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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 56:


True, this view of our subject and of our race would not deprive animals of some kind of soul. But our mind must have already become familiar with that sort of concessions; since women, Jews, peasants, Sudras, Parias, Indians, Negroes, imbeciles, insane, idiots, are not now denied a soul, as they were once by religious or civil ordinances. Nations have perished by the over-educating of a few; mankind can be improved only by the elevation of the lowest through education and comfort, which substitute harmony to antagonism, and make all beings feel the unity of what circulates in all, life.


Contrarily to the teachings of various mythologies of the brain, and with the disadvantage of working against the prevalent anthropological formula, we were obliged at the same time to use most of its terms; we have developed our child, not like a duality, nor like a trinity, nor like an illimited poly-entity, but as nearly as we could like a unit. It is true that the unity of the physiological training could not be gone through without concessions to the language of the day, nor to necessities of analysis, quite repugnant to the principle; it is true that we have been speaking of muscular, nervous, or sensorial functions, as of things as distinct for us as muscles, nerves, and bones are for the anatomist; but after a long struggle with these difficulties, psycho-physiology vindicated its rights against the feebleness of our understanding, and the mincing of our vocabularies.


We looked at the rather immovable, or ungovernable mass called an idiot with the faith that where the appearance displayed nothing but ill-organized matter, there was nothing but ill-circumstanced animus. In answer to that conviction, when we educated the muscles, contractibility responded to our bidding with a spark from volition; we exercised severally the senses, but an impression could not be made on their would-be material nature, without the impression taking ifs rank among the accumulated idealities; we were enlarging the chest, and new voices came out from it, expressing new ideas and feelings; we strengthened the hand, and it became the realizer of ideal creations and labor; we started imitation as a passive exercise, and it soon gave rise to all sorts of spontaneous actions; we caused pain and pleasure to be felt through the skin or the palate, and the idiot, in answer, tried to please by the exhibition of his new moral qualities: in fact, we could not touch a fibre of his, without receiving back the vibration of his all-souled instrument.


In opposition to this testimony of the unity of our nature given by idiots, since they receive a physiological education, might be arrayed the testimony of millions of children artificially developed by dualistic or other antagonistic systems; as millions of ox and horse teams testified to the powerlessness of steam. The fact that dualism is not in our nature but in our sufferings, is self-evident. Average men who oppose everything, were compressed from birth in some kind of swaddling bands; those who abhor study were forced to it as to punishment; those who gormandize were starved; those who lie were brought to it by fear; those who hate labor have been reduced to work for others; those who covet were deprived; everywhere oppression creates the exogenous element of dualism. Of the two terms of "the house divided against itself," one is the right owner, the other is evidently the intruder. We have done away with the last in educating idiots, not by repression, which would have created it, but by ignoring it.


One of the earliest and most fatal antagonisms taught to a child is the forbidding of using his hands to ascertain the qualities of surrounding objects, of which his sight gives him but an imperfect notion, if it be not aided by the touch; and of breaking many things as well, to acquire the proper idea of solidity. The imbecility of parents in these matters has too often favored the growth of the evil spirit. The youngest child, when he begins to totter on his arched legs, goes about touching, handling, breaking everything. It is our duty to foster and direct that beautiful curiosity, to make it the regular channel for the acquisition of correct perceptions and tactile accuracy; as for breaking, it must be turned into the desire of preservation and the power of holding with the will; nothing is so simple, as the following example will demonstrate:


Once a very excitable child, eighteen months old, touching, breaking, throwing everything he could, seemed really ready, if he had been once punished for it, to become possessed by the old intruder; but it was not our plan. We bought unmatched Sèvres cups and Bohemia glasses, really splendid to look at, and served the child in one of them, after showing him the elegance of the pattern, the richness of the colors, everything which could please and attach him to the object. But he had no sooner drunk then he threw the glass away. Not a word was said, not a piece removed from where it fell; but the next time he was thirsty, we brought him where the fragments lay, and let him feel more thirst before we could find another glass equally beautiful. Some more were broken in the same petulant spirit; but later, he slowly dropped one, when at the same time, he looked into our eyes to catch signs of anger. But there was none there, nor in the voice; only the composure and accent of pity for the child who could willingly incur such a loss. Since then, baby took good care of his cups and glasses, finer than ours; he taught his little fingers how to embrace with security the thin neck of one, the large body, or the diminutive handle of others. In practising these so varied handlings, his mind became saving and his hands a model of accuracy.

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