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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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Page 57:


Now that the unity of our plan to connect all the functions and faculties in the unity of manhood, and into mankind, is fully exposed to view, we have only a few words to say about the unity of our apparently disconnected means and instruments of education.


Whatever we have been teaching, and whatever instruments and means we were employing for that object, our method proper has been founded upon one principle, comparison. All our efforts at making the child perceive, were aimed at comparing all his actions, comparisons; all our orders, comparisons; all his experiences, comparisons. That this principle, which necessitates at least two terms to produce an idea, is the physiological principle of education, might be demonstrated by the success of those who taught by it idiots otherwise uneducable. But as the retired institutions where these children are improved are not yet familiar to everybody, let us show, in the evidence given by ordinary children, that our method of physiological education is nature's own method of teaching mankind.


The new-born infant, sucking for the first time, is not satisfied by the breast that he cannot exhaust. Even so young, he does not live exclusively upon milk, but on knowledge too; for if we turn our eyes from the hand which helps his mouth in forcing out the milk, we see the other carefully studying with its two surfaces, not only the form of the opposite breast, but the deflections and distances between each; the firmness, elasticity, softness, and warmth of his new dominions; we see him following mostly, for the sake of accuracy, the convex curves with the palm, and the concave surfaces with the back of his hand. After a few days, he knows all about it, and being less eager for knowledge, he moves his hands only to receive pleasant contacts from the touch of his mother's skin, or to go farther in search of new discoveries among the silk, cotton or woollen fabrics.


The little child, carried for the first time in a forest, is no sooner on his feet among nature's productions, than he exclaims, -- Oh, the big trees! Oh, the small flowers! Oh, the little, little insects! -- passing again and again from the tree to the moss, from the insect to the tree, till the whole comparison is registered with all its attributes. If the child had seen these things individually, and not collectively with their differences, when forgetting the isolated impression of each, he would have lost all of them, and nothing more would be left; but having registered with the perishable isolated images, the ideas and feelings resulting from their comparison, it does not matter much if the isolated images of the things have since been defaced or not; the image may be gone, but the idea of it once impressed is felt to this day and for ever with all its consequences of sylvan tastes, rural tendencies, and sensibility to the language of the earth.


A boy had grown to the age of six without paying any attention to size among men; perhaps he and his kin were of small size. He knew generally that some men were taller than others, but he thought nothing of it, nor deduced any ideas from it. However, being once introduced in a place of worship where a devout old king was expected, the attention of the child was riveted upon two immeasurable drummers, separated by a diminutive fifer-boy, and his eyes, passing from the tall to the tiny musician, could hardly be led off from these extreme forms of humanity to look at the pale king as he stood in white and gold robes, kneeling in his white stuccoed chapel. The sound, so broad from the drums, so acute from the fife, strengthened, through audition, the former comparisons of proportions made de visu; and since, this simple and imposing pageant now stands in the mind of the man, matrix of all measurement, as the Egyptian Pylones of the measurement of the Nile.


These illustrations of the operations of the mind through three senses -- the touch, the sight, the hearing, in children whose functions had not yet been distorted by arbitrary memotechnical teachings, show the nature of the physiological teaching to be, not the unity of object, but the rational comparison of objects, to be taught through any or all senses. The bird can see farther, the spider can hear better, the blue-fly can smell more accurately, the cat may feel more delicately with its velvet paw, than our children with their corresponding agents of sensation; but the beast's sensations, perfect as we suppose them to be, are only connected with a few instincts, are not connective among themselves nor with past images, and consequently soon die in their isolation, being incapable of forming new images and ideas by comparison, as they do in children.


We may take as an example of that difference, the effects produced by the fall of rain upon a child and a bird. It will hasten home both the bird and the child; but the flight of the former is prompted only by the instinct of security for itself or its young; and the course of the latter homeward will be accompanied, besides his present object relative to personal feeling, motherly injunctions, possibly penalties, etc., by ideas about rain as numerous as its dripping drops: rain will beautify the flower-garden; swell the stream in which he can swim, where his friend was drowned, etc.; these drops shall soon look like diamonds on the grass when the sun shines; the rain which fell upon him last winter was chilling; what a difference now; this is warm, it fumes on his jacket; warmer it could be inclosed in a boiler, move trains and ships, etc., etc. Thus loaded with comparisons, the boy reaches home later than the bird, but full of ideas induced by this rain. He may, in after years, forget this circumstance, but he will never forget the peculiar impressions and associations experienced and evoked in this first summer shower.

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