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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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The circle of these actions is much extended as soon as the pupil is able to understand the relations established by prepositions. No illustrations could do it more felicitously than those engraved in Sadler's "Partique de la Langue Francaise." This simple woodcut, expressing the relative situation of birds in connection with a cage, was pointed out to us by Dr. Wilbur as the best means of teaching the preposition to idiots, and we have no doubt that he has by this time realized, on a large scale, the miniature teaching of prepositions which pleased us so much in that book. To teach this part of speech in our old way, to appropriate words, written on the black-board, are connected with successive prepositions, each one expressing a relation that the child must establish, and which is written, as was done previously for the verb.


Pronouns are to be substituted for nouns, and articles for numbers as often as necessary to their comprehension. Participles are nothing but adjectives, and treated practically as such. Adverbs are another sort of adjectives applied to verbs. Interjections are taught practically by transferring to the black-board those which come out naturally from the chest. Interrogations are understood by being answered. In these matters the danger is not to teach too little, but too much; the want of comprehension being worse than absolute ignorance. We are, besides, under no obligation to go beyond the limits of elementary education. Even at the happy time when our children enter into the conventionalities of common life, and of primary or classical education, nothing compels us to follow them in their new career, but with our best wishes, and the founded expectation that ordinary teachers, for ordinary teaching, will prove more competent than otherwise.


Moreover, if we have done elevating the functions to the intellectual excellencies of faculties, we have not yet finished educating the faculties as if they were simple functions.


Accordingly, we mean for the present to call attention to the training of the two most general faculties -- Memory and Imagination.


It is evident that whatever pains we take, and whatever method we employ to teach idiots, our lessons would leave hut a fugitive impression without the help of memory. This faculty is limited, but not perverted, in idiots as it is in some bright children, who assert in good faith things which could never have happened. If idiots ever told what was not true, it had been imposed upon their honesty; their lie was the earnest homage of their truthfulness. It is quite common to find among them memory restricted to some order of the faculties, such as musical imitation, counting, mechanics. These one-sided idiots may be taught almost anything in the line of their favorite recollection, but nearly nothing else. Some of them, for instance, will learn from well-meaning but unthinking attendants, long pieces of poetry, the names of our Presidents, of all kingdoms, etc., whilst they cannot say a word of themselves, nor remember what they have eaten for dinner, nor answer a question otherwise than by repeating the final word of it; but among these diversities there is deficiency, no error. Consequently we have to develop here or there, more or less, but not to redress this faculty.


Previously, we have not instituted any special training for the development of memory; but in all our exercises, the introduction of the memotechnic element could easily be perceived; for we were constantly presenting and representing, comparing and reconsidering, inducing and deducing, impressing and provoking expressions; making sure, by all means, that the impressions were received with fecund associations; and also that besides leaving their mark in the sensorium, they might be evoked at any time when wanted. This was no memory by rote which brightens an exhibition, but was our steady support from one progress to another. Nevertheless, whatever may have been the stringency with which we enforced these incidental impressions and evocations, they had not the pointedness of purpose which is necessary when we want to attain a special object, and which could only be obtained by special modes of training.


When we wish to cultivate the memory by some direct process we must first choose the remembrance -- matter most likely to please the child and to make an impression upon him; and secondly we must train the memory in its double aspect of perceiving and expressing the impressions: we must train both, at first, as if they were independent functions whose convergence produces later the complete faculty; as, truly, impressing and evoking past events or images are nothing else. We therefore bring the attention of the child to a class of facts or feelings in three circumstances -- at the time when they take place, after they are accomplished, and at the time they are to represent themselves or to be reproduced by him. What he likes to eat, what he does with most pleasure, and by contrast what he dreads the most, are the proper objects of these first impressions: primary pabulum for recollection. We impress them by pairs, according to the association of feelings they may produce; later we graduate them according to progressions in ascending or descending series, a few or many at a time; we give a meaning to the formation of these series as well as to the simplest fact or image recollected; and we habituate the mind to remember, not for remembrance's sake but in view of some end to be accomplished thereby. By all means, all that we present our child to treasure in his memory at this period, must be something which he will have to do again, or whose moral or orderly suggestions shall have a bearing on his future conduct. Memory in this series becomes the inward monitor of actions, of daily habits, and of external life. In this line we must not be afraid to show some vulgarity. This order of recollections will bear on very low facts indeed. We have begun by asking our questions as if it were to the stomach; we interrogate the senses, and the lowest calls of Nature, if anything can be called low in her; we ask the feeling of cold, of pain, of fatigue; we put our questions to the quick; as when the hands nearly freeze, we ask what may keep them warm; the recollection of mittens or of a stove will suggest itself to the dullest mind. We insist particularly on leaving to the child strong memorial impressions of the value of time, money, food, fuel, clothing, light, home, labor; we make him tell and repeat all the associations of these powers, with his own comfort and duties, with the happiness or misery of others. We keep him informed of the changes which occur in these matters by law, recurrences, or accidents. This is taught in private or in group, alternately in action, and by actions when possible; children are so sensible to examples taken from among themselves.

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