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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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This double current forms a functional circle which cannot be interrupted without being destroyed. Take away one of these currents, and instead of causing a complete action, we have only the beginning of one. Whether images are sent from acute senses to an encephalon which cannot register, compare or classify them, or whether centrifugal aspirations cannot be realized by dead or dead-like apparatus of transmission and contact; in both cases, opposite as they are, the result is the same -- isolation, incapacitation. So, fine senses and good muscular development, if the will has no command upon them, cannot respectively feel nor do anything more than if they were paralyzed; and leave the child impotent, with all the instruments of potency less the central one. And in the same manner, an active encephalon deprived of important means of communication with the world, or of means of sensorial analysis, may create superficial idiocy, whether the isolation comes from general paralysis, or from the loss of one sense only, or from the loss of several.


Now let teaching do, at large for mankind, what infirmity does for idiots and their congeners; let perceptions be sunk in a central organ unprepared to generalize and fecundate them; or let the generalizing agent be sent, through its spontaneous impulses to external organs unprepared for movement or for the correct perception of feelings, and the result will be at least a lowering of human capacity; but let idiots be taught by either of these half teachings, through one-half only of the psycho-physiological circulus, and you may well set down their improvement as impossible, since in this wise you want to improve them by the very process which would make them idiots, if they were not such already. This cannot be too much insisted upon, that whatever development be given to the sensorial faculties, the reflective and spontaneous must receive a corresponding culture, and vice versa.


Exclusive memory exercises do not actually improve idiots; rather the reverse: they impede their future progress. Better one thing thoroughly known than a hundred only remembered. Teaching so many facts is not so fruitful as teaching how to find the relations between a single one and its natural properties and connexions.


Conversely, protracted tension of the will and reason upon unsubstantial objects and purposes, if it would be futile in the case of idiots, does favor in other schools the production of monomania and hallucinations, even endemically. The avoidance of these exclusive practices, reduced even into theory by certain teachers, will insure the unity of training so important to our success.


Therefore the teaching of a geometrical point must not make us forgetful of the line to which this point belongs; the line, of the body it limits; the body, of its accessory properties; the properties, of the possible associations of the subject under consideration, with its surroundings: an idea is not an isolated image of one thing, but the representation in a unit of all the facts related to the imaged object.


The completeness of the method to be used is of the utmost importance, and must be enforced as well in regard to the object of the teaching as to the unity of the child. But before beginning our close adaptation of the whole training to the whole child, we must make sure of the fitness of the latter for it. We must not put an idiot to work or to study before ascertaining every morning his condition. A friendly look at his face and a shake of the hand, a patting of the head, if necessary extended to the temples and posterior base of the cranium, will tell if anything be the matter, and if you have to extend your investigations farther. With idiots the questioning by palpation is the surest; ask the different organs, and they will tell you how the child feels, better than himself, better than his nurse. We must not permit any dejections to go unnoticed, unless we want at some time dysentery and the like to run wild through our wards.


The same attention is required if any inflammation of the eyes appears, possible initiator to purulent conjunctivitis. The spread of any parasitic disease is to be cut short with the same vigilance. The health of the feet and hands has to be often ascertained, particularly in winter.


In dressing the children we must have regard not only to the season, but mostly to the sudden changes of temperature, and to certain idiosyncrasies. Dress them as you like in regard to fashion, but comfortably and easily about the joints and chest, so that they can move and grow.


We must not send a child to study or duty without his having taken food. The staple food for these children is milk, bread, eggs, and ripe, red fruits; meat once a day is enough. But every day or every week brings new demands on account of changes of season and temperature, of personal health, or of imminent epidemics; and also because variety is of itself food.


The nutrition of idiots is to be attended to closely, if we do not want to see them, or part of them, decay.

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