Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Novel Proposal for Feeble-Minded Children

"A novel suggestion is made to educators, but it seems to be full of sterling good sense. We find it in the New Orleans Picayune:
'If all the dunces of all the schools of a large city were gathered into a single school organized with special reference to feeble minds and weak wills, the pains and labor of patient teachers would would no longer be wasted upon them. The tasks of the unlucky pupils would be adapted to their capacity. They would no longer be perplexed in trying to understand what their brighter classmates had been saying and doing. They would not be annoyed and shamed by seeing smaller children above them in their classes. They would no longer be scolded by teachers whom their stupidity had provoked.

'Their new teachers would know their want of capacity and limit their tasks accordingly. It is the misfortune of all large schools that each must have one or more dunces on whom the care of conscientious teachers is merely wasted. The parents of such cannot with reason complain if their children should be sent where they could get better tuition furnished at public cost. Difficulties might be met in organizing the suggested college for dunces and in obtaining teachers capable of its unwelcome and difficult requirements. The suggestion is here noted for its novelty rather than for its promise of successful trial.'"

--September 14, 1878 Ypsilanti Commercial

This is an interesting moment in the history of mental retardation in the United States and the changing attitudes towards it. Homes for "idiots" or the "feeble-minded" were nothing new, and by 1878 had been around for a good quarter century. But such homes were small and offered individualized care, often with good results that impressed the children's parents. There weren't too many of these schools, however.

By the mid-1880s, the era of vast institutions such as training schools for the deaf and blind, orphanages, schools for the feeble-minded, and similar large enterprises was well under way. This meant that feeble-minded children were in many cases brought to an institution where the individualized training of the smaller schools was by and large impossible. But here, in the late 1870s, the idea of a large school for feeble-minded children still appears "novel," as the New Orleans writer said; Ypsi Commercial editor Charles Moore apparently agreed, in reprinting this article as an item of interest.

Additional reading: the excellent Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States

1 comment :

TeacherPatti said...

As a special ed teacher, I am in support of the idea of inclusion...that is, to include special needs kids with their non-disabled peers as much as possible.

In practice though, it is often a disaster. I've seen classes that included kids who spit, hit, climb the walls (literally) and run out of the room, thus occupying 90% of the teacher's time. Most teachers simply have no idea of how to deal with this sort of thing (myself kids are by and large learning disabled) and this can cause a huge disruption. Even for my kiddos, it is often hard for them. They realize that the other kids are "getting it" and don't have an adult (me) sitting right next to them trying to help them. Other kids sometimes make fun of them, but not when I'm around since I don't play that and they know it...but I can't be with every kid all day :(

OTOH, we don't want to return to the world of institutions where too often the kids were simply "kept" and abuse was rampant.

There has to be a happy medium somewhere...the only idea I have is to have two teachers in every room. That is, to have a special ed teacher for ALL different learning styles and a content teacher for the subject matter. But I don't see that happening any time soon.... :(