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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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A room, very similar to this, is destined for calculation. Besides the slates and series of balls of various colors set on wire, there are collections of objects by numbers of the same kind, easy to aggregate or separate in groups at a bidding. To that effect more tables are provided here than anywhere else; all horizontal and circumscribed by a slightly salient edge, so that no object could fall. On these tables the four rules and fractions are taught with grapes, pears, marbles, nuts, etc., as thoroughly as by the most disheartening abstraction; they are transferred to the slate only when well understood. Here, at other times, assembling objects by pairs, series, similarity, or contrast, is rendered easy by the presence of numerous collections. Exercises of nomination take place also, in which the sight of objects provokes to language, and language in its turn spurs the lazy sight to recognition of objects: tedious exercise when it begins slowly, highly interesting when prosecuted with fire by a smart teacher followed by six or ten animated pupils.


The number of apparatus occupied by the preceding and following trainings shall depend upon the size of the building. Collections made by the children themselves, and those of minerals and animals, or others that accrue naturally to an institution of this class, are expected to occupy large places; so that references and illustrations from them may be constantly at hand. The necessary distance of the institution from cities, whose streets and shows exhibit at all hours the true magazine of learning for the masses of the people, and the difficulty of sending idiots about to pick up by sight that which no book nor teacher can convey to their mind, renders more imperious the duty of making these collections as numerous as possible.


The objects gathered with the express view of giving object-lessons, do not need to be always in sight; but need careful arrangement and storage; where they may be found, and in such order that the qualities by which they resemble one another, or differ, be apposed in their resting-places; so that it may suffice to present them as they stand there, to exhibit to the children the vividness of their properties. The things collected to teach pricing are quite different. At first they are very few, and of the kind that the child cannot afford to live without. The appreciation of their value carries with it the use of numbers, scales, yards, money, and other elements of valuation: a knowledge of intrinsic value requires the gathering of more objects, a better study of their properties, and more sensorial discrimination. The collections made for that study must resemble in their arrangement, more than any other, the shelves of a store filled with samples of several qualities of everything that the child may be expected to need himself, and likely to call for afterwards. This room naturally becomes the place where qualification exercises may be carried to the utmost limit.


When room is scarce, we may put together, but never confusedly: 1st. On the higher shelves, the patterns of simple things that the children may occasionally have to execute in wax, clay, wood, etc. 2d. Somewhat lower, and easily seen but not touched, the standard toys, expansive, delicate, conveying more ideas by the sight than they would pleasure by handling. 3d. Still lower, within reach of prehension, the playthings proper, bright, cheap, and easily broken contrivances, which are so necessary to the happiness of children, and from which they learn so much, even when destroying them.


A room sufficiently large to contain all the children and visitors, is used daily for the common singing, and occasionally for musical and other festivities. The care of ornamenting that room with fresh wreaths and new patterns of decoration falls to the more intelligent children of both sexes, under the guidance of a person designated for that duty by refined tastes and habits. This music or meeting-hall is the one in which the children dance or play together till the sleeping hour comes sooner or later, according to age and grade of intelligence; otherwise the girls and boys enjoy themselves in separate chambers and playgrounds.


The rooms in which dumb-bells, balancing-poles, Indian clubs, and the like are used, have their floors divided in one direction by straight lines, in another by rows of footprints, to mark the distance at which the children must stand not to hurt each other, and to help their classification. This room also serves for various imitation exercises, and opens, for more than one convenience, into the gymnasium.


This last contains the gymnastic apparatus proper; those essential to restore the muscular function, not to exaggerate it. It is, besides, the hail in which take place all the exercises and sports when the weather forbids their being carried on in the open air. For this vicarious purpose, the gymnasium must contain the various playthings in the same order as in an armory the arms are set up in racks; not for an idle display, but as standing provocations to desire and use them. Thus, with taste and show, are exhibited hoops, skates, sleds, balloons, ten-pins, kites, wooden and other balls, all arranged against the walls in attractive symmetry. Bows and arrows, wooden swords and guns, occupy in rows accessible positions, ready to be seized by the children, who need to learn the use of war implements; the determined attitude, the quick step, the firm grasp, the sure aim, etc. Even the fighting value of this military training in so feeble hands can be no longer despised, since two of the pupils of the New York State Institution went into the army of the Union, understanding very well what they fought for; one died of the fatigues of the campaigns; the other, wounded in two battles under Sheridan, died at Winchester. These things give to the gymnasium a character unlike to that of any other part of the building. Another peculiarity of its disposition is the gathering in it, and in the smallest compass, of all the difficulties which a child may accidentally find in his way, by establishing along its walls a system of up and down declivities and stairs, of artificial ditches, and of abrupt ascending and descending planes, over all of which the children, excited by music, by the voice and the animation of all the force of teachers and attendants, are unavoidably carried into a vortex of movement against the sluggishness of their own nature. When the weather is dull, chilly, thawing, the doors closed, the habitable world of the family limited by the gray windows, we mobolize them by a quick tap on the drum, a friendly one on the shoulder, a hand to support the trembling, a word to encourage the timid; on they go, each one and all pushed, pushing, falling, raised up, laughing crying, animated in their features and movements, as if they had never been idiots; till masters and pupils, eager for rest, are stopped, after ten or fifteen minutes of this wild chase, by the dinner-bell.

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