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The Origin And Nature Of Our Institutional Models
"I would observe, by the way, that the necessity now felt for a new institution in your state has arisen, partly at least, from radical faults in the organization of the old one, which necessarily led to faults in its administration, such as I have noticed. If the conditions of admission had been such as to exclude some who entered, but who ought not to have entered; if stringent measures had been taken to prevent the multiplication of graduates in and about the institution, and to encourage their dispersion and settlement in the several towns, instead of leaving them to congregate in the commercial capital, and to besiege the political capital; if these things had been done, the state would perhaps not now be called upon to incur the cost of building and the continual expense of carrying on a second institution.
"But, it is settled that you are to have one, and, I trust, it will become worthy of the generous motives which prompt its erection; and of the great state which is to build it.
"Take heed that it shall be organized on sound principles; and while copying all the good features of existing institutions, avoid those which are not good. Those establishments are all faulty. Not one of them is worthy to be your model in all respects; and the persons who flatter themselves that their favorite one is worthy to be copied exactly, are blind to faults which can be seen by looking beneath the surface. Never mind their showy buildings and special accommodations; you may as well measure the mortality of a family by the structure and arrangement of its dwellinghouse, as test institutions by their mechanical advantages; but look at the principles and system by which they are conducted. You will, then, find they are faulty in many respects.
"They are generally wrong in receiving pupils too indiscriminately; being, in most cases, tempted to do so by the fact that they are paid according to the number they receive. They are wrong in receiving all pupils as boarders, when they should receive those only who cannot board at home, or in private families. They are wrong in associating the blind too closely, and too many years together; thus loosening or breaking the ties of family and of neighborhood, -- segregating them from society, -- forming a class apart, -- creating a feeling of caste, -- and so intensifying all the unfavorable effects growing out of the infirmity of blindness ....They are creating the necessity, or the demand, for permanent life asylums; all of which consummations are devoutly to be prayed against.
"Instead, then, of copying the existing institution, I think, that in organizing a new one something like the following rough plan should be adopted: -- If the field were all clear, and no buildings I provided, there should be built only a building for school-rooms, recitation rooms, music rooms and work shops; and these should be in or near the centre of a dense population. For other purposes, ordinary houses would suffice" (Howe, 1866, pp. 39-43).
Howe also repudiated the trend from education to pity: "...aid should not be given in alms, or in any way that savors of alms. Were it possible for government to pension every blind person for life, that would probably do more harm than good. We are safe in saying that as far as possible, they should be considered and treated just as ordinary persons, our equals and friends, are treated, and not singled out as special objects of pity. This is too often forgotten" (Howe, 1866, p. 37).
When I read these passages, I was astonished. Howe had truly "...dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, saw the visions of the world, and all the wonders that would be" (Tennyson). It was as if the founder himself was saying: "Stop it, you fools; we have made a gigantic error'." Alas, Howe had been 100 years ahead of his time, and his cautions went unheeded.
Seguin is probably the best-known figure in mental retardation in this country. He was brought by Howe from France, was instrumental in the founding of about a half-dozen of our early institutions, and was cofounder and first president of what is now the American Association on Mental Deficiency. Yet Seguin (1870), too, disapproved of the trend of things in 1869, and of the developing isolation of the institutions. ". . .In locating these schools through the country..." they have put them out of the reach of concourse of scientific men and means, which are concentrated in capital cities" (p. 43). "This necessity of the situation -- for, if these institutions do not progress, they will retrograde-demands of the selection of a suitable place among scientific surroundings; the direction of a man who understands; philosophy of the labor, the selection of microscopists, anatomists, psychologists, young medical men eager for study, devoted women ready to teach, to nurse, and to acquire the capacities so much wanted in other schools. With this force at command, there will be treated, besides the questions directly relating to idiocy and medicine, those which touch society through education. It is not a minute too soon.