The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education of Feeble-minded or Mental Defectives

The Encyclopedia Americana
Education of Feeble-minded or Mental Defectives

Edition of 1920. See also Special education on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

EDUCATION OF FEEBLE-MINDED OR MENTAL DEFECTIVES. In the classification of children of this type it is necessary to distinguish the mentally retarded or backward child from the feeble-minded or mentally defective child. There is a large percentage of the children in attendance upon school who are behind the grades in which children of their ages should be found in school work. There are legitimate reasons for many of these children being behind their proper grades. Some are foreigners and were not able to use the English language when they entered school. Others started in school late. There are those who have poor sight or defective hearing or who are suffering from some other physical defects as adenoids, poor health, etc., which interferes with the performance of their school work. When there is no apparent reason for a child being three years below his proper grade or when he fails to make progress after the removal of such physical defects as he may have had, the probabilities are that such child is feeble-minded. When the mental development of such child is so arrested as to render him unable to advance in his school work, he is regarded as feeble-minded or mentally defective. It is, therefore, a serious matter to classify a child as feeble-minded. Such classification places a stigma upon the child which may be unjust and from which he may never recover. The average classroom teacher or school principal should not, therefore, undertake to determine that a pupil is feeble-minded. The study of the mental development of children by persons scientifically trained for that purpose has resulted in the establishment of certain tests which are now quite generally accepted as the measure of a child's mentality. No child should, therefore, be classified as feeble-minded who has not been examined by an expert and found to be of such type. If any question of doubt exists the child should be given the benefit of that doubt. By the application of these tests it may be found that a child 12 years of age has the usual mental development of a child of four; or a man of 40 years of age may have the mind of a child eight years of age, etc. The feeble-minded are, therefore, classified as children of various ages. From these tests three general classes have been established. These are the idiot, the imbecile and the moron. The idiot is the lowest in the scale of intelligence, the imbecile is the next higher and the moron is the highest.

The importance of the subject of feeble-mindedness will be appreciated by considering the number of feeble-minded in the country. There has been no general census in Europe or in this country which reveals the exact number of feeble-minded adults or children. Various studies and surveys have been made, however, under government direction and by reliable organizations interested in the subject which show the number of feeble-minded persons within a given area and a specified population. From the information which has been obtained through these investigations and surveys, it is possible to make a fairly accurate estimate of the number of feeble-minded people and also the number of feeble-minded children in the country.

The Royal Commission of Great Britain made surveys in several sections of England, Ireland and Scotland and gave the subject careful thought for four years. Its report was made in 1909 and showed that, on the basis of its study, 1 in every 217 persons in England was feeble-minded. Surgeons of the United States Public Health Service completed a survey of the feeble-minded school children in Porter County, Ind., in 1915, which showed that .955 per cent of all the children in that county were feeble-minded. The same authority made a survey of Newcastle County, Delaware, in 1916, which showed that 1.3 per cent of all the children examined were feeble-minded. A survey made by the Nassau County Association assisted by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, the United States Public Health Service and the Rockefeller Foundation, in Nassau County, N. Y., in 1916, showed that on the basis of its study, 1 person in every 183 of that county was feeble-minded. The investigation by the Massachusetts Society for Mental Hygiene in that State in 1914 indicated that there was one feeble-minded person in every 278 of the population. The estimates made by such experts as W. E. Fernald, H. H. Goddard and E. R. Johnstone place the number of feeble-minded in the United States at 1 in every 250 persons. Applying these figures and the estimate of the Committee on Mental Hygiene and the New York Committee on Feeble- Mindedness to the population of the United States, we should have in this country about 400,000 feeble-minded persons and about 100,000 feeble-minded children. The presence of this large number of feeble-minded children in the country at large is a condition which demands that every effort possible be made to educate and train as many of these as may be possible in order that they may be self-supporting. It is estimated by Mr. George Hastings, secretary of the New York Committee on Feeble-Mindedness, that about “one-third of the feeble-minded break the law and nearly one-third of the law breakers are feeble-minded.”

