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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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Without leaving to these actions and new impressions of difference and analogy of form, the time to be effaced, we change the order of the solid letters on the table, and of the printed ones on the board, and we ask him for the solid O; which, being given by the child, we ourselves carefully superpose to the printed one. Then again changing the order of the two series of letters, we ask for A, for D, for O, again and again till he gives them without mistake. When the child is mute and not deaf, our teaching of reading cannot go farther. Otherwise at this time we begin to point out one of the three letters; he names it, and pairs it with its like. This is only passive reading, would suggest the critic. Yes, mostly or nearly so. But is not this quasi-passivity an improvement on not reading at all; and cannot it be made the beginning of spontaneous reading? That is the question. All our present training tends to that result.


There is no necessity of following this plan here farther than the letters; nor of describing the various reading-machines which may be found in all class-rooms, and are used once in a while when their peculiar ingenuity meets the peculiar difficulties of a case of idiocy. The alphabet above described would not itself deserve to be recollected if its virtue were limited to the teaching of reading. Its specific value resides in the power of giving accuracy to the sight; its letters being presented by our method to this sense in all their relations of analogy and difference of shape, with this special object in view.


The small cards, bearers of a single syllable or word; the large cards showing whole series of the same, monosyllables in columns, or scattered in various orders, are more practical for reading. Those we used twenty-eight years ago could not be found anywhere, and were of our own manufacture; images corresponding to them were printed expressly for our children by the kindness of a friend; previous to 1840 there was no such thing that we were acquainted with. These cards have since spread everywhere; and images for children are plenty, if not always appropriate to reading and representation lessons. Nevertheless since so many years the method and its means and instruments have progressed in skilful hands.


Confining ourselves at first to individual teaching, we use the small cards with a monosyllable or short word on each, as letters have been in our alphabet for passive lessons in the beginning, for active reading with speech as soon as we can, always observing the rule of changing frequently the order of situation, and nomination as well. Exactly in the same manner, the teaching of polysyllabic words follow that of the monosyllabic; this is the rational progression.


But, considering that the method of Jacotot, introduced into the United States by R. W. Emerson, and into the N. Y. State Asylum for Idiots by Dr. Wilbur, disregards the teaching of the alphabet as introductory to reading, and is in successful application in Syracuse, we would not have insisted upon the necessity of maintaining the old divisions were it not that their slowness in teaching to read does not impede nor diminish their importance as instruments of acuteness, to give precision to the sight. And as our fundamental object is not so much the teaching of one thing or of another, as the furtherance of each function and its utmost elevation in the rank of intellectual power, we have kept the old series of comparisons elicited from the letters and monosyllables as one of our best sensorial exercises. Otherwise, subsequently to the demonstration of the practice of Syracuse, reading is taught first as last by words. The word written is read, the word pronounced is written; the speech flies like the thought, writing immobolizes and perpetuates both.


Before proceeding farther we resume the exercises involved in reading. Cries have been converted by music into voices; articulation was derived from personal imitation concentrated in the organs of speech by mimicry; speech was treated as a combination of voice and articulation enforced by wants; writing was deduced from objective imitation; reading was the result of the combination of both speech and writing; letters are taught only as a study of contrast and analogy between their shapes or between their sounds; reading begins by words, each word having a shape or configuration, a name, and a meaning: hence solidarity is established between writing, reading, speaking, and soon understanding; so that the learning of one of them carries with it the knowledge of all. Written words are presented according to their difference or analogy of form; the teacher names them and the child points them out or writes them. Words pronounced by the teacher are written by the child; series of words are formed according to certain similarity or difference in their letters; other series are formed according to certain difference and analogy in their sounds when spoken. We said every word has a meaning; to write and to read implies the understanding of that meaning; everything short of it is an imposition by the teacher, or an infirmity of the pupil: let us remember this, since we shall presently begin to teach more especially reading proper.

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