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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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Words such as bread, apple, book, are put on cards before the child, and read by us aloud. Their order is changed, they are read again, and the child is invited to put his index upon each word named. The order of the position of the words and of their nomination is alternated at each turn, so that he can derive no remembrance from place or series; but must receive his ideas from the word itself. When they are named, the very objects, bread, apple, and book, are placed on the table in presence of their printed or written names, and are pronounced also in this manner: 1st. We say "bread," he must show the bread and appose it to its written name. 2d. We show a piece of bread, he must say "bread," and put the word bread on the piece. 3d. We show him the written name, he must show us the piece and give the name, etc.


When one of these three names is known, we put a new one in its place in that series, or we form entirely new series. When the object itself cannot be procured, its image will do even if imperfect; for it is wonderful how the power of imagining of children, even of idiots, soars above our feeble power of imagery. This juxtaposition or even identification of the three, four, or five forms of things, i. e., their names written, printed and pronounced, their images printed and carved, and their own selves in substance, such are the forcible instruments by which the first ideas may be forced through the senses into the mind. Thus let us open to our pupil, by reading, the possession of everything which comes within the range of his prehension and comprehension; nature is his book, and his fingers are the printers.


On this capital point let us acknowledge that we are too prone to continue farther than is necessary the process of passive teaching required at the outset. We too often act or speak when the child might have acted or spoken himself if we had more insisted upon his doing it; given him a little time instead of hurrying; supported his hesitation instead of prompting him; and given no hint but a kind, encouraging look; this warning cannot be too strongly impressed, neither the next. This is against the teaching per absurdum, favorite with professors and transferred into the Institution by our teacher, unsuspecting its bad influence. She spreads before her pupil a dozen of words on cards, and pointing with her finger to the word mother, for instance, if the child does not make it out and remains silent, she points to it again, saying, "What is that? Is it father?" and the child will very likely mutter the word father, to the great mortification of his teacher. But the apparent mischief is only a particle of the real one; the error is to be, and is corrected; the child will read the word mother; but who will give him back the trust that he had in his teacher previous to that false nomination? Henceforth, each time that she explains or affirms anything to him, he will look and listen suspiciously to know if there be not a snare where the good girl puts her most candid interpretation; distrust has sneaked in where confidence should have reigned; let us be candid with our simple children, if we want to teach them not reading alone, but truthfulness.


Next to this active, but close and attentive reading of the individual child, is the other, off-hand and rotatory, in which a written word passes from hand to hand, and is pronounced successively aloud. Though this is incontestably a reading lesson, it stimulates more the function of the voice to read aloud than that of the sight to read attentively. To make it effective it must go rapidly on, and emit by the stimulus of example a large volume of voices exciting one another; if well conducted, the children are particularly delighted with it.


Individual and group reading must be alternated, begining with the first. Individual reading may be more insisted upon in cool, mild weather, and in the morning when attention causes no effort, and is not exhausted; on stormy days and in the afternoon, dulness is prevented from settling down upon the class-room by group teachings: where a child alone would but express himself languidly, children will support each other in vocal action.


But in reading as in all intellectual operations which take place immediately through the senses, we have to distinguish for the perfection of the teaching, the function from the faculty. This temporary analysis favors the development of the two aspects of the same capacity. By striving to give at the start correct perception through a sense, we insure correct impressions to the sensorium, impressions which will be the premises of sound judgment for the mind. What is called error, scarcely ever depends upon false conclusions of the intellect, but mostly on false premises gotten from incorrect perceptions; so that the faculty of judging is not so often the culprit, as is the function of observation; what is badly seen is wrongly judged of; and our future is too often the stake we pay for the error of our senses. It is nearly certain that the good though limited common sense shown by the idiots educated since more than twenty years, must be to a great extent attributed to the particular pains taken to give them correct perceptions, and consequent ideas, through the physiological method, particularly in reading.

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