About 1850 the States began to give consideration to the education of the feeble-minded child. State institutions were organized and the care and education of this type of child has received extended consideration since that time. Many State institutions and several private institutions have been established for the care, education and training of children of this type.

It is not feasible to undertake the education of the classes of mental defectives known as idiots or imbeciles in the public school. These types of mental defectives must generally receive their training in institutions established in accordance with modern scientific standards for the education and care of such children. The children who are classified as morons may be segregated and educated in special classes provided for them in the public schools. Mentally defective children who come from homes which are able to give them proper care when they are not under the influence of the school and who may be trained to become either wholly or partially self-supporting may generally be afforded necessary educational facilities for their proper education in the public school system of the city or district in which they live. All mentally defective children who come from homes which cannot give them the protection and care which is essential to the best interests of society should be educated in institutions organized for this type of children. The tendency throughout the country is to utilize to the greatest extent possible the public school system for the education of this type of children.

There has been recent legislation upon this subject in the States of New Jersey and New York. In 1911 the legislature of New Jersey enacted a law making it the duty of the State board of education to ascertain the number of children in the public schools of the State who were three years or more below the normal grade. This law further provides that in each district in which there are 10 or more such children the board of education for that district shall establish such special classes as may be necessary for the education of these children. No class may contain more than 15 of such children. An important feature of the New Jersey law is the State aid which is accorded each district in the State which organizes one of these classes. The State authorizes an apportionment of $500 for each teacher employed in giving instruction to a class of children of this type. This State aid offers great encouragement to a community to organize such classes and enables a community to meet the expense of maintaining such classes without burdensome taxation. The commissioner of education for that State reported that, for the school year ending 31 July 1917, 162 classes had been organized. The establishment of these classes in New Jersey is compulsory. This appears to be the first State in the Union which has enacted a statute making it mandatory upon the local school authorities of an administrative unit to organize classes for children of this type. The training school for subnormals at Vineland, N. J., is one of the notable institutions of the country for this type of children.

The New York law enacted in 1917 is also a mandatory statute and is modeled somewhat after the New Jersey act. The commissioner of education is authorized to prescribe regulations to govern the taking of a census by the school authorities by each city and each school district. The local school authorities must take such census. The law further provides that each city and each union free school district shall establish such special classes as may be necessary to provide instruction adapted to the mental attainments of children who are three years or more below normal. This, of course, requires provision for all mentally defective children as well as for the retarded children. No more than 15 pupils may be placed in one of these special classes. The school authorities of a city or district which has less than 10 children are required to provide for their instruction in another city or district which establishes classes or schools for such children. The financial aid given by the State is $300 for each class organized in a city or district.

The major work in a course of study for this type of children is industrial training. This type of child may be trained to become an efficient domestic worker and may be also trained to do very satisfactory work in agricultural lines. The institutions and the public schools which maintain courses for these children have demonstrated that large numbers of them may be trained to become self-supporting. To illustrate the type of course of instruction which is maintained for such children, I quote the following from the official report of the superintendent of the Rome Custodial Institution:

“Kindergarten; sense training; form, color, co-ordination and numbers; articulation and language; weaving; sewing, knitting and crocheting; sloyd; carpentry; painting; gardening; farming; domestic arts (dressmaking); music (vocal and instrumental); dancing; entertainment; Sunday School; chapel; farm colonies; domestic colonies; parole; discharge (or failure and permanent custody).

The institution located at Waverley, Mass., the one at Vineland, N. J., the Rome Custodial Institution, Rome, N. Y., and the State Normal School at Oswego, N. Y., maintain courses for the training of teachers for this type of school. Undoubtedly other institutions for this type of children also maintain such courses.

Deputy Commissioner of Education and Assistant Commissioner for Elementary Education State Department of Education, Albany, N. Y.