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To cap the climax, I know a girl who pretended to tell colors by the touch ; this, a moment's reflection will tell you, is impossible,—for there is nothing appreciable, much less tangible, in those different qualities of different substances, which makes them reflect different colored rays of light; light itself is not tangible,-how much less a red or a blue ray. Nevertheless, this blind girl could distinguish a piece of red cloth from a black or white one; and she did it by an acuteness of sense almost incredible. She laid the different colored pieces of cloth upon a table, or in the sun, until they had attained the same temperature. She then applied them to her lips successively, and knew which was white, because it felt the warmest. In other words, she knew by her senses what the chemist has learned by delicate experiment and accurate instruments, that different colors conduct caloric with different degrees of facility.
Now, facts of this kind ought not to be lost, either to the education of the blind, or of seeing persons. It shows how much we, all of us, neglect our senses,—how very imperfect we allow them to remain. Blind children, particularly, should be made to feel of every thing, to learn the density, weight, smoothness, smell, resonance, &c., of all bodies within their reach. Now, should these things be neglected in common schools? The fact is, that an impression upon the mind is more vivid, when made through two senses, than through but one. It is like several witnesses to one fact. Tell a boy that the sting of a bee is very acutely pointed, and he will believe it ; let him look at it with the eye or a glass, and the impression is strengthened; but, let it sting him, and he will never forget it. We do not act enough on this principle in schools. It is common to show a boy by a very pretty piece of apparatus, that he may raise a great weight with a small power, by a lever ; but it is better to have a weight of two hundred pounds there, and a lever to lift it, and to let the boy use it. Nor
would such kind of apparatus for the mechanical powers, be much more expensive than common ones.
But to go on with the education of a blind child. I said he must be allowed, and even encouraged, to feel of and examine things. Nothing is more difficult than to keep them out of mischief, without repressing this desire of examining things. To tell a blind child not to feel of things around him, is like telling a seeing child not to roll his eyes about, and look at certain forbidden objects. The only way is, to keep such things out of their reach.
It is curious to witness the workings of nature in a blind child, who has found some new object;—he first feels it all over,—be pinches it,-he tries to pick a hole in it; then he smells of it,—then puts it to his tongue,—then rattles it, or if it will not make a noise, he feels for a stone, or a bit of metal and strikes it,—holding it to his ear, and listening to its sound. Believe me, that boy with his energies properly directed, gets more valuable knowledge of things about him, than many a round-eyed dolt, who is satisfied with stupidly staring at them.
Blind children should be thrown upon their own physical resources,—made to exercise and develop their physical organs ; and be put early in the way of learning ;—that is, put in a way of learning for themselves ;—for, as some politicians adopt as their newspaper motto, “ the world is too much governed.” I have thought a similar one might be well placed over some schools or colleges,—"the world is too much taught." I mean that children learn too much by rote, and exercise the mind too little. They learn merely words and ideas of others; they get lessons by heart as a task, and run away delighted to play, and in one hour often learn more than in the three that the master kept them shut up. The instructer's art should be to make his pupil work with his mind, and to work too, con
In the education of blind children, there is one evil, which it is very important, and yet almost impossible to obviate ;—I mean a sense of dependence and inferiority. Now, this is not a natural feeling. Want of self-esteem is not a necessary con
. sequence of blindness; but they so continually hear expressions of pity,—there are so many silly persons, who think it is fine and sentimental to show emotion, and express condolence, —that the chance is, a blind child is caught up two or three times a day, and kissed, and wept over, and lamented, until he learns to regard himself as different from other children,--as a peculiar object of misfortune, and entirely unfit to provide for his own wants. He grows up either a petted, spoiled and fretful youth, or he becomes an inactive, irresolute, desponding and helpless young man. Some few escape this, it is true ; but there is hardly one in a thousand, and fewer than that among females. They have, generally, a morbid sensitiveness to the opinion of others. Their love of approbation is predominant; but their self-esteem and firmness are wanting ;—they are affected to tears, by the slightest reproof;—they are unfitted to bear the shocks and crosses of real life. And a great part of the time spent in educating those who are advanced, must be devoted to overcoming the morbid sensibility acquired in their intercourse with silly sentimentalism at home.
