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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 institution is never so far from a city that its inmates cannot be admitted to the sights of civilization and wonder. We must beware of too much isolating the naturally isolated idiot. By sending him, as soon as he behaves, to church, to the museum, meetings, shows, and even theatres, we do not so much create in him a taste for those things, as a desire of mingling with yonder world; pregnant curiosity, which is of itself one of the mainsprings of life. Besides these amusements, Christmas, New Year's day, and other holidays should be duly observed.


The children must have stores of playthings easily destroyed and renewed. Before leaving these in their hands, we cannot avoid remarking that there are none of them which have not certain qualities and effects, in relation to our children, worth studying. Some of them are to be enjoyed alone, some in common; great distinction which must, above all, govern their distribution. Then come the particular characters of each; we would not have Punchinello make his automatic gestures before a child whom we want to cure of the same; nor would we like to hear the barking of a papier-maché dog near a child whose voice is not yet settled in the human notes; we would avoid, as much as possible, toys used individually for children addicted to loneliness, and try to give a social character to those which are generally made to amuse a single child; the more numerous the players, the more lively and social is the game; we can never teach too many children, nor too often, with toys. They may be taught in school many things utterly useless for their improvement; but they cannot be made to play together, with or without toys, without learning and increasing their moral qualities: playing is a moral power, amusing the lowest idiot is another; our children must enjoy both.


In the school, at meals, in the fields, on the play-ground, all points of contact for these secluded children, how many chances has the teacher to oppose them in relations which shall create their sense of moral association, their sociability, and their family-like affinities. But it is easier to let grow, out of unprepared contacts, rivalry, quarrelling, and disaffection, than to thoughtfully prepare the associations of our charge for the production of concert, harmony, and affection. However, circumstances may occur in which the best prearranged contacts become painful to some; those who cannot be saved these asperities, must have their sore feelings soothed; and all of them may be taught to love by being loved. Who could do it better than those who have devoted themselves to their improvement? To develop their sense of affection, as were developed their senses of sight, of hearing, and others, does not demand new instruments or new teachers, but the extension of the same action upon their feelings. To make the child feel that he is loved, and to make him eager to love in his turn, is the end of our teaching as it has been its beginning. If we have loved our pupils, they felt it and communicated the same feeling to each other; if they have been loved, they are loving in all the degrees of human power conformable with their limited synergy.


We should like to say how this is to be accomplished; but who can tell? Leuret, being asked about that moral influence, said that he could not tell; all depended on inspiration and circumstances; all unforeseen and impossible to foretell. We characterized it as an action of the stronger on the weaker will for its improvement; but it is an action incessantly varying, upon terms constantly modified; phenomena evading analysis, serial evolutions escaping graphic drawing. In its march it begins with the most profound feelings of pity and charity for the unfortunate; it continues through compulsory, impulsing, or inciting commands; a work ever changing in form, never changing in object; unremittingly coaxing the isolated child into society; it is throughout a work of devotion. In this work the teacher, the nurse, the physician, the philosopher, the physiologist, the psychologist, and the moralist have something to do. But their doings are all subordinate to those of the most profound affection. For our pupils science, literature, art, education, medicine, philosophy, each may do something; but love alone can truly socialize them; those alone who love them are their true rescuers. The men who pretend to treat idiocy with talent, erudition, even genius, may find the appreciation of their Utopianism in these words of Paul: "Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; and though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." Evidently the apostle knew more than we about moral treatment; and we close our feeble remarks by meditating upon this forcible text on the subject.

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