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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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Therefore, we set down as one of the most important duties of the new institutions the production of these monographs, which need not be numerous, but perfect. These monographs are our debt of gratitude toward society, which wants them to light her steps onward; toward idiots, who will be benefited by a better comprehension of their condition; and toward the sciences accessory to anthropology, which have never been furnished with so forcible and stable elements of observation of human nature as those accumulated under such circumstances; here, and very likely nowhere else at the present hour, rest the expectations of the inquirer.


But since twenty years, this part of the labor has been left aside for the more urgent object of founding the new institutions on a solid basis. Now everything is ready for the triple work of improving idiots, of studying human nature from its lowest to its highest manifestations; and of testing on idiots the true physiological means of elevating mankind by education, which will be the object of the following pages.






Idiots could not be educated by the methods, nor cured by the treatments practised prior to 1837; but most idiots, and children proximate to them, may be relieved in a more or less complete measure of their disabilities by the physiological method of education.


This method, object of the present exposition, consists in the adaptation of the principles of physiology, through physiological means and instruments, to the development of the dynamic, perceptive, reflective and spontaneous functions of youth.


The principles are not the method, the means, and instruments neither; but the co-action of both constitutes the method of education contrived for idiots and already appreciated as "an example worthy of imitation, of the alliance of the moral and physical sciences." (7)

(7) Rapport de MM. Serres, Flourens et Pariset, a 1'Académie des Sciences. Paris.


Therefore, the lessons of the Hospitals of the Incurables and of BicĂȘtre, of the schools at Boston and Syracuse, have not been given through the idiots in vain. Visitors came in, and every one carried away some of the principles or instruments used there, according to the chances of a daily practice. Seeing this, physicians could no longer write on diseases of children without expatiating on moral or functional treatment, nor teachers go back to their schools without carrying with them some of our sensorial gymnastics, imitation exercises, etc. In all this, truly the idiots were the doctors and the teachers. They taught as much as could be seen and understood in a visit; they taught, besides, that idiots are not the repulsive beings that our neglect made them, and that any land would be blessed where women and men would devote themselves to the task of elevating these unfortunates. Hence, institutions for their education have sprung up everywhere, and the physiological method was scattered piecemeal in every educational establishment.


This mode of spreading a system, by breaking it up as soon as formed, if not flattering to inventors, seems to be quite a favorite process of civilization. J. R. Pereire, after teaching for forty years the deaf to speak, saw this method reduced to mimic language and mutism. J. J. Rousseau did not hear bestowed upon the writings of J. P. Richter and the school of Pestalozzi, the encomiums deserved by his own Emile. Amoros had hardly given the last touch to his compendium of gymnastics than he saw it broken in fragments by the limited comprehension of his own admirers. Itard had no knowledge of the application of his object-lessons to the Savage of Aveyron by the Home and Colonial Society. Jacotot assisted at the apparent burial of his synthetical teaching of reading by words first, which teaching has been revived so successfully by Dr. Wilbur. So the onward movement takes place, through other oscillatory movements, by ebb and flow; and progress is accomplished even by apparent retrogradation. In this wise the truncated application to public schools of the physiological method of training has made, henceforth, its total application an unavoidable necessity; and its more comprehensive employment in several institutions has enriched it with many new devices, derived from the principle, by practical ingenuity. Though such a transitory season is not very favorable to the reassertion of the fundamental principles, it is the very time when we need it most.


Our method, to be really physiological, must adapt itself in principles as well as in its means and instruments, to the healthy development and usage of the functions, particularly of those of the life of relation: the apposition to be true must leave no gap, suffer no discrepancy. Man being a unit, is artificially analyzed, for study's sake, into his three prominent vital expressions., activity, intelligence, and will. We consider the idiot as a man infirm in the expressions of his trinity; and we understand the method of training idiots, or mankind, as the philosophical agency by which the unity of manhood can be reached as far as practicable in our day, through the trinary analysis.

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