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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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The first attitude is upright immobility; without saying a word, we dictate with gestures the following attitudes; feet closed, feet open; forward the left foot, feet again closed. Raise the right knee, raise the left; a firm slap of the left hand upon it, and motionless. Some maneuvres of the left limbs; then eyes shut, and open. The two indices crossing each other; forward the right foot; arms crossed; down on the knees, up again with extended hands, first attitude -- rest in immobility. Next we dictate more special positions. Face right, face left, hands raised, one foot forward, left hand Out, both hands out, close the fists, open them, shut them again, extend indices, abut them, shut them. Down with the right thumb, up with the left, both flat on the closed hands. Little fingers extended, indices also, abut the four, shut them all. All the fingers apart, all close together, indices apart from the other fingers, little ones the same: all open, all shut. Majors of both hands crossed at right angles, all the fingers of both hands en chevaux-de-frise, all shut in that attitude, separate them briskly. And many more combinations easier to find than to describe, closing by three cheers and three claps of the hands, for the pupils are flow warmed, bright, tired, but not exhausted: final immobility.


There has not been a word, a syllable between us; imitation did all. It has attracted the sight, impressed the brain, contracted the muscles; slowly at first, more rapidly afterwards. The spark which directs a movement from our brain to our fingers, lights up its reflex action in the fingers; the work, tedious at first, grows faster and more pleasant, till there is between us a perfect current, superior to, if anything different from electricity; current of understanding between teacher and pupils, as rapid as any could be between exponents and auditors. These never-too-much-repeated exercises quicken the movements, improve the function of sight, extend the range of perceptions, give accuracy to the understanding, put all the parts of the body under the ready control of the will, prepare all the parts for the full exercise of their functions, educate the dead hand to living work; in these exercises above all demember -sic- the hand.


This rapid description of group-training, which holds good in its general aspect for all sorts of groupings, must not make us forget by what slow process of individual studies we have brought the children so far. But after months of alternate individual and group-training, in fatigue, often in despondency, we see them with joy, not only imitating the physiological exercises, but carry their new powers of imitation into the habits of life; trying to eat, dress, stand as we do before them, proffering their services to weaker children, as we tendered ours to them; and finally doing by the influence of habit, what more gifted children do only under compulsion.


Imitation, confined to the parts of our own body, was naturally limited; but objective imitation is nearly without limit. Objective imitation is the correct and rapid reproduction of actions affecting the relations or the sensible properties of objects. Its rationale is the same as that of the other kind; consequently it would be useless to give a formal demonstration of it here, since we shall have so many occasions of showing it in action. The fact is that henceforth, Personal and Objective imitation will be brought in constant request to give precision and quickness to the training in all its branches.


It has been intimated already more than once, that the foregoing treatment of the motive organs could not have been carried so far without being impeded by many difficulties, arising from imperfection of other functions not yet considered; among which are imperfect or abnormal sensations. In other words, defective sensations have necessarily interfered, more or less, between the child and the objects of the previous training. Now that the anomalies of the muscular functions have been mastered, those of the senses present themselves as the foremost impediment to future progress.


It would be quick work to enumerate these anomalies, apposing to each the best means known to obviate it; but this would be better remembered than understood; and this method must be thoroughly comprehended, if we want it to continue to be perfected hereafter. To demonstrate it is a duty, founded upon the conviction that this physiological method has already rescued many idiots, and shall be, when improved, the basis of the education of mankind.


For our practical object, all the senses are considered as modifications of the tactile property, receivers of touch in various ways. In Audition, the sonorous waves strike the acoustic nerves; in Vision, the retina is touched by the image carried by the luminous rays assembled at the focus; the Taste and Smell are yet more proximate modifications. But this touch is only the initiatory part of the function of the sense; the impression is to be carried through the nerves to the special ganglia; and the sensorial ganglia, after perceiving it, send it to be registered in the Hemispheres. But this last step, comparison included, does not belong to the sensation proper; it follows the sensation, but not necessarily, since so many of our sensations are felt without being deemed worth reflection and registration.

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