Library Collections: Document: Full Text

As I Saw It

Creator: Robert Irwin (author)
Date: 1955
Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind
Source: American Printing House for the Blind, Inc., M. C. Migel Library
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2

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The Outlook converted work for the blind from local sporadic attempts to improve the lot of sightless people in scattered communities into a national movement on behalf of those without sight. It avoided controversial topics so far as practicable but never hesitated to take a stand for or against certain ideas if it seemed necessary. Through its columns Mr. Campbell had a tremendous influence on the thinking of friends of the blind throughout the country.


Probably every movement to improve the lot of blind people owes a debt of gratitude to the Outlook and to Mr. Campbell personally for his support. Mr. Campbell never touched any phase of work for the blind that he did not contribute some practical idea of lasting benefit. Something of a firebrand himself when it came to combating undue conservatism, he allowed little of this controversial tone to creep into his magazine. No one will ever realize how much of his strength and zeal he gave to this publication, for which he never received a dollar of salary. When the American Foundation for the Blind was organized, he personally requested it to take over the burden of financing and publishing the journal. In justice he should have been employed as its editor. For various reasons that was not done. Conspicuous among these reasons was the fact that though his magazine had always been kept free from violent controversy, he had himself, in his zeal for the welfare of the blind, made many enemies. It seemed to the board of trustees of the Foundation unwise for the new organization to incur the wrath of certain of his enemies by adding him to its small staff.


The Outlook for the Blind has had several editors since it was taken over by the Foundation, Charles B. Hayes, Evelyn C. McKay, Lucy A. Goldthwaite, Enid Griffis Warren Bledsoe, P. C. Potts and, at present, Howard B. Liechty who is also the editor of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind. In 1942 it was merged with Teachers Forum for Instructors of Blind Children. It is now also published in braille, the first issue appearing in September, 1931. Since 1943 it has appeared monthly except during July and August.




Dr. Irwin was supervisor of classes for the blind in the public schools of Cleveland, Ohio from 1909-1923, and part of that time supervisor of classes for the blind and for the partially sighted for various cities in Ohio. His closeness to the early movement of establishing day school classes for the blind enabled him to trace the history of this movement from the time when Dr. Howe first gave word to the idea in his speech at Batavia in 1866. We are grateful to Dr. Irwin for this history. We wish he had had time to write also about the development of the residential schools for the blind over the same period.


Blind children require for their education the application of special teaching methods as well as special equipment. Books in embossed type and Talking Books are needed as well as slates for Writing braille, special devices for mathematics, embossed maps for geography, and other similar tools. Dr. Irwin has given us the story of the development of these special tools as well as comments on special teaching methods. It is of interest to note that since Dr. Irwin's death the authorized appropriation to the American Printing House for the Blind has been raised to the total of $260,000. The actual appropriation however, has always been somewhat less than this amount.


Higher education of the blind is another subject close to the heart of educators of the blind and was especially so in the early part of the twentieth century. It is interesting to see the changing philosophy from that of encouraging special colleges or advanced schools for the blind to that of having the blind student take his chances in regular colleges and universities in competition with seeing students.


IN 1832 when the first schools for the blind in the United States were opened, boarding schools were considered the most desirable establishment in which a boy or girl could receive his education. Of course, we had day schools for seeing children in every part of the country but the privileged groups attended boarding schools for at least part of their school life. It was only natural, therefore, for those setting up schools for the blind to have copied the boarding school plan for the blind which they had observed in Europe.


The boarding schools also offered more opportunities for careful training and for experimentation in this new field of endeavor. By the 1860's, however, some of the educators of the blind in this country had begun to realize certain disadvantages in quartering sightless children for most of each year in a boarding school where practically all of their social experience was with children with a similar handicap.


In 1866 Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the first director of Perkins Institution, in his address at the laying of the cornerstone of the New York State School for the Blind at Batavia, said, "All great establishments in the nature of boarding schools, where the sexes must be separated; where there must be boarding in common, and sleeping in congregate dormitories; where there must be routine, and formality, and restraint, and repression of individuality; where the charms and refining influences of the true family relation cannot be had -- all such institutions are unnatural, undesirable, and very liable to abuse. We should have as few of them as is possible, and those few should be kept as small as possible."

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