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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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There is more than one way of modifying surfaces by drawing. If pen or pencil can express our meaning on surfaces, we may find other instruments that will produce other kinds of drawings. By them, new surfaces will be created expressive of meaning as well as the work of the pencil. Happily these modes of drafting, not at the surface, but into the very substance, by creating new edges or surfaces, necessitate the employment of a not inconsiderable proportion of muscular contractibility extremely favorable to the support of the nervous action, whenever this action is not entirely under the control of the will, as at the outset of the training of idiots, and in the medical treatment of similar disorders.


This indication of supporting the failing nervous action by a certain degree of firmness in the prehension or in the grasp, is fulfilled by the following exercises. We give the children plastic substances, such as soft sealing-wax, clay, putty, etc., to shape into squares, rounds, or triangles, or in imitation of some familiar objects; taking care, as everywhere else, to not repeat the same exercise till it becomes stupefying; but on the contrary graduating it to favor, at the same time, mental and manual improvement.


We put into the hands of the child a piece of soft wood to be whittled to certain marks, where the new surfaces created by this action will represent some known form or objects. Soon we dispense with the marks on the rough wood, and give only a pattern to be copied; and later we order such a form to be drawn from the mere idea our command impresses in his sensorium. To the knife succeeds the chisel, the hatchet, the straight or curved saw; the hammer which plants nails in rows representing some delineations; the pin doing the same work more delicately on paper; the needle with colored thread drawing on white muslin nearly like a pencil, etc.


The scissors are among our favorite instruments. Patterns of card or wood are given, and their likeness cut out from rags or newspapers: firstly, by application of the pattern on the paper; secondly, by the standing of the pattern in front of the child; thirdly, by its mere presentation to the sight and withdrawal; and fourthly, by the nomination of the shape that is to be reproduced from the image evoked by the command.


It is very important not to confine these exercises to individual teaching any more than is necessary for their strict understanding. This understanding once acquired, must be carried into group exercises of two or three children at first, of many more afterwards, because when close attention is not so much needed, the healthy stimulus of competition must be taken advantage of. For every new progress to be made, we must give the child the advantage of concentration resulting from individual teaching; and for the confirmation of the same, give him the benefit of the expanded examples and incitements inherent to group teaching; the mind will be more bent on its object in the first, the hand will be freer and surer in the second.


There is no end to these exercises in drawing, which prepares the head as well as the hand for the realization of ideal types. When we consider that among men there is not one in a thousand who can use his hands to represent correctly a meaning, and that in a trade like tailoring or millinery, excellence of draft is scarcely the attribute of one in a hundred, we are astonished that the lessons of substantial drawing taught to the idiots have not yet been carried into the public schools, where they could fill up the tedious intervals of book-learning. How many young women and men would like to exchange the knowledge of the height of the highest peaks on earth or moon against the skill of cutting in paper, or modelling in wax, the new ideas which daily die unshaped in their minds, for want of power of realization by their hands.


This ability to represent ideas by solid drafting is so natural to some idiots, that among them and among cretins are found excellent draftsmen, either in the general sense, or in some specialty. But without aiming at such superiority for the bulk of our children, we shall be contented if we can bring their hands to the point of expressing some simple ideas of form; and even if only partially successful in this intellectual attainment, we have given to their hands the firmness and the precision necessary to draw and to write.


Then, and not before, we can put with confidence a pencil in the hand of our pupil, which he will seize like us, with the understanding and the will of making something come out of it by imitation at first. He puts his hand on the black-board armed with the chalk as we place ours; his eye looking at us and at the board alternately, as if asking for a command; this is given. We trace a line, neat, straight, in a precise direction; he does the same. We trace a second, a third, a fourth, he also; he imitates all our movements; the chalk in his fingers leaves the trace of these movements: that is the imitatory drawing on the part of the child. On our part, what must it be? The successive production of simple, straight lines in combinations which imply simple relations between them; relations which will soon give to this material imitation an intellectual meaning.

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