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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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Physical training will, then, form the basis of all well directed efforts for the education of idiots first, because of its direct effect to obviate the existing peculiarity of physical condition; and, secondly, because the gymnastic exercises constituting the physical training may be designed and adapted to develop the power of attention, in conformity with the natural order of succession, I have mentioned.


Passing, then, to the next stage of development, it deserves to be mentioned, because of the same practical bearing upon our labors of instruction, that there is a natural order in the development of the senses, and also, in the order in which different properties are perceived through the medium of a particular sense. We witness in succession the exercise of touch, of taste, of smell, and finally of hearing and of sight. We notice, for example, that distinctions of form are perceived before those of color, &c. These distinctions, at the outset, must be of the broadest possible character, to be properly comprehended by the pupil, and to constitute the starting point in acquiring perceptions of lesser differences.


Again, as soon as the pupil, by the habitual exercise of his senses has acquired an ease and readiness of perception, it will not be a difficult step to the reception of ideas of some of the more palpable relations of the objects of sense. No matter how simple the first ideas, for with proper effort they will prepare the way for more complex ones.


All through this educational process, the mutual relation and dependence of the will and the other powers is constantly manifested.


The apparatus we employ is of the simplest character; a series of ladders in various positions; wooden and iron dumb-bells; a tread-mill; simple blocks; boards with depressions of various shapes and sizes, with blocks to fit the depressions, to teach distinctions of form and size; cups and balls of various colors; pictures; the simpler forms of common school apparatus; black boards everywhere; special contrivances for individual eases; and last though not least, the extensive apparatus of ordinary childish sports.


With this imperfect statement of some matters that have occurred to me as aiding any one to comprehend our general plan of instruction, I will proceed to some particulars.


A certain portion of the younger and more backward pupils are placed in what may be termed the nursery department, coming into the school room only for a few moments at a time, at the opening and close of school sessions, when there is singing or other general exercises. These children are watched carefully with reference to their habits of body and mind, and the best mode of commencing our course of instruction with them -- the most appropriate first steps in their pupilage. Every means that can be thought of are attempted to attract their attention to exercise their senses, to awaken perceptions, to excite their curiosity and encourage their imitative faculty.


These efforts at the outset will be somewhat empirical and would be entirely so, without a knowledge on the part of the instructor of those principles I have already mentioned as constituting the basis of our art. Such, however, is the variety of our educational means and appliances, that a new corner, unless of the very lowest natural capacity, if allowed to range within the influence of those means and appliances for a while, will sooner or later furnish some clue, by some manifestation of observation or interest, to the best mode of commencing his education. Properly belonging to these preliminary measures is the imparting an idea of language; they learn their names; they learn to obey a few simple commands, at first aided by appropriate gestures; they learn the names of different objects, names of form, of color and other properties of matter, and finally of pictures.


Arrived at this point, we may commence with exercises more resembling those of ordinary schools. We have cards with the names of familiar objects printed upon them which are learned by the pupil. Before learning the names of the letters of the alphabet they are taught to distinguish their differences of shape and even to form them into the words previously learned. With such preparation, the step is not a difficult one to learning to read by the ordinary word method. They can receive instruction in drawing on the black board, gradually passing into exercises in writing; they can receive oral lessons in geography with exercises upon the outline maps; they can be taught the simple relations of numbers.


Within the year past, the range of instruction has been very wide. We have taught a child to walk when we first had to awaken and cultivate a fear of falling as an incentive to any efforts on her part. We have awakened perceptions of sounds in ears where the sense of hearing resided without the use of it. We have developed perceptions of sight through eyes that had never performed their appropriate office. We have been teaching children to speak in every stage of articulation, and we now have very creditable classes in Webb's First Reader, in geography, in writing and in simple numbers.

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