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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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Muscular exercise will at least form five groups; those of the senses and speech, eight or ten; drawing, writing, and reading, half as many; object-naming, specifying, qualifying, pricing, counting, about six; the relation of actions to persons and things, expressed by verbs, prepositions, etc., the same number; all told, without reference to outside labors, there would he above twenty groups of pupils to be formed, to fulfil by their collection all the physiological indications included in the treatment of idiocy. Granting, on the average, that a group formed for exercises of attention must not be composed of more than five children, and that one formed for activity must be under twenty, this gives us an average of ten children to each group. If we suppose the total number of pupils to be one hundred and fifty or two hundred, and a quarter of them always engaged in outside work, we have a maximum of one hundred and fifty pupils, forming fifteen groups of ten, under five teachers and three gymnasts, two groups to each, during six hours in the day. This gives forty-eight hours of individual or group training to fifteen groups, or three hours to each group. These three hours are given entirely to individual and group teaching, during which the child is expected to use his muscles, senses, and brain, alone or with the encouragement of a few mates doing the same thing. In the three other hours he is directly taught in the general training, or indirectly by being made a witness to the close activity and expressions of intelligence elicited from others, whose direct teaching reacts upon him in proportion to his nearness.


The efficiency of this indirect training is enhanced by the capacity of the teacher for understanding what nearness means for every pupil, and in presence of every kind of exercise. These, viz., the best conditions of perception, are extremely variable. A very small child will scarcely pay attention to exercises of personal imitation performed by a taller one, above his head, but will not lose one of those performed at a suitable distance and on the level with his horizontal line of vision. Then, to give him a passive lesson of this kind, let us place him at the proper height and distance of a group of imitating children, and he shall learn often, from that standpoint, what our direct and protracted patience could not teach him. But this point of perception cannot be determined in the abstract; it varies according to the thing to be taught, to the sense to be provoked, to the size, capacity, infirmity of the child, and often to other anomalies to be ascertained by experience. Altogether, three hours given to direct, three hours given to indirect teaching, make twelve classes of half an hour each, through which each idiot passes, without reckoning his general training, active amusements, walks, etc.: the institution is made quite a busy place for children but lately idle.


The general training and pleasure exercises being taken outside of the class-rooms at different hours, during which the attendants are on duty, one attendant being able to take care of from five to twenty children, according to how helpless these latter are; they need not be more numerous than the teachers, if their charges are not too much crippled, or otherwise immovable. This number of one hundred and fifty pupils in actual training seems easy to divide into natural groups to mass and to move. It is quite high, no doubt, if a man has to take all at once possession of it, individually and collectively, and to forward the treatment of each one and all, in an ascending march. But as it is not often that anybody is called, at short notice and without preparation, to such a duty, it may be asserted that with a previous knowledge of the old cases, a man of ordinary ability, well supported by his assistants, as we shall see he must be, will always be able to keep up the study of the new cases with the direction of the mass. Therefore, without fixing any number to the bulk of pupils forming the body of an institution, we must see that that body be not too heavy for the head, nor the head too light for the body.


Having given our views for what they may be worth, in reference to the selection of pupils and to their number to form a school under a single direction, we have now to give an idea of what may be considered as the motor, sensorial and intellectual, of the institution, with its attendants, gymnasts, teachers and superior officers. We can do this better by a review of their daily contact with the children (in which the rotatory movement, systematically exposed above, shall find, by and by, its natural illustration), than by a formal drawing of their abstract functions.


The attendants are the persons most constantly in contact with the children. To have one in each sleeping-room, the servants of all the departments are expected to do, at night, the functions of attendants. It is altogether a light duty, but one which teaches them kindness to the inmates who are the source, not to be lost sight of, wherefrom employment and salary come to them. Those of that class whose other functions begin early, are allowed to room with the most intelligent children who require only a short watching when going to bed, and in the morning from five to six o'clock. The real attendants have to wash, clean, and dress the children from five to seven A. M., with what help they have taught the higher grade of them to give the lower. After this the pupils are amused and walked in, or out of doors by one- half of the attendants, while the others take their first meal. Before going to breakfast the children are reviewed, one and all, by the Superintendent. The attendants must repeat to him the verbal report they made to the Matron about the night, and give the particulars of what may have transpired since they arose. This morning examination is no light business to be trifled with, or trusted to half-competency. In another place we have shown it to be the first step towards the school-room, or out of it; here we present it in its relations to the daily regulation of food, diet, hygiene and medical treatment. The verbal report of each attendant on sleep, cleanliness, and health during the night, and the morning written summary report of the Matron, are confronted with each other and with the actual condition of the children. Anything anomalous which has happened or appears at the visit, must be the starting-point of more minute inquiries, and lead to hygienic or remedial measures beginning precisely before, or with the next meal.

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