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New York State Asylum For Idiots, Second Annual Report Of The Trustees

Creator: n/a
Date: February 10, 1853
Source: Steve Taylor Collection

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I trust I shall not be regarded as over-zealous in thus urging the claims of our asylum to increased State patronage. I have no ambition in behalf of the class of unfortunates, to whose education I have devoted myself, but that they may be provided with accommodations of the plainest character. I desire only that they may have such an education as they are capable of, an education of the most practical character, promoting their usefulness, their happiness and the public good; and such an one as is consistent with a prudent expenditure on the part of the State.


Shall an appeal in their behalf for such a moderate relief be urged in vain, when the deaf mute and the blind have received from that source with so liberal a hand?


Feeling, as I do, so deeply for the class in question; and convinced as I am of their just claims upon the State, on the score of philanthropy, and a wise political economy, I leave with full confidence, their interests in your hands, who are their proper advocates before the Legislature. I know your feelings of sympathy and your sense of responsibility in their behalf, and I trust your good judgment will sanction such a line of conduct in this matter as your impulses direct.


In conclusion, gentlemen, I hope that my administration of the affairs of the institution for the year past has generally met your approbation. I know that much allowance will have to be made for my inexperience in a post of so varied duties; but with whatever of short comings, you may have observed in the performance of those duties, I have never faltered in my desire for the highest good of the asylum and its inmates, and that my labors might win your intelligent approval.


Respectfully submitted,
H.B. WILBUR, Superintendent. Albany, Dec. 29th, 1852.




It may be well to introduce the following description of individual cases, with a brief outline of the general system of management and instruction we have adopted, and a description of the manner in which the time is occupied by the pupils.


The great principles of education are very general, if not universal in their application. The specialty of our system of instruction is only an adaptation of those general principles to the peculiar infirmity of our pupils. We have to deal with idiots, and I use the term in its generic sense, for our pupils present a great variety of grades and shades of intelligence. From what we know of the wondrous connection between the material and immaterial nature of a human being, we are led to infer, amid all such diversities of mental and moral endowment, that these varied manifestations of want of development are all the result, either of some defect in the physical organization, or some derangement in the natural and proper functions of that organization; both of which conditions may be innate or acquired. I may also add, that amid all the diversities just alluded to, there is one common point of resemblance not of a physical character, and that is the want of attention.


This want of attention, however differing in degree, is from an inability (resulting from some physical cause, as we have supposed) to concentrate the faculties and powers upon any given object; that is, the powers and faculties are not under the control of the will, to the natural and proper extent, from a comparative deficiency in the force or vigor of the will itself.


One peculiarity of our system of instruction consists, then, mainly in creating this power of attention; in the first place, by exciting the will by appropriate stimuli, and then by its continued exercise giving it the capability to control the other attributes of the individual.


It should be mentioned, because of its relation to our mode of education, that there is a natural order both in the succession in which the will obtains the supremacy over the other powers, and also in the means by which that will is developed and strengthened. We see it in the infant naturally well endowed, and especially in the idiot, because of the more gradual progress in the control it first acquires over the muscular system; then over the intellect, and finally over the desires, the appetites and the passions.


That natural order in the means by which the will is developed, is learned by a similar observation, and the knowledge of it has its practical value in our course of instruction. It is first excited by the instincts, then by the appetite; still again by the desires, the intellect, and finally the moral powers. Thus a child is sometimes seen who, with no lack of muscular power, is unwilling to take anything in his hand. The fear of falling (one development of the instinct of self-preservation) will, however, lead him to grasp with firmness the rounds of a ladder rather than suffer injury. Then he will hold food in his hand, or a cup of water, to gratify his appetite. Next he is induced to hold an object in his hand, to gratify his senses or his curiosity with reference to it. And so he goes from one step to another, the discipline acquired in accomplishing the lower enabling him to achieve the higher.

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