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Modern Ideals Of Education Applied To The Training Of Mental Detectives

Creator: Mrs. M. C. Dunphy (author)
Date: 1908
Publication: Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Among the many problems of modern sociology, none presents a broader field of interest than that of training, developing and disposing satisfactorily of the mentally deficient -- those who come into life so inadequately equipped, both mentally and physically, to meet the struggle for existence. Centuries ago, their fate was decided by "the survival of the fittest." In the Middle Ages when more humane feelings prevailed, defectives were treated with respect and consideration, being looked upon as creatures afflicted by God, but no effort was made to elevate or educate them, so they remained burdens on charity all their days.


With the spread of the great humanitarian movements of the last century over all the civilized world and the increasing sense of the responsibility of the state towards its individual members, began, also, the first systematic endeavors to ameliorate the conditions of these neglected wards of society.


The efforts of the pioneer educators and philanthropists, who advocated the training and development of defectives, have reached a point of success scarcely dreamed of by those earnest workers in the cause of human progress. Step by step, interest in this branch of social enterprise has grown until now the sympathy of all those striving for the betterment of humanity has been aroused on behalf of these innocent unfortunates, and any scheme that can further their welfare or render their conditions less dependent, meets with instant and enthusiastic support.


Tangible evidence of this interest and sympathy are met with on every side in the schools and institutions established for the care, education and manual training of atypical children. There they may be classified according to their varying degrees of mental ability and then carefully developed along the lines of modern educational thought in the esthetic and utilitarian branches which they are capable of assimilating.


The general ideal of educational aim at the present day is to render the individual socially efficient and thereby enable him to adjust himself satisfactorily to his environment. The question naturally arises, is it possible to realize even in a small measure, these ideals of education with the atypical child?


To a limited degree and under certain well-defined conditions, we may answer yes to the above query. In other words, we can render the defective socially efficient and comparatively self-reliant, provided we confine his efforts at usefulness within the sphere of a community of his mental equals. It would be futile to assert that any amount of training will sufficiently develop defectives to a point of usefulness that will enable them to cope with the problems of the world at large, and it would be manifestly unjust to exact from him the same measure of mental poise demanded of the normal human being.


In my judgment, based upon years of experience, the conditions upon which we can claim to approach the ideals of modern educational aim in dealing with defectives are as follows:


First -- The segregation of these children in a school or institution devoted to their special needs, where they may be properly classified and brought under judicious, well-regulated control.


Secondly -- That the training given them there should rest on a definite, practical basis, as it is only by constant employment in some congenial field of useful occupation that an economic return for the time, care and expense necessary to develop defectives to a point of usefulness can be obtained from them.


Thirdly -- That the teaching of these children be confided to teachers experienced in the best ways and methods of arousing and holding their attention. Any loss of time is to be avoided, if possible, as with defectives mental growth is not the indefinite life-long process it is with normal beings and every moment of the period of mental receptivity must be utilized if we are to make any real, definite impressions on their feeble brains.


To revert to the first condition for successful application of modern principles to the development of the atypical child -- the segregation of this class should be made while the child is in its earliest years, as in the subsequent development of the individual the significance of these early years cannot be overestimated. This is the time when the mental and physical organism can best be studied and classified and the natural activities be diverted into the proper channels. Children of this type should be kept under careful supervision day and night or they form habits which later on are ineradicable. Moral instincts are almost always lacking in the mentally deficient, so even in the ordinary intercourse of home and social life they are a menace to the welfare of the community.


This unfortunate tendency, coupled with the undesirable surroundings in many of their homes and the danger of the unrestrained play of the streets, tends to nullify any ethical lessons or impressions gained by a few hours in school. Therefore, in the interest of the public weal as well as for their own sakes, it is of paramount importance that atypical children be prevented from coming in contact with those of normal minds, in order that their abnormal personality may not react unfavorably upon the latter.

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