« PreviousContinue »
of the soul or self-consciousness must depend upon something to be conscious of.
But, while intellectual development depends upon experience, and experience comes thru, or by means of, the senses, it does not follow that all the senses are of equal value. Many people get on very well in this world without the sense of smell; perhaps are sometimes happier for lack of it. It is said that Democritus put out his eyes in order that he might see better, which is probably a classic myth to illustrate the value of introspection; but an aborted or paralyzed auditory nerve interferes with the natural processes of thinking, deprives the deaf-mute of his share in the accumulated wisdom of the ages, cuts him off from all communication with his kind, and offers the saddest sight on earth, a primitive human being standing bewildered amid the intellectual life and activity of the nineteenth century. No lullaby of maternal love falls upon his deadened ear; no nursery rhyme or fairy tale comes to stir his imagination; no chatter of childhood; no evening prayer at the mother's knee; no songs of praise; no answers to the questioning of his pathetic eye.
The deaf child has, to be sure, the visual perception of color, form, and space, but he has no words or names for these phenomena, and, for lack of intellectual commerce, they exist as incoherent, uncorrelated facts of an experience which is of no great value as a mental stimulus.
Blindness produces an entirely different set of psychological conditions. The lack of sight is an interference with freedom of physical movement, and the deprivation of one important group of sensuous experience, but causes no serious mental disturbance. The blind child, unlike the deaf-mute, has none of the struggle with language as the instrument of thought to contend with. From earliest infancy his mental processes have been developed along normal lines, so far as the vehicle of knowledge is concerned. His speech comes to him without effort or fatigue thru the ceaseless prattle of parents and playmates. “Mother Goose" and Grimm's tales form the foundation of his literary equipment, just the same as of his seeing brother. He takes in thru his abnormally quickened sense of hearing all the knowledge and wisdom floating in popular speech, the multitudinous voices of nature, the song of linnet and lark, the katydid's querulous cry, the buzz of insect life, the sough and sigh of the forest, and its analogue, the ceaseless surf of the “many-sounding
With it all comes the varied nomenclature of this vast body of experience, and, if the child has an environment of refined speech, he formulates his vocabulary in correct syntactical sequence without the toilsome study of Brown or Kerl. As his intelligence develops, he needs no eyes to appreciate the literature of poetry, of history, of science, or of art. He listened with rapt delight to the legendary bringing of the Trojan gods to Latium as told by Virgil, and to the scarcely less thrilling prose epic of the Plymouth Colony as told by Fiske. The sad story of Little Nell and the sisterly self-sacrifice of Effie Deans brings tears to his sightless eyes. He laughs at the jokes of Charles Lamb and Thomas Hood; appreciates alike the Yankee patois of the Bigelow Papers and the unctuous brogue of Mr. Dooley of Chicago, and at the same time keeps abreast with the march of science and invention, and talks as intelligently as most of us concerning the automobile and wireless telegraphy. Nay, more: he may hope himself to contribute something to the stock of human achievement, for which he has the stimulus of fine example; for the services of the blind to the world have been many and eminent. The greatest poems have been written by blind men, Homer and Milton; among the foremost histories stand the works of William Hickling Prescott, a blind man; a standard authority on bees was written by François Huber, a blind man; the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge University was filled for many years by Nicholas Saunderson, a blind man; the best postmaster.general England ever had was Henry Fawcett, a blind man ; while Herreshoff, the blind shipbuilder, has designed the fastest yachts in Europe and America.
I have meant you to infer from what I have said that the blind child is a child lacking an important sense, it is true, but the lack of which does not interfere with normal processes of thought or its expression. A certain group of sense-perceptions with the blind, as with the deaf, must be forever unknown. In both cases other senses are called upon to substitute in an imperfect way the lost faculty. The eye cannot hear; the ear and fingers cannot see; and, while the congenitally blind talk glibly, as they often do, of the phenomena of light and color and space, it must be quite evident to you that correct concepts of these phenomena are impossible to them. So when a blind poet like Dr. Blacklock writes,
Mild gleams the purple evening o'er the plain, we are sure he is using merely conventional terms of speech, of the fundamental meaning of which he can know nothing. And when Saunderson, the blind mathematician, said that the color red was to him like the blast of a trumpet, he illustrated the sort of sense metonomy which continually takes place in the mind of a blind. person. But while the cognitions of the senses are thus interchangeable only by a verbal convention, there is a quickening and strengthening of the remaining faculties by use and burden, a collection of experiences and observations, which, being unconsciously perhaps co-ordinated, rises in the blind to the dignity of almost a sixth sense, and explains the marvelous recognition of person, place, and direction which often puzzles his seeing companion. Now, it is because the blind child is thus normal in way of thinking that I say he should be educated on those lines which the best wisdom and experience approve for seeing children
As this paper is not written to set forth what is the best system for educating a seeing child, I might well stop here, leaving to you to search out that best method and to apply it in your individual work.
But I also referred to certain reservations which are called for, not so much by the nature of blindness itself as by the thoughtlessness or mistaken tenderness of parents and friends, and the attitude of the child's civic environment. What I have to offer is designed to bring the blind child into line with his seeing fellows, and not to suggest differences in the methods in instruction.
