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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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Page 51:


We come now to the subject-matter of reading. Though the subject of reading lessons must be of interest to the child, it must not be so familiar, except at the outset, as to lead him, by association, to the utterance of words not at the time before his eyes; for in this train imagination, memory, or desire would substitute their objects to the reading matter.


On the other hand, the subject of the reading must not be too much above the comprehension and the habits of the mind to be taught, otherwise the lesson, besides its mechanical object, would proffer no stimulus, through curiosity, to intelligence.


But if it is difficult to choose reading-matter fitted to ordinary children's minds, how much more difficult it must be for idiots. Aware of this difficulty, in the first lessons in reading, we have been confining our teaching to persons, objects, and feelings strictly appreciable by the idiot. His reading has been one of nomination, whose series begins at the point of comprehension where we find him every morning, ending soon where he ceases to understand. Inside of that range, we make him nominate by writing, reading, and spontaneous appellation everything that he can comprehend; and we treat him, in respect to the identity of knowledge with nomination, as our first father was treated. "The Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." -- Genesis ii : 19. Therefore, ab initio, there has been no presentation of new objects, i. e. discovery, without instant nomination; no nomination which was not simultaneous with discovery. In the same spirit of identity, whatsoever we name a new object, when first presenting it to an idiot, that is for him the name thereof. He had the perception of the object, we give him its name; and the correlation of both abides in his mind as identification of the image and name, elementary idea or notion.


Such is the teaching of nomination by writing, reading, and speaking, which has arrested us so long; and which will be terminated when we shall know the name of everything that is, and is to be.


Trusting to the biblical narrative farther, we see that our parents were not instructed as to the qualities of things, but permitted to appreciate them all, except those of a single tree, of which they were forbidden to eat under penalty of death. Whatever has been the cost of their transgression, henceforth every generation, distrusting past experience, wants to appreciate the qualities of things with its own instruments of perception; and observation, not trust, became the foundation of all Science. The idiot, if he can only move about, is no more ready to rest satisfied than his mother was. If we put a pippin or a crabapple before him, tell him which is sweet and which is sour, he will not know it till he has bitten at both; that is Knowledge. At the present point of the training, we must take advantage of this natural instinct, and bend all our efforts to give accuracy to the appreciative capabilities of our pupil. The notion, or knowledge of identity of things, given with the name, like a baptism, suffices but an instant to human curiosity. The lowest idiot is not content with distinguishing a round or a square; he wants to touch it, or lick it, to discover if it be besides rough or sweet; in fact, if it has other qualities than those of shape. Can we shut our eyes to this lesson; and must we not try, after having taught the identification by nomination, to teach the appreciation of properties by a systematic study of qualities?


The qualities to be studied mostly in reading are of different orders. Those perceived in our previous gymnastics of the senses, particularly the pleasant ones, may be first employed, but not indulged in, longer than necessary to fashion the analytical power of the child. Contrarily, we reserve our absolute exclusion for the qualifications founded upon would-be science, and definitions more Greek than sensible. They abound in books written to spread the otherwise excellent system of object lessons. The definition of the horse reproduced by Dickens in "Hard Times," to show how. idiots might be made in England and elsewhere, would correct this, if pedantry could be cured.


In object lessons as practised for idiots since 1837, the intellectual and moral qualities and bearings have always been made prominent above the more physical properties of objects. This has been insisted upon in our books and practice for nearly thirty years, as elevating the character of the training and preparing the child for the moralities as well as for the materialities of life. After seeing how animals enjoy hours of nature's harmonies, who could name the brute which does not see in the grass anything more than food; and after seeing the look of a calf at his mother, think that it loves her only for her milk? Material education alone can make a child see only the "old man" in his father coming home with the provisions earned by his day's labor; and the "old woman"' in the worn-out creature who has watched him by night, worked for him by day, till her heart alone is beautiful. He is not a teacher who cannot make the most material fact transude its morality, as the almond does its oil under intelligent and warm pressure. He is a teacher who cannot see a pod of peas without opening it by its spiritual articulation, letting out of it as much food for the mind of his children as there was for the body in the seven loaves and fishes.

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