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Idiocy, As The Effect Of Social Evils, And As The Creative Cause of Physiological Education

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: January 1870
Publication: The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Diseases of the Nervous System
Source: Available at selected libraries

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It has been objected that anatomy did not reveal in insanity as much as was promised in its name. There is truth in the objection, for various reasons, into all of which we cannot enter. Suffice it to say, 1. That the means of investigation at command, till a few years ago, could not reach to the intimate structure, and nature of the nervous tissue, and that some more improvements in this are eagerly looked for; and, besides, that probably a good deal of the attention, hitherto paid to the convolutions, should be directed toward the ganglia; in fact, that the study of the nervous system is just beginning. 2. The expectations about always finding the material lesions of insanity have also many times proved fallacious, because, when a physical cause has produced insanity, an organic lesion may generally be found; but, when it is from mental cause, it may come so late in life, it may be of such minor severity, and of so short duration, that it cannot leave its imprint on the organism. 3. The condition of idiot is absolutely the reverse of this. Idiocy begins to show its presence always at birth, or at the latest when the babe holds yet to its mother by the mammae; and, for its causes, they generally date from some period, more or less remote, of the gestation; besides, it is never a mental anomaly alone, that is to say, isolated from other functional anomalies, as insanity often is. Therefore, as we see in the idiot the effect of the other functional deficiencies upon their respective organs, we are led to expect that the same correlation will obtain between the perceptive and mental functions on one side and the state of the ganglia cerebri, and hemispheres on the other. If we do not err in this, the possibility of demonstrating that correlation in idiocy would be dependent upon the accuracy of the method used in the investigation, and not on eventualities as we apprehend it must, in insanity --


This point gained -- and we think it ought to be made irrevocable by a written agreement with the parents of the pupils before their admission -- we will have secured all the means, as far as the idiots themselves are concerned, of attaining the multiple objects of such institutions -- which mainly are:


a. The causes of idiocy to be thoroughly investigated, and the parties interested in the prevention of these causes, especially young women and their husbands, made aware of the dangers incurred in their posterity by any breach of the laws of moral health and society, which may deeply impress a pregnant or nursing woman. To this department alone the publication of the results of our researches on the intimate, even secret, even criminal, causes of idiocy -- always omitting names, of course -- will do a great deal of good; particularly, in spreading the dread of hereditary punishment set, forth in the Bible, and in enforcing the claim of women to more kindness, and sparing, when they are in the most delicate and impressible condition.


It is not unreasonable to expect that from these, and similar moral improvements, and physically from the transfer of the pregnant women from the crowded abodes of the city to the comfort of airy and wooded regions -- from abundant plain food, exercise, and no excitement -- young mothers would be more able to bear and nurture their children in physiological conditions, and. the children would come out in due season, without the influence of enervation and ill-nutrition which tend to produce idiocy and cognate affections. Hence these evils would rapidly diminish.


b. The treatment of idiocy would soon be the object of clear and simple rules, deduced principally from a parallel of well and idiotic children under similar training. There, any thing that could incite a healthy child to activity and attention, would be tried on an idiot. Any thing which would have made an impression on an idiot, would be tried on a healthy child; rendering manifest the similarity or dissimilarity of impressions of the same phenomena on both. The result would be our gain, soon to be transferred from the experimental to the practical field of education. These results of experiments would be expressed -- we would sooner say cast -- in a series of propositions, whose total would constitute --


c. The principles of physiological education, because they would be strictly drawn from physiological experiments. To attempt to give here an exposition of these principles -- which are already established elsewhere, and are yet susceptible of increase in number, perfection, and extension -- would be like a trial of inserting a full didactic treatise in an article. However, a comprehensive exposition of the mental process by which one of these principles of physiological education was arrived at, does not seem a work of supererogation here, to give the key to the way of discovering new ones.


d. Educating the mind through perceptions instead of prearranged reasonings. When we speak to the reason of a child with our reason, he understands us, more or less correctly or not, always in his own manner, that we can hardly probe on the spot, and whose thoroughness will he shown in his after-life, but still his mind and ours have communicated through ideas. How different it is with an idiot! Our mind addresses itself in vain to his mind, an immured recess, never lighted before. This explains why it was impossible to educate idiots as long as education was simply a process of transfusion of ideas from one mind to another. When that impossibility was demonstrated, we had to look for other means of educating the idiot. These means we knew we could not obtain from psychology, which had already proved its impotence; we looked for them in the resources offered by physiology; we will presently see with what results --

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