The heaviest handicap of the blind is not his lost sight, nor his lack of one group of sense-cognitions. This is bad enough, to be sure, but his misfortune is greatly exaggerated in many cases by the ill-advised “helps” that are continually thrust upon him from the moment his blind. ness is discovered till at last he loses all ability to take care of himself, and, what is worse, all desire to do so.
From earliest infancy many a blind child is hedged in by a succession of restrictions that are worse than the foot bandages of a Chinese lady of rank. He must not put on his own clothes because, when he once tried it, he got on his trousers wrong side before. He cannot wash himself because he makes “ a mess of it." He is not allowed to move for fear he may run his nose against the door or bark his shins on the horse block. He might fall if he climbed a cherry tree in search of fruit, and to go on an errand to the next-door neighbor would be as dangerous as Nansen's expedition in search of the North Pole. Bobby must give up to Tommy his sweetmeats, his playthings, his priceless collection of pocket paraphernalia, with no adequate return, because “ Tommy is blind, you know;" and so Tommy becomes selfish as well as helpless. If parents could be made to understand the value of the cultivation in their blind child of manners, care and cleanliness of person, self-help and independence of movement, the little altruisms of the fireside and playground, and the vigilant suppression of habits which attract attention, the work of the school would be greatly simplified and relieved. For this training the parent is responsible, and it ought not to be delayed for, nor delegated to, the institution.
The gymnasium with a competent teacher should be a part of every well-equipped school for the blind as for the seeing; and for girls it is indispensable; but for boys I know of nothing that quite equals a military drill. It cultivates erectness of carriage, synchronous movement, measured step, varied exercise, and a certain alertness of mind, in co-ordinating muscular action. These are all valuable acquisitions toward the physical training of the blind; moreover, the soldierly drill eliminates one more of the things which “the blind cannot do,” and, to this extent, strengthens his moral power.
It is from this lack of moral power, or “grit,” or “sand,” to use the strong Saxon metaphor of the street, that our saddest failures come. The lack is largely due to the injudicious coddling just spoken of, and the physical and the mental flabbiness consequent thereto, and is increased by the universal sympathy which the misfortune of blindness engenders, and which finds easiest expression by a gift of coin or the paying twenty-five cents for a lead pencil dear at twenty-five cents a gross. I confess that the temptation of the blind is sore. To trade on his affic. tion, to stand with placard on breast and cup in hand on a street corner and gather in the benevolent contributions of the passers-by, is so much easier than to “rustle” and to work; and when one sees the horde of stalwart, able-bodied tramps which infests alike city and country, it is small wonder that now and then a blind man yields to temptation and avails himself of the profitable and easy resource at his command. It is, how. ever, our business to see that, so far as in us lies, every pupil goes forth equipped, not only with a book knowledge that shall place him in intellectual fellowship with his seeing brother, but also with a manly determination to do his part in the battle of life, and if need be to die in the conflict. It is not always necessary to live; to die is sometimes gain. The struggle of Gethsemane, the agony of Calvary, have helped men to suffer and to endure for nineteen hundred years.
Our boys should be taught, not the dignity of labor, but the dignity of the laborer; that the bread of charity is unwholesome; that a coin received in alms should burn in the palm like fire; that starving is better than begging; and, if down he must go in the fierce mêlée of life, let him go with unsullied soul and exulting manhood.
Somehow I cannot help thinking that this sort of education, this character-building, is more important than enlarging the blind boy's sense perception of things that are of no particular consequence anyhow. Indeed, I sometimes think that we are unduly anxious about petty details of tactual perception at the sacrifice of matters of larger moment.
There are relative values in subjects for teaching, and the best instructor will best select from the vast storehouse at his command; not that all sorts of knowledge have not some value, but that some sorts are of more worth than other sorts.
In all departments of public education, and in life as well, this “terrible choice," as Robert Browning calls it, is of the highest importance ; but in the education of the blind it is vital, for misdirected effort during their school life is not so easily corrected and atoned for as with those who can see. I sometimes fear that in these days of money-getting, when education seems so largely directed toward how to “make a living," we are neglecting the gentler art of "how to live ;" that in the demand for mechanics we forget the nobler use and need for men. I once heard Charles Dudley Warner say in a college address that the ideal university of the future would be a place where nothing practical is taught. The remark was doubtless a humorous protest against the material tendencies of the age, but there was a pregnant thought at the bottom of it, viz.: that character and culture are better than coin ; that “a life" is better than "a living."
The material achievements of men are but the temporary housings that perish with the using. If in some great cataclysm of nature all the houses and railways and ships and temples and monuments and wealth were destroyed, and the world could be left with its accumulated experience of faith and hope and charity and patience and love that have been gathering force thru all the ages, the world would be the better for the change; for out of the wreck of matter would speedily rise a new earth, spanned by a nobler heaven than vision of prophet ever saw. No need of crystal sea, nor jeweled gates, nor golden streets, to adorn this new Jerusalem ; the all-sufficient glory and beauty thereof would be its true and faithful men and women.