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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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To be physiological, education must at first follow the great natural law of action and repose, which is life itself. To adapt this law to the whole training, each function in its turn is called to activity and to rest; the activity of one favoring the repose of the other; the improvement of one reacting upon the improvement of all others; contrast being not only an instrument of relaxation, but of comprehension also.


But before entering farther into the generalities of the training, the individuality of the children is to be secured: for respect of individuality is the first test of the fitness of a teacher. At first sight all children look much alike; at the second their countless differences appear like insurmountable obstacles; but better viewed, these differences resolve themselves into groups easily understood, and not unmanageable. We find congenital or acquired anomalies of function which need to be suppressed, or to be given a better employment; deficiencies to be supplied; feebleness to be strengthened; peculiarities to be watched; eccentricities to be guarded against; propensities needing a genial object; mental aptness, or organic fitness requiring specific openings. This much, at least, and more if possible, will secure the sanctity of true originality against the violent sameness of that most considerable part of education, the general training.


The general training embraces the muscular, imitative, nervous, and reflective functions, susceptible of being called into play at any moment. All that pertains to movement, as locomotion and special motions; prehension, manipulation, and palpation, by dint of strength, or exquisite delicacy; imitation and communication from mind to mind, through languages, signs, and symbols; all that is to be treated thoroughly. Then, from imitation is derived drawing; from drawing, writing; from writing, reading; which implies the most extended use of the voice in speaking, music, etc. The senses are trained, not only each one to be perfect in itself; but, as to a certain extent other organs may be made receivers of food in lieu of the stomach and one emunctory may take the place of another, likewise the senses must be educated, so that if the use of any one be lost, another may feel and perceive for it. The same provision is to be made for the use of both sides of the body; the left being made competent to do anything for the right. But, instead of this, the present use of our senses is nearly empirical. No mechanic sees well enough at first sight all the parts of an engine; no draughtsman draws his pencil exactly where he means to; no painter can create the shades he has before him; no physician whose tact is perfect enough for the requirements of his profession; the imperfection of our sensorial and motive education always betrays, instead of executing the dictates of our will. Let our natural senses be developed as far as possible, and we are not near the limits of their capacity. Then the instruments of artificial senses are to be brought in requisition; the handling of the compass, the prism, the most philosophical of them, the microscope and others must be made familiar to all children, who shall learn how to see nature through itself, instead of through twenty-six letters of the alphabet; and shall cease to learn by rote, by trust, by faith, instead of by knowing.


True knowledge comes only in this wise. When a sense meets with a phenomenon, the mind awakened to the reality of the latter by its elements, which mark its analogy to and difference from other phenomena, the mind receives from said analogy and difference the impression which constitutes the image to be stored, evoked, compared, combined, etc. The character of the analogies and differences presented to the mind by circumstances, and mostly by education, forms our stock of ideas; thus the same piece of muscle looked at by the butcher-boy or by the microscopist awakens images entirely different, and ideas whose associations shall differ more and more at each new combination. The comparison of simple ideas produces compound ones: ideal creations of the mind, whose existence is purely relative to that mind or to its congeners. The assemblage in the same field of comparison of a great number of ideas, primary or compound, gives rise to general ideas, as those of order, classification, configuration, etc. Ideas in their generality are abstract creations of the mind only commensurate with Immensity. As examples of generalizations may be mentioned, the progress of the knowledge of the surface of the earth, as leading to the generalization of its curves into the idea of its Globular shape: idea which sent Columbus in search of the antipodes; the idea of the quasi-infinite divisibility of matter which produced the Atomic theory; the presence of bodies everywhere, which gives plausibility to the hypothesis of Space; the suffering of the toiling masses which elevated the mind to the conception of Equality; the general harmony of the universe which dispelled the successive mythologies founded upon temporary antagonism of elements, and made room for the idea of the Unity of our nature. Thus correct sensations being the ground of correct images, images being stored as simple ideas, the contact of which produces comparisons whose abundance leads to generalizations; till the mind embraces knowingly and willingly from the simplest image to the most synthetic idea.

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