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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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e. Considering all the manifestations of life as expressions of functions, and all functions as resultant from a certain organism, we set aside the scholastic distinction of mind and matter, intellectual faculties and physical functions. Confident that to call them one name or another does not alter their nature, and could not alter the results of our experiments upon them, we assumed simply that --


f. "If we could take hold of an organ, we would be able to make produce its function." From this starting point we graduated our means of educating the functions of idiots upon "the facility of our approach to their organs," and we found that --


g. "The organs of sensation being within our reach, and those of thought out of it, the former are the first that we can set in action." From this selection -- nearly a discovery -- since it became the basis of an important part of the method of training of idiots, resulted the other aphorism --


h. "The physiological education of the senses must precede the psychical education of the mind."


These propositions received support from two classes of historical experiments:


Individual Test No. 1. -- When Itard undertook, in 1801, to educate the savage boy found in the forest of the Aveyron, France, after the Abbé Sicard and other psychologists had tried in vain to communicate ideas to that child of Nature, who knew absolutely nothing but temperature and hunger, Itard succeeded partially in educating him through sensorial impressions. For instance, he could not teach him to read -- that is to say, to attach an idea to certain combinations of letters -- but he could make him identify the figure of a few words with a few things, as, when wanting milk, he presented a card bearing milk written on its face. Milk was not a word, it was a sign for the savage. Of his pure sensorial education, Itard gives another example rather forcible, though not enforced by moral considerations. The boy would sometimes bite a man in anger, as he had done rabbits to satisfy hunger in his former haunts; Itard, once cruelly bitten, immediately opened the window, seized the delinquent by the abdomen, and held him out of a window three stories high, apparently ready to drop him on the pavement. He became very pale, submissive, subdued, and never bit any more.


Individual Test No. 2. -- Caspar Hauser, when he came out of his prison, was a perfect blank, as regards both impressions and ideas: having felt nothing, he knew nothing, and had no thoughts. His teacher, Daumer, took precisely that view of him; and, instead of reasoning with him, spoke to his senses, educated them to receive impressions, and ideas resulted from these impressions within a short time. As he had been formerly made an artificial idiot by forced isolation, so, the day he was born to feeling his mind was born also, being formed, by strata of perceptions, as geological treasures have been, or sooner as photographic impressions, whose mass would represent the entire knowledge of a man.


General Test No. 3, by the Affirmative. -- This same mode of treating the mind out of the cultivation of the perceptive powers attained its highest perfection when applied in antiquity to a confederation of peoples, who thereby were enabled to exhibit every four years, not more industrial products, but more human genius, than any nation. Greece, from Asia Minor to Sicily, educated by the sensorial process, sur-excited by the divine types of sensorial perfection, presented to it as a rational and religious teaching by its poets, artists, priests, oracles, historians, attained the royalty of the mind over the world during the Olympic period from Pythagoras to Alcibiades; and --


General Test No. 4, by the Negative. -- The period in which we find the heaviest dunces on earth is that in which mankind reprobated the education of and by the senses, aimed at developing spirituality by purely intellectual education, and became mixed by erudition in the depths of ghostly imbecility. That was the time when individuality was treated like insanity; when Cardan and Paracelsus were branded for having foreseen the alkaloids in crucibles and test-tubes, instead of cultivating the alchemy of the infinite.


Test No. 5, by the Absurd. -- We have seen a race, hardly extinct, of accomplished scholars, who could not tell any thing, even "good-morning," but in the words of Horace, Sophocles, Milton, etc. -- useless as harmless gentlemen caressing a heavy chin encased in a high cravat, when loading the atmosphere with continuous eructations of Greek and Latin.


Thus, the experimental education of a savage idiot, the philosophical development of a young man, previously kept in artificial infancy by isolation, the brilliant and solid results of the polytheistic training of several nations, the humiliating consequences for European intelligence of meta-physical and pseudo-classical training, concur in the demonstration, otherwise and directly given, during the last thirty years, in the school for idiots, that "the physiological education of the senses is the royal road to the education of the intellect: experience, not memory, the mother of ideas."

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