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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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We must not begin their day's work like a duty, but like a pleasure, with walks, sports, music, and end it in the same manner; so that if we have not made them perfectly happy through our daily routine, we can send them to bed cheerful.


After the morning music, the first labors are those in which the most of attention may be exacted, and true learning gained. At later hours, more is to be derived from excitement than from concentration of mind.


When teaching a new object, we must not too often put our point forward, but on the contrary put it behind something well known, as a corollary to what was previously acquired, an unavoidable deduction, an of course. If we let the child feel that the ground is new, he will recoil; if we do not, he will think himself on the old one, and go ahead without increased diffidence.


In this direction there is a mark to which we can carry our pupil forward; let us appreciate it. If we leave him below that mark he loses the opportunity to reach it, perhaps for ever, dispositions of mind never coming back identical in presence of the same facts; and if we try to push him farther than his attention can support him, the whole acquisition may fall "in a pie." Therefore when any tension of the muscles, senses, or mind has attained its object, let us remove the pressure gently, for fear that a prolonged tightness would undo the deed or deface the impression dearly acquired.


When we exact from a child, in this manner, what he can only do with the help of our physiological artifices, we should study his features and see that he is not overcome instead of being raised by the process; we must beware of protracting the tension till his countenance shall give the signs of mental depression, as knitted brows, blank looks, white circle around the mouth, dejected posture; if we have been so far unmindful in our eagerness, let us hasten to take him off gayly to some pleasant exercises or music, remembering that we were at fault.


Though the idiot has much to learn, new things and studies must be dealt out sparingly to him, taking in consideration for the nature as well as for the quantity of work exacted, the heat, the cold, the dampness, all external reagents on the nervous system. Spring and fall are the times to push a child forward; winter and summer to inure him to excesses of temperature.


Let it be one of our first duties to correct the automatic motions, and supply the deficiencies of the muscular apparatus; otherwise, how could we expect to ripen a crop of intellectual faculties on a field obstructed by disordered functions.


We must teach every day the nearest thing to that which each child knows or can know.


We must never confide to automatic memory what can be learned by comparison, nor teach a thing without its natural correlations and generalizations; otherwise we give a false or incomplete idea, or none, but a dry notion with a name; what enters the mind alone, dies in it alone; loneliness does not germinate anything. The contact of two perceptions produces an idea; the contact of a perception with an idea produces a deductive idea; the contact of two or more ideas with each other gives rise to both induction and deduction, and ideas of an abstract order.


Contrast is a power; children will understand, and do by apposition of differences what they could not by single presentation, or by apposition of similarities. In other cases, the reverse proves successful; similarity is a power, too.


We must make the contrast not only an instrument of learning, but one of rest and repose. To that effect, things dissimilar are to be taught in apposition; an exercise through the eye, to be followed by one through the fingers; sitting, by standing; attentive silence, by emission of voice; doing this we give food to the mind as well as rest by variety, if our variety has a physiological and intellectual meaning.


Repetitions please children; as rhythm and rhyme are the lullaby of nations we must take advantage of them in teaching the speech and in the general training.


Training is understood to be special and general.


1st, In relation to the matters learned; 2d, to the number of children taught; they must alternate. An exercise of analysis is followed by one of synthesis, an individual teaching is followed by a group teaching. The same thing has to pass by the double process of teaching, as the same child has to pass through the single and group learning: Everything taught and every function trained by impression and by expression. In this manner, what has come into the mind has to come out of the mind, and what was perceived by the attention of one isolated child, has to be expressed through the impulse of a whole group by those composing it. The general impulse gives a better comprehension to the individual, the individual comprehension gives a stronger impulse to the spontaneity of the groups.


For the same purpose children have to be as soon as practicable taught and teachers alternately; not for the value of what they teach (though children often make children understand better than we can), but because the child employed to teach another learns more himself than his would-be pupil, as well upon matters of fact as by exercising his nascent power of command.

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