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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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Another rule is to commence the lessons with syllables beginning with a consonant, and to use those in which the vowel is inclosed between two consonants alternately with those in which two consonants precede the vowel, for fear the tongue should lapse into the habit of one of these pronunciations and refuse to emit the others. The syllables beginning by a vowel come later yet, as it is a great deal easier to say Pa than Ap, the first utterance being supported by the lips, the second by nothing. More in regard to the teaching of speech might be said, but as it becomes soon mingled with that of writing and reading, we will not anticipate here what we shall have to expose hereafter.


Enough to say that when we have followed any of these graduated categories for a certain length of time we find them dangerous as creating routine, more particularly those favored by the peculiarities of structure above referred to; so that the series Of exercises the most appropriate at the beginning must soon be avoided, and replaced by, and afterwards alternated with, their exact opposites. Finally, we must not forget that in the primary trials, doubling the syllables renders their pronunciation easier and more attractive; later, it would be an impediment to progress, and an incitement to stuttering; but at the start everything sounding like syllables is to be encouraged first, and corrected afterwards. Therefore all our primary rules here are nothing but transitory and transposable expedients subject to the higher law of observation. So far we have spoken of the exercises of the speech only as individual, and forced by the strength of direct imitation; but as any one can surmise the child has, for a long time previously, been made a witness to the exercises of the speech by groups, before he is made a participant in them. As soon as he gives certain signs of attention or tries to imitate speech, he is systematically exercised in it alone and in a group. At whatever point of the vocal teaching we are engaged, it is important to remember that speech is such a spontaneous faculty, that it is not enough to teach it, to produce it. The chances are that what the child learns to-day, he will not show at once; but Occasion will bring it out later; or what the child learned and did not show in private teaching will appear when he shall take his part in the group, and vice versa; and what private or group emission of voices cannot bring out, may flow from his lips without effort after some lazy looking on, and accidental hearing: we sow and nature fecundates.


We must conform our teaching to that physiological law of the production of voice as well as of everything spontaneous in man. At the time when we teach syllables or words with so much fatigue to ourselves and concentration to the child, we must not expect to see him using them in his own language; but as if he had learned nothing, he will continue to emit for his own use the hi-syllabic repetitions whose grammar is music. "Ah-dé-dé," shouts Edward in his joy; "Ah-né-né," repeats he in disappointment; ringing or nasal sounds which adapt themselves exactly to theories or philology, like the colors of a painter to a landscape. Our primary teaching must go through without touching this natural speech, taking care not to substitute Greek etymologies for those of passion, fearing to suppress in the speech of the child its higher element, spontaneity; justly afraid of our coming under the severe apostrophe of J. J. Rousseau, "Everything is well as it comes from the hand of the Creator, everything degenerates in the hands of man." If anything is divine in speech it is not grammaticism, it is the bounteous fluency, which flows life a stream from the soul.


For a long time we must be satisfied with this double progress, not always keeping pace with each other, of formal speech in the training, and informal language; later exercises and practice will tend to unite them.


We postponed until now an observation that the reader has no doubt supplied; it is concerning the part to be attributed to the sight in the training of the speech. Sounds are taught by audition, but articulation is appreciated by the look; we had no opportunity to consider the functions of the eye so far, but we come to them presently.


The sight is the sensorial function by which we receive. through light, the impression of objects standing or coming in its range. This constitutes passive vision. Active vision or look, is the faculty of the same sense so very special and diversified from man to man, that two painters never reproduce, i. e. see the same object in the same light. But, to understand its grandeur and power, not in a Titian, a Cuvier, or a Sehiller, but in our own selves, we have to compare the capacity of our sight with that of the same sense in some idiots. In them it is reduced to the sensibility of the retina to a few rays of light falling obliquely into the chamber of vision, nothing else seeming to be perceived but a dark obstacle. But what wonder! when our own mind is much concentrated, we do not see things actually passing before us, nearly striking us, no more than insane, at some times, and idiots ordinarily do. In most idiots the sight, without being so deeply anomalous, is much perverted in all its modes of perception or in one only; as when they see things, appreciate their number, their shape, their usage, and cannot discriminate their color. Idiots even seeing quite accurately, seem to experience various difficulties in looking at, in directing, or concentrating their willed regard in some direction or at some distance; generally their look, when they have any, does not seem to go or stay where they wish, and appears thrown at hap-hazard. The voluntary functions of this sense are always defective. They see, but look badly or accidentally, and use their sight only for hunting the things they crave for; some even, when asked to look at something, shut their eyes firmly when trying to obey. In fact the sight is, of all our senses, the most intellectual, and the one whose anomalies are the most varied and the most connected with intellectual disorders in idiocy.

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