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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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The teachers begin their work together by leading the children in the singing exercises of the morning; after which they go to their respective rooms, into which they are followed most willingly by the pupils, very few of whom need be directed to their proper places. Each teacher has a programme of lessons and a series of groups of children; both adapted to each other in the table of movements of which every one has a copy. By this table the teachers are allowed the same variety of exercises as the children in respect: first, to the teaching, so that two successive lessons shall not employ the same set of organs, nor exact the use of the same intellectual functions; and second, to the persons, by changing, relatively, children and teacher at each lesson, thus preventing the moral fatigue which results from protracted and often unsuccessful contacts of obedience and understanding. But the teacher has many other things to do besides teaching. She first places the children, as they come each half-hour, in presence of their lessons, far or near according to their wants, or to their individual capacity for immobility, attention, perception, etc., or to the active or passive groups to which they temporarily belong. She takes note of the impression made on the health of every child, pushes or stops an exercise according to the depression, or more rarely to the exaltation it causes: never aiming at imparting so much knowledge, but at exercising such functions to such an extent. These and other accessory cares exact a great deal of her mental power and vigilance, besides the fatigue of teaching proper. After six hours so employed, in close contact, we nearly said combat, with the intellectual infirmities of her pupils, the teacher is scarcely expected to fulfil any other serious duties towards them. Nevertheless she must direct them in their excursions, gathering insects, leaves, flowers, anything, by sort or kind; and help them to arrange these in collections; and she has, besides, a busy hand in all the representations, charades, dancing, extra and regular evening pleasures of the family. When she retires, it is yet her duty to note anything particular which has transpired about the children, or any remarks of hers upon the teaching, suggested by her own experience of the day. These notes cannot be confided to fugacious memory, but must be written in a durable form and laid like the material for the foundation of a better edifice than the present method is, after having been discussed in teachers' meetings, and submitted to the repeated tests of experience.


The gymnast, though a teacher also, has functions which differ, if not in their material mechanism, at least in some particulars, from those just mentioned. His lessons are more neatly divided into general, group, and individual. More than the teacher, he must be assisted by the more intelligent and willing pupils, because he may command with his single will many movements, but can correct only a few wrong ones with his own hands. Here the help of idiots is doubly precious, since it trains the movements of the lowest by the training of the intellect of the highest; the former learning to imitate, the latter to reason the imitation, besides developing his will; clumsy as these helpers look at first, they are valuable and soon become precious. The gymnast seems to need, more than the teacher, the quality of judging the point at which each exercise must be carried by each child, to be physiological and safe. He must know that point, strive to attain it, feel it, and there stop: in this lies his talent and the safety of the children. He is besides called to direct the outdoor sports, whose apparatus is changeable according to temperature and locality; to lend a useful hand to the pleasure-parties of any sort given to the children; and is obliged, like the teachers, to write out in extenso his observations on the children, and on his part of the training.


As the housekeeper takes charge of the girls as soon as they are able to learn practical housework, so the steward has the management of the boys in the garden and fields; whilst all the persons working in the Institution are expected to lend their assistance to the training of the children in their special avocations. To sew, garden, or wash for the establishment is well enough; but to help the children in doing the same is better yet: in fact, everybody here must be ready to turn into a teacher of idiots. The duties of the steward, in particular, are important; as in relieving the Superintendent of many gross cares, leaving him more time for his intellectual functions. But our delineation of the institution is too general to admit of following any one of its officers but in their direct action on the training.


But so many persons are not expected to act in such close concert of time and purpose without conforming their conduct to a plan strongly framed, the conception of a single head. The Superintendent is or should be that head. He is supposed to be prepared by special studies to confront the important problems enclosed in the yet mysterious word idiocy. His functions are many; more, we think, than he can well perform.

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