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"Cretins And Idiots"

Creator: Linus P. Brockett (author)
Date: February 1858
Publication: The Atlantic Monthly
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Under these circumstances, the question, What can be done with this unfortunate and helpless class? becomes one of great importance.


A careful examination of the institutions for their training in this country and Europe, and an extended inquiry into their present condition when not under instruction, have enabled us to arrive at the following conclusions.


There is very little hope of any considerable permanent improvement of the idiot, if not placed under training before his sixteenth year. His habits may, indeed, be somewhat amended, and the mind temporarily roused; but this improvement will seldom continue after he is removed from the institution.


The existence of severe epilepsy, or other profound disease, is a serious bar to success.


Of those not affected by epilepsy, who are brought under instruction in childhood, from one third to one fourth may be so far improved as to become capable of performing the ordinary duties of life with tolerable fidelity and ability. They may acquire sufficient knowledge to be able to read, to write, to understand the elementary facts of geography, history, and arithmetic; they may be capable of writing a passable letter; they may acquire a sufficient knowledge of farming, or of the mechanic arts, to be able to work well and faithfully under appropriate supervision; they may attain a sufficient knowledge of the government and laws under which they live, to be qualified to exercise the electoral franchise quite as well as many of those who do exercise it; they may make such advances in morals, as to act with justice and honor toward their fellow-men, and exhibit the influence of Christianity in changing their degraded and wayward natures to purity, chastity, and holiness.


A larger class, probably one half of the whole, can be so much benefited, as to become cleanly in their habits, quiet in their deportment, capable, perhaps, of reading and writing, but not of original composition, able to perform, with suitable supervision, many kinds of work which require little close thought, and, under the care of friends, of becoming happy and useful. This class, if neglected after leaving the school, will be likely to relapse into some of their early habits, but if properly cared for, may continue to improve.


A small number, and as frequently, perhaps, as otherwise, those apparently the most promising at entering, will make little or no progress. It cannot be predicted beforehand that such will be the result of any case, for the most hopeless at entering have often made decided advancement; but the fact remains, that no methods of instruction yet adopted will invariably develope the slumbering intellect, or strengthen and correct the enfeebled or depraved will.


The institutions for the training of idiots should he greatly multiplied, and should have a department for awkward, eccentric, and backward children. The methods adopted would be of great benefit to these, and would often call into activity intellects which might be useful in their proper spheres.


We regard this great movement for the improvement of a class hitherto considered so hopeless, as one of the most honorable and benevolent enterprises of our time. It is yet in its infancy; but we hope to see, ere many years have passed, in every State of our Union, asylums reared, where these waifs of humanity shall be gathered, and such training given them as may develope in the highest degree possible the hitherto rudimentary faculties of their minds, and render them capable of performing, in some humble measure, their part in the drama of life.

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