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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 the use of scientific appliances does not dispense the Superintendent from measuring also the vitality of the children by the physiological standard of their activity; to see whether they sleep, eat, play, study, labor with a healthy soundness, or show traces of languor or restlessness in what they do or refuse to do. If these two kinds of evidence coincide in their indications, they call for due hygienic interference and instant modifications in the training. Thus the Superintendent keeps his eye fixed upon the pupils, and his hand as if he were constantly feeling the pulse of the institution.


However, many other things are to be done for the children by others, and yet with a unity which can but proceed from him; and he cannot impress on the mind of his assistants the direction of his own, without giving much time to their training; be they, or not, experienced teachers, matrons, attendants, or others. He must give them his plans of treatment to be carried out, and they must impart to him their daily experience in the progress of individual training; this interchange forms their bond of union. By this constant exchange of views from the general to the special, the Superintendent is not in the least exempted from controlling the teaching on the spot. There he will find that after years of experience, the best teacher may act contrary to the laws of physiology, and he may surprise himself learning new things in his art from some peculiar incapacity of an idiot.


Besides, he endeavors not to spend an evening without having some informal conversation upon the topics of the day, advising changes, provoking verbal or written expressions of opinion from his subordinates. In this constant intercourse familiar suggestions take the place of orders, plans are laid for future labors, and materials are accumulated to keep up the interest of the monthly meetings. These meetings, central points wherefrom radiate the views of the Superintendent, are occupied by the reading of the reports of the family, of the girls and the boys drawn up separately, of the school common to both sexes, but distinct as to every part of the training.


Attention is called by the Matron and the more intelligent attendants upon domestic matters, and by teachers and gymnasts upon new points pertaining to the training. Extra tasks of observation are assigned to competent parties, changes are prescribed, and new orders given, closing by the reading of short essays on the various incidents of the last month's labors, health, etc. Very few, if any, of these essays must assume the tabular form, in which children, habits, progress, exercises, are reduced to figures. On the contrary, it is desirable that they be intimately connected with the treatment of specified individuals, even with a very limited part of it, provided the observation be thorough. These fragments must be classified with the other documents pertaining to the history of the same child, and will be found invaluable for the formation of monographs.


Every year the Superintendents of the various schools for idiots should meet, to impart to one another the difficulties they have encountered, the results of their experience, and mostly to compare the books containing their orders and regulations. These books, the embodiment of the past and future life of the institutions, are not so much the personal property of those who fill them with their creative and organizing genius as that of society, which lavishes money upon the schools, not only to improve idiots, but to spread the means adapted to their improvement. In the same spirit the Superintendents might agree upon a system of temporary exchange of teachers and attendants. This would be very beneficial in grafting from school to school certain peculiarities of training nearly impossible to transmit by writing, and would offer pleasant change and relaxation to trusty officers after faithful and protracted service.


Then the Superintendent should consider the important questions relating to the propagation of schools for idiots where they may be needed; to the creation of asylums proper, in which adult idiots, left friendless or imperfectly improved, might find a happy home; to the opening of special hospitals in which choreic, epileptic, and otherwise nervously affected children might be treated, instead of being, as actually they are, a dead weight upon the institutions. This enumeration only opens the series. In regard to the theory and practice of their art, they should ascertain the precise point at which stands their own knowledge of the nature and origin of idiocy; their skill in diagnosis and treatment; and the elucidation of the physiological questions involved in the theory of the training. After these and kindred queries have been answered, or proposed as problems to be solved at future meetings, they should consider the relation of their art to the scientific world. Few and perfect monographs are to be issued from time to time; the publication of works upon some analytical points of physiological education is to be encouraged; public lectures on the less abstruse points of the treatment of idiots might be tried; and a pecuniary interest taken in a Medico-Psychological Review, in which the ideas and the tendencies of the school might be advocated. The physicians to the insane have to be shown that, next to the moral treatment handed down to them by Willis, Pinel, and Leuret, the physiological training that has been so far restricted to the treatment of idiots may accomplish great things in the way of correcting false ideas, and particularly perverse sensations in the insane. Finally, at these meetings some means must be devised to make common-school teachers familiar with the ensemble of the resources offered by the physiological method to develop harmoniously the whole being in our children.

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