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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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Though the eyes are a part of the features, their office is so important that they are to be considered separately. The look is the passionate centre of the physiognomy; all the other parts coordinate their expression to its, unless skilfully contracted into a mendacious expression, which the eye can rarely imitate. The influence of this organ, as an instrument of moral training, cannot be overrated, whether we consider it from the master's or from the pupil's side. For if the look of the former is alternately inquiring, pressing, exacting, encouraging, caressing, etc., the look of the latter is avoiding, opposed, submitted, irate, or grateful, borrowing its expressions from feelings incited by the former. To obtain this result, the master's look must have taken possession of the other, have steadily searched, penetrated, fixed, led it; and here the constant use of the look, already described in the physiological training, is found corroborated by its use in moral training, and vice versâ.


The influence of the limbs on the effectiveness of command is equally distinguishable from that of the body in their ensemble. The way in which we stand in front of a pupil is not indifferent; and our foothold tells pretty well the degree of our determination. In this respect the various positions of the legs, and consequently of the rest of the body, are very instructive. How many things our attitude alone will command. We can stand before an idiot so that he will remain quiet; we may stand by him so that he shall hasten his steps, or dignify his deportment, etc. The arms and hands are more powerful yet, at least for the command of special movements. The finger directs, averts, corrects, threatens; the hand excites, restrains, forwards, stops, puts down, nearly all expressions of activity. A waving of the hand cheers and encourages; a warning of the finger cuts down an incipient action; with its rise and fall it rules the tide of commanded or forbidden manifestations.


But how far is the easy, monotonous, inexpressive gesture, which hardly accentuates our ordinary language, from impressing the idiot, not only with our meaning but with our will. Gesture then must be subjected to a special education to acquire precision, correctness, quickness, cabundance and emphasis; to become capable of speaking of itself, or to complete language; and to assume the force and fluency of an oration that the eye shall follow in all its details as the ear follows a spoken one in its meanderings: on this condition gesture becomes one of our moral powers.


When the parts of the body, not only those studied above, but all fibres, are so harmonized for the mute act of command, there comes forth the speech. Not that speech is necessarily commanding; like gesture, it is rarely so per se, and requires a good deal of art for its maturation. Taking away the language of conversation, inquiry, reply, narration, discourse, recitation, whose expressions are unfit for our object, what is left of ordinary speech to accomplish it? Very little, indeed; nothing but the potential capacity of speaking as few men ever do -- not to be understood, but to be obeyed.


For idiots, this difference between the varieties of speech is deeper yet. Without selecting our illustration as far down as the children who do not pay any more attention to language than if they were deaf, we find the majority of them inattentive, unintelligent, and inobedient to common speech. This difficulty admonishes us that language, even as a means of communication, but more particularly as a mode of ascendency, is to be heightened above its ordinary expressions to impress idiots. Voice and intonation, articulation and accent, rests and emphasis, are to be omitted, not as syllables following each other in a stream of uniform flow, but as musical notes on the superposed keys of the gamut. Purity of voice, variety of intonation, correctness of articulation, etc., would be expended in vain if they were not entirely adapted to the desired object, and besides, to the condition of the child at the time we address him; so that not only every word is to be invested with a different physiognomy in each command, but if the same command is to be repeated, each word of it must be accentuated at each repetition, according to the degree of attention previously paid, or supposed to be next given to it. In this manner, an order completely unintelligible, or unenforcible at a single command, will become understood and enforced after several repetitions, each one representing a forcible commentary of some of its parts, and all of them the whole of it. If this precept of commanding by words is too simple to be comprehended, we will exemplify it in this wise. Suppose the objects known, the master orders the child to put a book on the table. "Put this book on the table," he says, in the ordinary tone; and the child, half listening, does not quite understand, and does not obey at all. Whereupon the master repeats successively: " PUT the book on the table;" and the child takes the book, keeping it in his hand, not knowing what to do with it. "PUT the book on the TABLE," says the master again; and the child approaches the table, book in hand, uncertain yet what relation to establish between the two known terms - book and table. But the master continues: "PUT the book ON the table;" and the child places it on the table. The next time he is told to put the slate on the table, the dumb-bells under it, the balancing-pole near it, and the cage above it; a slight emphasis upon these words shall suffice; and more obedience will became easy in the same progression. By this example we do not mean to prescribe identically for other cases; often the verb has to be presented prominently in various ways; once for its meaning, and several times for its commanding value, expressed by the imperative mood. Moreover, each child obeys more or less easily; each child understands differently the relations to be established between objects by his own actions; consequently the same order cannot be imposed upon two children with the same voice, accent, etc., in the individual teaching.

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