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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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But can the idiot be made to work in competitive industry, where steam and machinery force production every day to an extent unknown the day before, and reduce proud man- kind to the shape and degradation of the stunted, sallow, and sullen workmen of Lyons, Lille, Manchester, Birmingham, etc. If idiots are to be so employed, it were better to leave them in their primary condition. Nevertheless, we do not ignore that some idiots manifest peculiar tendencies which can be utilized in one mechanical trade or another. Where such strong natural ability exists, let it be followed up, if the child himself can derive profit and mental happiness from its prosecution. But this peculiarity does not belong to a class; being only the strange gift of one in many, it cannot justify their miscellaneous packing in shops. The very few in-door labors they can be put to are more or less connected with the various departments of housekeeping. In this line, children feel the solidarity of the principle, understanding easily that they work for themselves and friends; if they do not make money by it, they gather a harvest of sense, of order and mutual dependence, with appropriate feelings and ideas related to their position and social standing. Otherwise, and under any other circumstances, they must work as much as possible with the concourse of nature, and with the genial cooperation of the sun. By all means we must let this be their life in the institution.


The relations of money to food and to labor are to be presented to such of the children as can understand them, in the most practical form; their own books establishing the balance of their accounts with the institution; each child credited with the value of his work, and debited with his expenses. When they have followed a class of pricing (as we understand there is one in the Earlswood Institution, England), for usual objects, with critical observations on the qualities requisite in each, such as shoes, books, gloves, needles, etc., we send them to make experimental purchases with their own earned money, and let them and the other children debate together the result of these foreign operations.


As a set-off and compensation for so much care heaped on frail beings, we devote as much time as we can to the most sensible of our duties, to make them merry and gay in innocent relaxation. Those who have seen idiots, at the second stage of their education, so shy under a strict rule, so daring in the play-room, will readily understand our meaning. But it takes a long intimacy with the sterner forms of the infirmity to get at the mystery of the silent progress accomplished by the lowest idiots, during the first and nearly despairing period of their training, when admitted to witness the liveliness of the play-room. There, the pleasures enjoyed by the more forward pupils have a reflex influence of a curious character upon the worst cases; the immovable feel reflectively the exaltation of the impressible; they enjoy through the joy of others, and seem to prepare themselves for future like enjoyment, by occasional twitching of some muscles, more abundant dribbling of saliva, or an erratic smile; as we see the chrysalis moving its future wings under the bearings of its dirty gray cocoon.


But the feelings of idiots are not all of an indescribable nature; on the contrary, what the majority of them feel, whether joy or sorrow, they express openly and accurately. If any person coming among them be indifferent or attractive, we see it reflected on their face; if the entertainment prepared for them be pleasant or not, we read it in their countenance; and it requires a pretty good insight into their character to hit the mark. Therefore the actings performed to please them, with the concourse of some of their number, as in Syracuse, Media, Barre, and Earlswood, are to be planned by their best friends and teachers, who become for the occasion impressarios, managers, and costumers. It is astonishing to see how real idiots enjoy these representations; and it is touching to see them trying to bring the acting to the understanding of their lowest fellows. Next to these stately representations, and several times a week, comes dancing, and many times a day comes music.


Promenades for a short distance, excursions farther, must be of frequent occurrence. Not that we advise them for the mere object of airing the children, or of improving their physical health, but to prepare a special end to them each time; and although that end will not always directly have a moral object, yet the children will contract by it the moral habit of giving an object to each of their actions, and of planning and expecting a return from each of their undertakings: conclusions highly moralizing of themselves. Therefore, if we often send some children to carry objects of com tort to a destitute family in the neighborhood, we send them too on the beach to collect shells, or in the meadow for violets; the woods will furnish them one day with green leaves, another with russet or red ones; at one time, at our suggestion, they hunt for the smallest, at another for the largest leaves; again, for blue or red berries, or for nuts, acorns, etc. The very stones may be collected on the way, according to color, form, or size; we must never let our pupils return empty-handed.

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