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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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Prior to any education, the hands hang like impediments, if not brandished upwards by automatism, impressing their disharmony upon the rest of the body. This being almost always the case with our children, we cannot improve their walk or station without improving their hands and arms, at least as instruments of equilibrium. Here, once more, we must do two things at a time if we want to succeed in one. This improvement of the hands and arms as adjuvants -sic- to the general equilibrium of the body, is accomplished by the exercises which improve them for their direct functions, and which will be treated of hereafter. When this is done, we have brought these organs to the fulfilment of their simplest functions, and we are now called to bring the function to the point where it becomes a capacity, being governed by comparisons and reasonings.


When both walk and equilibrium are acquired, but imperfectly, the movements of progression are yet found counteracted by lateral swinging, which gives to the walk of an idiot its peculiar character; this is the point where we find the majority of them; this is the walk which bespeaks idiocy; this betraying incapacity deserves and costs a great deal of attention. The walk of the legs and the equilibrium through the arms have to undergo corrections alternately, alone and together; one first and foremost to-day, the other preeminently to-morrow. Here two kinds of exercises are indicated: first, those which bear upon the legs, and those that bear upon the arms; secondly, those that harmonize the complete functions. Among the first acting on the legs are the stairs of various grades, and the horizontal ladder between the rounds of which the child has to walk. Acting on the arms are the dumb-bells, the Swedish or other clubs, and the various extensions of the arm, which is of itself a natural balancing-pole. The second is composed of the aggregation on a small space, like a room or a piece of shaded turf, of all the planes, horizontal, inclined in the four directions, abruptly cut, rough, stony, slippery, narrow, etc., which could present themselves as ordinary impediments to regular progression. The child must go through these difficulties with or without dumb-bells, steadily commanded, or urged by the excitement of music.


Besides, rooms are to be extemporaneously prepared, in which we have foot-prints or forms spread on the floor; some near, some far apart; some with the point turned in, and some out; winding in some unexpected way, that the child has to follow, covering exactly with his feet the forms spread before him. The act of directing each foot on each form is one of the best exercises for limbs which have previously escaped all control; but what a superior exercise it is for the head above, which has never suspected its regulating power: to walk among so many difficulties is to think.


A child has to go through many impediments of the kind, some easy enough, some difficult to overcome, representing not only to the legs, but to the mind, so many intellectual problems, so that to go through this series of obstacles, is to go through a complete practical treatise on the physiology of walking and standing. When the pupil has overcome individually these difficulties, with all his attention helped by all the energy of the teacher, he may be allowed to repeat these lessons, but not by memory alone. He is to be thrown in a stream of children who execute the same exercises on a large scale, with the excitement of example and music; and the previous tears are dried, tumbles are laughed at, torpor disappears before emulation, timorousness before charming little braveries; the first rays of promise have pierced through the darkness of idiocy. These children could not move of late, and to-day they are in their first well-earned perspiration; do not let them catch cold, particularly in the moral sense.


Now our pupil can stand, walk, and move, to a certain extent in conformity with the physiology of his organs, provided he is willing to do it. But no; he does these things when compelled or bidden, and almost never of his own impulse. Here, consequently, we see laid bare in him the antagonism between his negative or collapsed will, and the synergic will wherefrom all action derives. This part of the education is exposed in the moral training, and cannot be explained over each time that it is an adjuvant to any special exercise. Suffice it to say, that as long as his will fails him, our own will must take its place and carry him through walks and other performances of muscular activity.


To resume this period, all that belongs to the function of locomotion requires to be treated with the greatest attention, and subjected to the minutest analysis, as hardly second in importance to the functions of the upper extremity, for the steadiness of the foot is the basis of the steadiness of the body and of the accuracy of the hand. The same care should precede and accompany our efforts at educating the latter.

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