Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/96

This page has been validated.
86
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

under the writer's notice, it has not appeared that the ideas of the pupils are dwarfed by the process; rather does it seem as if, with the first spoken word, a spell were broken and they were free.

Professor Bell's system of visible speech has been used in the Horace Mann School from the beginning; but an attempt is being made, with apparent success, to do away with even this artificial method, and, keeping it as an occasional aid, to teach the English language directly.

The teacher in beginning her work writes a word on the blackboard, pointing to the object in the room for which it stands; and the child is made to understand by constant repetition that that written word and that object are always meant for each other. A number of such nouns are written and rehearsed until the pupil will point readily to the object when the written characters corresponding to it are shown him, or will write the word when the object is placed before him. These children often learn to point to the nouns wholly by the looks of the written words before the little fingers can use the pencil, though they naturally write quickly and well—earlier than children who hear.

Perhaps the child's first vocal attempt is to close his lips, and make the humming sound produced by an effort to speak the letter m; and he does so by feeling the curious vibrating sensation in his teacher's lips and chin, and trying to imitate it. In nine cases out of ten he does this the second time he tries, no one knows why. The instant he succeeds, the letter m is written triumphantly for him on the blackboard, and he feels that his oral education has begun. After this, very probably the long sound of e is attempted, the mouth open, the tip of the tongue pressed against the lower teeth, and the vibrations again felt. The pupils are early shown, however, that the mass of vibratory tone must come from the base of the chest by the action of the diaphragm, for otherwise the register of sound is apt to be unpleasantly placed either in the throat or head.

The vowels are usually taught first, and each of these elements sometimes requires weeks of patient work to get perfectly. Having succeeded, the consonants are added, fe, re, be, sa, ta, no, so; and words naturally follow.

There are always two classes of children in schools of this kind, the congenital mutes who have never heard, and a large number who were not born deaf but became so in different stages of their age and development, either by disease or accident. Scarlet fever alone is computed to cause one third of the deafness in America. These two classes are separated as far as possible, for the semi-mutes usually retain a few words or sentences upon which to build, while the congenitals must begin far behind them, everything being artificial.

As all the teaching must be objective, the class-rooms present an animated appearance, gay with pictures upon the walls and colored crayon drawings upon the blackboards.