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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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The application of these instruments of special gymnastics has brought us insensibly from the feet, legs, body, to shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and finally to the extreme phalanges of the fingers, where lie in apparent confusion the powers of prehension and of feeling, of selection and of rejection.


When educating the hand to prehend and reject with the balancing-pole, we had occasion for the remark that this instrument was training the hand to rough, not to delicate contacts. The fact is, that unless unskilfully handled, it falls on the palms of the hands, whose muscular thickness is well fitted for its rough usage, whilst, if it falls on the pulp of the fingers, an exquisite pain indicates that this soft part is reserved for more delicate perceptions. This delicate tactile power shall hereafter be the subject of sensorial training; but presently the exercising of delicate prehension, in its three forms above explained, will close the actual series of special motility.


It seems that the smaller the organ, the more complex are its functions; at least the many ways of using the extremities of the hands, which are so complex in prehending, handling, modifying everything, justify this remark, and explain why more time more care, more instruments, more ingenuities have to be spent during many years, with the sole object of giving skill to the fingers. We need not enumerate all the things which have been used for that purpose, but will point out a few of those which are truly physiological in their perfect adaptation to some deficient function of the hand.


The blocks shaped like dominoes, with their dimensions well defined, are laid superposed, combined together, to give firmness to the handling. Other blocks, like those used in building or other combinations, will do.


The nail-board is pierced with holes fitting exactly some nails that the child has put in, then take out, exercising his hand to precision.


The adaptation of geometrical figures to their respective hollow forms.


The raising, with the fingers from a smooth table, of collections of minute articles, such as beads, pins, thin pasteboard, patterns, coins, wafers, etc.


The winding up of cords of various sizes, and the pulling of ropes.


The pressure on some mechanism to produce pleasant sounds or sights.


The buttoning and unbuttoning, lacing and unlacing; the threading of beads, etc. These exercises, and many more such, are well calculated to adapt the child's fingers to every possible form, and to prepare them for every possible aggressive work on matter. But as this requires, besides the use of the hand, the interference of some leading sense, as the sight, a simple mention suffices here, as we shall have occasion to see these exercises soon in action elsewhere.


But, after all, the best gymnastics of the hands are drawn from the things held, handled, modified in the daily habits of common life: we said it at the beginning, we repeat it at our conclusion. Finishing where a treatise on gymnastics would begin, we turn our attention to the point where we found our patients. They were affected with incapacities only, or with incapacities and disorders of motion and locomotion. Against these simple or double infirmities we have presented a series of advices, of means, and of apparatuses that experience has shown the most efficient. But in such matters the means and instruments are more easily remembered than the philosophy of their application; whilst that philosophy is the very thing which is above all not to be forgotten.


Therefore we must represent, that whatever instruments or means are employed, our starting-point to obtain movement was immobility; that through immobility, though imperfectly acquired, we have been enabled to pass our pupils through many progressive experiments; that the greater became their immobility the easier and farther they moved; that immobility has been the beginning of all lessons of movement, as it is the supporting point of our own actions; that the more steady is that immobility the more manly, resolute, and efficient is the action which, we would not say follows it, but we expressly say, takes its root in it; that the kind of immobility impressed upon our patients every day, at every start, from their entering under our rule to their starting out for a new life, is the standard of our strength upon their weakness, of the reaction that our will creates upon their unwillingness in giving them a determination. That at each lesson, either if we teach any extension of the motive power, or are engaged in the painful duty of suppressing automatic movements, before every exercise we must concentrate their loose attitudes or stray gestures into compressed immobility; this is the beginning, this is the end of the muscular training.


So far we have tried to make our pupil learn to act and walk; either by the passive process, somebody or something moving him; or half actively, of himself doing that which he could not help doing under the permanent pressure of our command. But the passive or quasi-active process cannot last for ever, and the active one is very slow and intermittent. Between them nature has contrived an agency whose spring is magical for good or for evil; it is neither entirely passive nor entirely active; its initiation is passive, its performance is active; its modes are prescribed, its execution voluntary; and its performance admits of protracted reflex spontaneity -- we have described the power of imitation.

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