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Idiots And Institutions For Their Training

Creator: Linus P. Brockett (author)
Date: 1855
Publication: American Journal of Education
Source: Available at selected libraries


In 1854, Linus P. Brockett was appointed by the state legislature to investigate idiocy in Connecticut. In this article from the Journal of Education, Bockett outlines his understandings of the causes of idiocy and his views of education for people with cognitive disabilities. The excerpt here suggests the beginnings of a Darwinian worldview even before Darwin published his Origin of the Species in 1859. Brockett, unlike others in the field like Edward Seguin and Hervey Wilbur, seems less optimistic about the possibilities of educational efforts.

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It was not until the early part of the present century that the con-dition of the idiot began to attract the attention of the humane. The celebrated surgeon and philosopher, Itard, at Paris, foiled in his attempt to demonstrate his sensational theory by the idiocy of his subject, the famous Savage of Aveyron, was led to consider the possi-bility of instructing a class hitherto considered hopeless. Being, how-ever, advanced in years, and suffering from the disease which finally terminated his life, Itard felt that his plans must be committed to younger hands for execution; his choice fell upon Dr. Edward Seguin, a favorite pupil of his, and the subsequent history of this noble phil-anthropic movement has demonstrated the wisdom of that choice. Dr. Seguin possessed an inextinguishable love for his race, indomitable perseverance, a highly cultivated intellect, and a rare degree of execu-tive talent. There were many difficulties to be surmounted, many obstacles to be overcome, ere the first step could be taken; but, before his youthful ardor and enthusiasm, doubts vanished, difficulties disap-peared, the thick veil which had enshrouded the mind of the idiot was rent asunder, and these innocent but hapless creatures were res-cued from the doom of a life of utter vacuity.


As in other works of philanthropy, so in this, other laborers were ready at once to enter into the harvest. To some of these, undoubt-edly, belongs the praise of originating modes of instruction which subsequent experience has proved successful. Among the early pioneers in the cause of the idiot, the names of Belhomme, Ferrus, Fal-ret, Voisin, and Vallee, are deserving of special honor, as having con-tributed, in various ways, to its success.


Though something had been accomplished in the way of instruct-ing individual cases, it was not till 1838, that a school for idiots was established which could be regarded as successful. In 1842, a por-tion of the BicĂȘtre, one of the great hospitals for the insane, was set apart for their instruction, and Dr. Seguin was appointed director. He remained in this position for a time; but, subsequently, established a private institution for idiots in Paris.


It was during this period that he prepared his work on Idiocy, "Traitement moral, hygiene et Education des Idiots;" a work which entitles its author to rank with the first professional minds of the day. In his definitions, his classification, his diagnosis, and, above all, in his plans for the treatment and instruction of idiots, he exhibits so thorough a mastery of his subject, such philosophical views, and such admirable tact, that his treatise is invaluable as a manual to all who may undertake similar labors. In consequence of the revolution of 1848, in France, Dr. Seguin came to this country, and is now con-nected with the Pennsylvania School for Idiots, at Germantown.


The success of Dr. Seguin and his co-laborers, at Paris, stimulated the philanthropic in other countries of Europe to attempt similar insti-tutions. Of these, that established at Berlin, in 1842, under the direction of N. Saegert, has been most successful. Our reports of this Institution are not very late, but it is still, we believe, in a pros-perous condition. N. Saegert seems to possess, in a very high degree, that genial temper so necessary for the successful training of this unfortunate class.


Contemporaneously with the organization of the school for idiots, at Berlin, the attention of the benevolent was called to a class of imbeciles, hitherto entirely neglected, but whose numbers seemed almost sufficient to paralyze effort in their behalf.


In Savoy, and the departments of Isere, of the High Alps, and the Low Alps in France, as well as in some of the other mountainous districts of Europe and Asia, especially in the narrow and precipitous valleys of these regions, a disease prevails, known as goitre. Its most marked feature is a prodigious enlargement of the glands of the throat, accompanied, in most cases, with general degeneration of the system. It is attributed by medical writers to impurity of air and imperfect ventilation, to want of sufficient light, the sun penetrating these val-leys for not more than one or two hours of the day, to impure water, innutritious food, severe labor, and extreme poverty. The children of these persons are, of course, far more diseased than their parents, and are subject to a form of idiocy called Cretinism. Retaining usually the goitre, they also suffer from feeble and swollen limbs, distorted and deformed features, pale, bloodless and tumid skin, and almost entire helplessness. They form, indeed, the lowest grades of idiocy. The number of these poor wretches is almost incredible. In the four departments named above, with a population of 958,000, M. Niepce found, in 1850, 54,000 Cretins, or about five per cent. of the entire population. In several of the cantons, one-third of the whole popu-lation were Cretins; and, in some hamlets, as, for instance, in that of Bozel, in the canton of the same name, out of 1,472 inhabitants, 1,011 were either affected with goitre or cretinism.

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