I am the more unforbearing with this kind of treatment of the blind, because it often comes from persons entirely wanting in true benevolence. They will give a tear, but nothing more; --they are profuse in expressions of sympathy and condolence, and often love to be so ;—they love to have these “ very disagreeable emotions” excited, upon the principle that some people attend executions. Or, they think better of themselves, and feel more content with themselves, from the contrast ;they do not ask (many would hardly care), what would be the effect of their misplaced sympathy, and their long-drawn sighs, upon those who are the objects of them.
A blind child should never be allowed to consider himself
as an unfortunate creature. He is not unfortunate; he has existence, and that is a boon; he has senses, and those are blessinys ;-and though others may have one more, they are none the less to be valued; he has an illimitable mind, an immortal soul, and those are blessings; he has talents, and though others have more, his are not to be buried in the earth. But we shall see, that he has compensating powers,—that he has means of improvement and enjoyment;—and that although organized as the world now is, things could not go on well if all or half of mankind were blind ;—yet that here and there, one may live as happily, as usefully, and as independently as those who see. The blind child should be taught, from his youth, to thank God that he enjoys the boon of existence, upon the terms that it is given him. He should be taught reliance upon himself, confidence in his own resources, and hope of happiness and usefulness in life.
But I fancy some of my hearers are ready to exclaim, impatiently, when shall we hear about the education of the blind,—when will you tell us how they learn to read and write ? I have already touched upon the most important part of the subject,—their moral and intellectual training. As for the instruction, it is altogether a secondary and minor affair.
People generally imagine it must be very difficult to teach the blind; but they are wrong. To teach the blind, is the easiest thing in the world. And I will venture to say, class of blind children, from the Institution in this city, will learn as much, in a given time, of history, geography, astronomy, or the languages, as any class that could be selected from the high schools and academies; and that, of mathematics and music, they will learn more.
To teach the blind is easy,—to educate them is altogether another matter.
A comparison is sometimes drawn between the situation and the instruction of the deaf mutes and the blind; but there is no other resemblance, than that the modus operandi is different from the one pursued with seeing children. The advantages
are altogether on the side of the blind ;--for the deaf mutes, a language is to be invented ; and when it is invented, perfecte ed and learned, how inadequate is it to the full and free communication of ideas. But with the blind, there is no such obstacle,—the medium is a common one, and we can have the most free and illimitable interchange of thought and feeling.
The moral and religious feelings of the deaf mutes are generally dormant when they enter institutions for their education; while the blind differ not from seeing people, and partake of the stamp of those with whom they have associated. If
you wish to teach a deaf mute geography, for instance, you must first teach bim language. With a blind boy, you have only to begin to describe the country ;-you give him his lesson orally, instead of his reading and studying in a book. You teach a blind boy in the same way you would teach a seeing boy,-except that you read or lecture to the blind boy, while you let the seeing boy read for himself. The only difference is in the artificial aids,-books, maps, diagrams, slates, &c.,—and these are small matters. You have only to imagine that all your books, maps, slates, &c., were taken from your school,--the room darkened, and you required to keep on teaching your scholars; you will then conceive, at once, how the blind are taught. If you wished to inform them the difference between an acute and an obtuse angle, and failed to do so by words, you would mark it upon the palms of their hands, or you would have the figure stamped on a piece of paper, and give it to them to feel. Now, what you would do with your scholars in the dark, we have to do with the blind in the light. Such is the general principle,-as to the quo modo, it is of less consequence. But as there is a considerable interest manifested in the subject, I will go into some detail.
When a blind boy first enters an institution, he is put under the charge of a blind pupil, about his own age, whose first duty it is to show the new comer all over the premises.