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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 happy the time when the gymnasium and most of the rooms can be vacated, and training and teaching may be transferred to the open air. There another and more natural school is prepared for them, and by their own efforts. Between some lofty trees, they have built and dug up with spades and wheelbarrows, walls, ditches, and race-courses strewn with obstructions, over which they are made to run, and from which they must extricate themselves. They have also raised stone or turf banks to sit upon under the shade in warm weather, and listen to the wonderful stories flowing from their teacher's lips. Thence they are sent in quest of specified natural objects, such as leaves, insects, flowers, etc., and they return, each one with his booty, a more intelligent countenance, and a happy face.


But all is not enjoyment in their lives. Next to the pleasant shades, the gardens and fields are open for more sober sports, which may be rendered as interesting as their destination is useful. The very youngest of the children are sent in squads to dig little holes a few inches apart; to deposit a precise number of seeds in each hole, without missing any; to cover the seeds with light dirt, etc. Later, being made familiar with the shape of a few leaves, they are sent in crowds to weed out from a large patch every green thing showing itself under a form different from the one expected to grow on the spot. The hunting for insects destructive of vegetation, is another occupation rendered attractive by making the children conscious of the good they do, and by creating a gentle emulation among them for the number, the size, the strange appearance of their captures, etc. Soon these children become able to pave the garden walks with pebbles, or make gutters at their sides; they learn in short sessions the use of the spade, hoe, rake, watering-pot and others, according to their strength. Their implements should be light and efficient; this is capital; how many beginners have conceived for their work the abhorrence justly deserved by their clumsy tools. We will not follow our children, grown stronger, in the farm to see them helped by animals which they treat kindly, and above all, aided by nature. This is essentially the work for them. There, idiots are not exposed to crushing competition, but receive the concourse of the great Helper. Once, at the entrance of a poor man's field, was written, "The sun shines for all men." We read it many a time in our tender years without understanding it; but even on another continent, the sentence followed us, with its sun daubed in the middle, and we think that we understand it now; since we wish, we pray, that idiots may be kept working only where the sun can mature what they prepare: the sun of God shining for all.


Now that we have described the most important parts of the material institution, as the locality, or frame with many compartments in which the various acts of treating idiots take place; each room, nook, corner, hall and ground having been shown with its object, it is easy to perceive the unity of the intellectual institution, hot-bed of physiological education for infirm children.


The intellectual institution is the living counterpart of the method. We discover in it the same flexibility of adaptation to all the physiological deficiencies, to bodily and mental weakness. In it the rotatory system is substantiated; we see the child moving from one mode of training to another, as in the method we could realize, his feeble mind led from one perception to another, and elevated, not by direct ascension, but by side-liftings and propagation of forces, as levers act on apparently immovable masses. The counter-drawing of the method is personated: firstly, by the children; secondly, by agents whose action upon them is as systematic as the method itself, though rendered fluent and easy by the train of affectionate impulse.


We shall first consider the children. Those forming the body of an institution must be idiots, of course; but among them are others rendered incapable of attending ordinary schools by various infirmities, and for whom no educational provision has yet been made. It would be useless to rehearse here the conditions of fitness of idiots and their congeners to the institution; we suppose that most of the applicants may be benefited in it, but we are obliged to acknowledge that their indiscriminate admission would impair the efficacy of the establishment, and we remark at once, that this would occur in two ways: one by the preponderance of certain sorts of infirmities among the admitted children, the other by their intrinsic number without reference to classification. In regard to variety in the infirmities of those received, the pupils may be selected so that the institution has life in it, or falls upon itself like a dead weight. Therefore, in their admission, great discretion is to be exercised as to the number and the gravity of each kind of cases. If the bulk of them were affected with automatic movements, or incapable of auditing, or of comprehending orders, or affected with impeded locomotion, or prehension, etc., the predominance of one of these infirmities would act very depressingly, not only upon the individual treatment, but fatally on the onward and even movement of the general training of the mass of the pupils.

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