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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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In this teaching, Pereire entered into communication with his pupils, by the use of, first, the manual alphabet engraved in the curious Spanish book of Juan Pablo Bonnet, "Reduction de las Letras, y arte para enseñar a hablar los mudos. Madrid: 1620." Second, of another syllabic manual of forty-odd signs of his own invention. Third, the natural resources of expression offered by pantomime. As soon as Pereire was understood by his pupils with the help of these temporary means of communication, he commenced to teach them to speak the speech proper, derived from the consciousness of the reciprocal nature of language. This consciousness could only be given to the deaf by a physiological discovery. Pereire analyzed the speech into two elements: the sound, and the vibration which produces it: the first which the ear alone can appreciate, the second that any flesh vibrating itself may be taught to perceive. He conceived that ordinary men hear the sound, without, most of the time, noticing the vibrations; but that the deaf, who cannot hear the sound, may nevertheless be made the recipients of vibrations. Hence, a given vibration producing only a given sound, the deaf taught to perceive the vibration, could not imitate it without reproducing likewise the corresponding sound of language. It is thus that he practically made his pupils hear through the skin, and utter exactly what they so heard. By this discovery, Pereire demonstrated to the physiologists of his day, that all the senses are modifications of the tact, all touch of some sort.


Buffon, taken by surprise at the sight of the deaf-speaking pupils of Pereire, and though knowing only a part of their mode of education, confesses to the novelty of the discovery in these terms: "Nothing could show more conclusively how much the senses are alike at the bottom, and to what point they may supply one another." -- Natural History of Man, 1st volume, first edition.


The deaf mutes did not gain by this discovery, because their succeeding teachers could not even understand what it meant.


But important conclusions resulted from these experiments.


1st. That the senses, and each one in particular, can be submitted to physiological training by which their primordial capability may be indefinitely intellectualized.


2d. That one sense may be substituted for another as a means of comprehension and of intellectual culture.


3d. That the physiological exercise of a sense corroborates the action, as well as verifies the acquisitions of another.


4th. That our most abstract ideas are comparisons and generalizations by the mind of what we have perceived through our senses.


5th. That educating the modes of perception is to prepare pabulum for the mind proper.


6th. That sensations are intellectual functions performed through external apparatus as much as reasoning, imagination, etc., through more internal organs.


When Pereire was implicitly solving all these problems by his demonstration on the deaf mutes of the identity of all our senses, he was in communication with Jean Jacques Rousseau, both living near each other in the Rue de Ia Platrière, which has since received the name of one of them. Pereire had his school of ten to fifteen deaf mutes there, and Rousseau was in the habit of coming in, in a friendly, neighborly manner. It would be presumptuous to suppose what transpired between these two men, so much unlike their contemporaries. Rousseau so shy, but so extremely eccentric; Pereire so modest, but so intensely individual; both sincere monotheists in an atmosphere of incredulity; both intent upon their favorite subject, civilization in its surest form, education. But, in looking closely at their literary relics, we may more easily find ideas of Pereire in the "Discours sur I'Inégalité des Conditions," than ideas of Jean Jacques in the memoirs on the restoration of the speech to congenital deaf mutes, inserted in the collection of the French Academy. However, no one can doubt the reciprocal influence two such master spirits must have exercised upon each other. The book of Emile is full of experiments upon physiological teaching which could only have originated in the school for deaf mutes; so identical are the theories of the book with the practices of Pereire. Nevertheless, the first school where deaf mutes were taught to speak naturally, and the first treatise on education whose object was to create, not a subject, but a man, stand side by side as the two indices on the road of modern education. In saying this we do not pretend to ignore other subsequent labors, such as the writings of Jean Paul Richter, and the school of Pestalozzi, whose originality is all from the Emile, and whose defects are mostly inherent.


When the first philosophical programme of Itard had partly succeeded against what was savage in his pupil, he conceived after Pereire and Rousseau, the physiological terms of his second one, which adapted themselves exactly to the functional incapacities of the idiocy of his pupil, so admirably described by Pinel; so that, nolens volens, the great teacher began to treat the idiot in the savage.

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