverse functions in different individuals, result the necessity of presenting the means and instruments employed in improving so many backward functions, as if all the anomalies belonging to idiocy and its congeners could really be in improving so many backward functions, as if all the anomalies belonging to idiocy and its congeners could really be found to the same degree in all idiots. The mind of the reader can easily make its way through the fallacies of this unavoidable generalization.


Our system of education is the process of accumulating in children strength and knowledge; to create in men power and goodness.


The first want of a people and of an individual is strength acquired by proper training of their muscular system. The nations that flourished did so after or during long exertions, whilst, on the other hand, the clans that decayed by cretinism or otherwise, were shut up in inaccessible valleys. Of all the incapacities of idiocy, none are so striking and none so detrimental as those which affect motion and locomotion; their direct effect being to prevent the development of force, their secondary result to prevent the reaching of any instrument of knowledge.


The deficiencies and the anomalies of motion are extremely varied in idiots, from nearly absolute immobility to the inefficiency of the extremity of the fingers, or to a slight swinging of the body in walk or station. Both deficiencies and anomalies, deep or superficial, are the subjects of the education of the muscular system.


(We warn the reader, for the last time, against the fallacy of the words we employ, because they are not adequate in comprehension to our meaning. Here, for instance, it is impossible to take hold of the muscular apparatus without acting on the nerves, bones, etc., as it is equally impossible to command these special instruments of activity without exercising besides a reflex action on the intellect and on the will. Therefore it shall be understood that we mean only that our action shall be mostly aimed at one set of organs -- for instance, those of motility now. So much for our infirmity of expression.)


Our Gymnasium differs from the ordinary one in its general object, being intended to create an equilibrium of the functions, not by the towering of the muscular above the other systems, but, on the contrary, by paying more attention to the nervous, as being the most shattered in idiocy. But even with these reservations in favor of the general training, we confide mostly in the exercises borrowed from the daily labors and amusements common to all children. The spade, the wheelbarrow, the watering-pot, the bow, the wooden-horse, the hammer, the ball, are greater favorites with us than the general gymnastics whose instruments are to be employed sparingly, and whose tendencies to exaggeration are to be avoided. The Grecians were using it to excess, for which Plato reprimands them, as well as for the other excesses in over-cultivating the intellectual faculties -- the former making prize-fighters, the latter sophists. Nothing is so much to be discountenanced as this one-sided education.


In our case no excuse could be proffered to palliate a similar mistake, because we aim at a plain, comprehensive, harmonious training of the whole child. Our gymnastics, in its generality, is simple, managed with few instruments, and mostly of the kind which received, several years after it was adapted to idiots, the pretty name of Calisthenics, under which it entered the fashionable academies. Our special gymnastics is by far more important, on account of its adaptation to the deficiencies of functions and of organs, by the correction of which it touches to orthopedy, and to orthophreny. Though the instruments of both these gymnastics are few and unostentatious, whilst our intellectual means of exercise are many, that disproportion is right, and pleases us as precisely representing the proportion of the elements of muscular training necessary for our main object, the intellectualization of the muscles.

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