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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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When we have secured the use of this function, even to the smallest extent, that little must be instantly applied to some educational purpose with the help of other instruments adapted to the present incapacity of the child, to make him appreciate the properties of bodies, which otherwise fall naturally under the sight of ordinary persons. These properties to be perceived by the sight with the help of special instruments are colors, forms, combinations of forms, dimensions, distances, plans, etc.


Colors are taught in the dark room with colored windowpanes, as in the school at Syracuse, or with bodies of different or similar colors, assorting by pairs. Cards, ribbons, balls, marbles, samples of any sort of colored objects will answer, provided their similarity and dissimilarity can be incessantly referred to and tested. Balls and their receiving cups of the same color, and all sorts of contrivances of that kind for pairing colors, may be concurrently employed; care being taken that in trying to convey to the mind one property of these bodies, i. e., the color, some other property of the instrument be not so prominent, its shape for instance, as to attract the whole attention of the child to the exclusion of the color; we have seen that occur. The familiarity with colors once acquired by these means is to be applied to things of daily use of enjoyment, such as wearing apparel, flowers, fruits, etc., care being taken to present mostly what is neat to the sight and pleasant to the mind.


Our appreciation of the shape of everything in nature has its foundation in the knowledge of a few typical forms to which we refer as matrices for comparison. The simplest of them are circles, squares, triangles, etc., adapting themselves to their corresponding forms and to no others. The child, by contrasting the differences, must find the similarity of these shapes. The same comparison must be established between solid forms and those only painted, and between these types and the objects of daily use, similarly if not identically shaped. The combination of forms made up by the juxta or superposition of objects is well presented to the children by the blocks already employed, with which complex figures are built in plan or in elevation. Blocks near in form to dominoes can illustrate this kind of combination, and will give us an opportunity for graphic descriptions of some of the exercises of objective imitation that we have postponed to describe, but which we employ so profusely whenever we find it convenient.


The child being in front of the teacher, a table being between them, a few blocks piled near their right hands, the teacher takes one, puts it flat before him on the table, and makes the child do the same. The T. puts his block in various positions relatively to the table and to himself, and shows, not directs, the C. to do the same. The T. puts two blocks in particular relative positions, and the C. does the same each time. What was done with two blocks is done with three, with four, with more, in succession, till the exercise of simple imitation becomes quite intellectual, requiring at least a good deal of attention and power of combination. Later, the T. creates combinations of two or more blocks at once, and the C. must imitate all of it at once; and finally the T. creates a combination of a few blocks, destroys it, and orders the C. to build up the like, whose pattern he now can find only in his mind.


To relieve the tension unavoidable in these exercises, it is well to close them by the building on the same principle of walls, towers, and other easy fabrics on a large scale, at which groups of children will work with eagerness; and whose sudden downfall will cause a happy excitement. Once in the Pennsylvania Training-School for Idiots at Germantown, we were studying the case of a child who could not be induced to move. The matter with him was not paralysis nor weakness, but extreme apprehension of any contacts to be encountered by displacing himself. We left him standing on a spot, when his friends began to build one of their high towers of blocks around him; he was our prisoner. A little dismayed but unmoved, he would have stayed there till doomsday if we had not taken his hand through the blocks and marched him out of the ruins to the delight of his fellows. lie alone was not laughing. But we ordered the same thing to be done with other children, then with him again; soon he understood the game, took mildly, according to his nature, his share in the burst of joy, broke through the building of his Own slow impulse, and even soon helped in the erection of new ones. Dating from that event, he certainly became more confident and more deliberate in his movements and actions.


The size of bodies is appreciated by measurement; and this effected by the sight, by the hand, and by special instruments. The measurement by sight is our present object, and its application to one of the three dimensions will sufficiently show how it applies to the others. Dealing with objects already known, which do not need description, we use at first the French Metre, whose divisions into tenths are rather more sensible than those of the yard. Next to a stick one metre long and divided on each surface into ten decimetres, we put another nine decimetres long and equally marked, another eight. another seven, till the smallest, which is only one decimetre in length. After commencing the comparison with two sticks, the longest and shortest, we soon mix them all together on the floor or on a table, we call for them from the smallest up, or from the longest down, and the child must choose them, guided by his sight alone, and range them in order according to their size, verifying only by the touch what he learned by the look. What he can do with the metre we try with the yard, whose divisions into inches or two inches will task more closely the compass of his vision. Nevertheless, we are ourselves sometimes uncertain in our choice among so many sticks, when the child is not. Few old men have been taught to appreciate this knowledge. Where this has been recently introduced into public schools from the idiot schools, it is not certain that it has been presented more physiologically than the exercises of personal imitation.

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