Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/371

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

nate. At the time of my experiments lie was sixteen years old, and had been regularly at school since his tenth year—that is, for five years—and irregularly from his seventh to his tenth inclusive. He could read the Third Reader in a monotonous, stumbling way, perform simple operations in arithmetic quite rapidly, and write an excellent hand. As he was in my service, I thought it my duty to keep up his education, and, undismayed by many futile efforts with his predecessors in the place, I began daily reading exercises with him. Of necessity, the Third Reader does not interest a boy of sixteen, and, interest being the essential spur to acquisition, I tried the newspaper. Every day I selected some local occurrence which excited his mind, and by talking it over with him and explaining the new words endeavored to give him the mastery of the printed account. By this means the limitations of his vocabulary were soon apparent. It stopped with the names of familiar objects or of actions possible to himself. Outside of that range he never caught at new words as white children do, nor did they excite his curiosity even when the context was interesting. To illustrate: Here is a short list of words, no one of which conveyed any meaning to his mind—testify, drought, witness, apparent, fulfill. These all occurred in an account of the Knox fire, a local event which excited him greatly. We read the matter several times in slightly different forms, and I dwelt upon each of the strange words, giving familiar illustrations of their uses, but the very interest that he felt in the event about which we were reading seemed to interfere with his grasping these particulars. I think his mind never got beyond the general impression that the fire and the ruin as he saw it were described in the paper. His mental state, as it was revealed to me through his reading, might be described as unanalyzed content. Eager to get the true measure of his verbal power, I applied the familiar test of instantaneous associations with a given list of words. I submit the best results that I obtained after repeated experiments with varied lists:

concrete terms.
Associated Ideas. Words. Associated Ideas.
Pole. North. Vase. Blue.
Book. Black. Hat. White.
Pencil. Lead. Horse. Brown.
Paper. Reading. Bear. Grizzly.
Fire. Place. Procession. Street.

I had great difficulty in finding abstract terms which excited any response, but finally secured the following: