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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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After having brought this class of commonplace and daily recollections to the working point till it begins to bear practically in the lives of the children, by governing their habits, we pass, if the growing intelligence of the pupil permit, as it generally does in due time, to a class of recollections, if not more useful, at least more elevated and far-reaching in their object. In the series we now leave theoretically behind, the retaining and combining of recollections was promoted by a natural desire of comfort, of order, of recurrence -- was, in fact, synchronous with our animal appetites. Instinct was the main lever of memory, producing regular habits, etc. In the series we are abstractly entering now, for the first time, the gregarious or social element has overstepped the limits of the instinct. The outside world has effected a lodgment in that skull once the domain of the solitary I. The intellectual faculties, strengthened by external accretion through the senses, are no more subservient, but command, and now exact from them the nutriment necessary to convert the physical into moral impressions, and to develop the sense of kindness, of justice, of the beautiful and their kindred. At this point memory looks so different from what it is in most animals, or in men unfortunate enough to be shut up in natural idiocy, or in artificial imbecility by ignorance and egotism; it is so elevated and so much of a generalizer; it is so potent to reproduce images, even of the abstract, with the vividness of creation, that its name is henceforth imagination.


Imagination, like primordial memory, evokes, and to some extent may repulse feelings or images; but by a kind dispensation the image of our pleasure is more vivid and more easily evoked than that of our pains. That imagination, not only of what is called the lowest order of phenomena, but of the highest intellectual cast and abstraction, is the result of comparison between true sensations, is evident. Men of the greatest imagination, like Homer and Milton, not only had observed immensely before their blindness, but that infirmity preventing the formation of new sceneries, permitted them to reproduce with more exactitude and vividness than other poets the wonderful images painted behind their cecity. On the other hand, persons congenitally blind cannot form images of what can only be perceived by the sight, nor congenital deaf mutes have ideas of sonority. And idiots who are, in the proportion of their native infirmity, deprived of sensations like the blind or the deaf, are altogether in the same proportion incapable of memory or imagination; but as soon as, and as much, as their senses begin to perceive, their mind begins to remember and to imagine. So the rule is, no ideas nor images without previous perception.


That idiots can be made to imagine as well as remember is proved by the rapid development and correctness, under a physiological training, of their aspirations for what is beautiful, right, and worth loving. It is imagination which teaches them to try to please us because they see our face lighted with hope and faith in their progress. It is imagination which makes them try new contacts, to receive new impressions, and compare these to the old ones. It is imagination which impels even the low idiot, once under training, to share his cake with another child and to look intensely, not at his mouth, but at his eye, to see in it the gleam of pleasure of which he wants his share as a reward. It is by favoring the creation and the recurrence of such impressions that intellectual wants are created. Soon the child's mind needs food as well as his body.


Considering the bearing of this part of the training, we must, as early as possible, cultivate the formation and expression of images, commencing as low as necessary, as we did for memory proper. Here pictures, recitations, dialogues, and animated narratives find their place; adding forms to facts, colors to forms, movement to the whole. And as imagination is not complete, since receiving impressions it does not return them, the idiot must be made to express his expressions as soon as his face and pantomime testify that he has been impressed. Henceforth let him receive and send back the images; as in reading, the words; as in the gymnasium, the balancing-pole; double current, solidarity, which constitutes the I part of us.


If memory connects the past and the future in the present of a single individual, imagination connects the same with all the race and all time. In this way we conduct our children, some on the threshold, some on the proscenium a few in the sanctuary of the unseen pantheon where everything which is, is as if it were not; and where everything which is no more, or is not yet, may be summoned into existence. From the feeling of pressure on the tactile organs which taught prehension, to our feelings of duty towards our pupils which taught them affection; from the distinction of the difference between a circle and a square, and that between affirmation and negation, or between right and wrong, we have followed a continuous path, beginning where the function awakes to the perception of simple notions, finishing where the faculties refuse to soar higher in the atmosphere of idealism.

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