The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Blind, Education of the

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BLIND, Education of the. When it is stated that prior to 1830 the blind of America were to be found “moping in hidden corners or degraded by the wayside, or vegetating in almshouses,” it is the adult blind that is meant. Still blind children were occasionally found in these places, though it could scarcely be said that they were vegetating, as could be said of the untrained deaf children.

The British census of 1851 first showed the world that over 80 per cent of the blind are adults. American schools for the blind were started, first, because of the widespread interest in the results of educating the young deaf and dumb, which furnished inspiration for new fields of educational endeavor; secondly, because the country was coming to the conviction that all the children of the state should receive education both as a matter of public policy and as a private right; and thirdly, because reports of what had been accomplished abroad in schools for the blind were being promulgated in our land. By 1830 the more progressive States of the east were ready to give their blind children school training. In that year the government first included in the national census the deaf and dumb and the blind. The work of the blind was to begin with scientific foreknowledge as to their number. In 1829 certain gentlemen in Boston obtained the incorporation of the “New England Asylum for the Blind.” By a most fortunate circumstance, the interest and services were obtained of a graduate of Brown University, Dr. Samuel G. Howe, who, after finishing his medical studies, had chivalrously gone to the aid of the Greeks. Dr. Howe went at once to Europe to study methods of instruction. Upon his return, in 1832, the school was opened with six pupils. In New York the act of incorporation of the New York Institution for the Blind was passed in 1831; but funds were needed and no one went abroad to study methods. This school opened in March 1832, antedating by a few months the school at Boston. In the very same year a German teacher of the blind, a Mr. Friedlander, most opportunely came to Philadelphia, in the hope of starting a school for the blind there. Having trained certain blind children he exhibited their accomplishments, first, to a few influential people, secondly, before a large audience among whom he distributed a leaflet, "Observations on the instruction of blind persons." A meeting of public-spirited citizens followed, funds were liberally contributed, fairs held and the success of the cause was assured. The Pennsylvania institution for the instruction of the blind was opened in 1833, fully 10 months before an act of incorporation was obtained. The three schools at Boston, New York and Philadelphia are called the pioneer schools. All sprang from private effort and private funds. All were incorporated as private institutions, and remain so to this day. Three similar institutions for the blind have arisen in this country, at Baltimore, at Pittsburgh and at Hartford. As recently as 1912 an institution for the deaf with a department for the blind was opened with private funds supplemented by an appropriation from the legislature, in Brattleboro, Vt. This department was discontinued in 1917.

Schools. — The origin of the State schools differs from that of the type above given only in that classes of trained pupils from the earlier schools were exhibited before the State legislatures as well as before the people. State appropriations followed and the institutions were inaugurated as State institutions. The new schools sprang into being with astonishing rapidity. There were, in 1917, 44 residential schools for the blind in the United States. (For an account of the day schools of 13 cities, opened between 1900 and 1917 see below). Every State in the Union makes provision for its blind of school age either in its own school or in that of a neighboring State. In our sparsely-settled country, especially west of the Alleghanies and south of Maryland, great efforts had to be made to find the children and still greater efforts to persuade the parents to send them to school. In certain States where the amount of the public fund seemed to preclude a special grant for the blind, pupils of this class were brought together in connection with a school for the deaf and dumb, forming “dual schools,” as they are called. These institutions could not help being unfair to their blind contingent; for in nearly every such case the blind came to a school already established as a school for the deaf, and under the superintendence of a man especially interested in the education of the deaf; moreover, the number of the deaf pupils usually far exceeded that of the blind. There are still a few of these dual schools, but wherever possible they have been divided into two distinct institutions. In Northern schools the colored blind are educated with the white; in Southern schools it is best for the colored to have schools of their own. Both the whites and they prefer this arrangement. The first school for the colored blind was opened in North Carolina in 1869.

All the institutions for the blind were in their very first inception schools. The pioneer schools imported literary teachers from Paris and handicraft teachers from Edinburgh. At first only the brighter class of pupils came under instruction. Teaching them was easy. They progressed with amazing strides; all was enthusiasm; exhibitions were called for and widely given (Dr. Howe's pupils gave exhibitions in 17 States); large editions of the various annual reports were exhausted. Soon, however, less bright pupils came to be admitted; then the curriculum of studies began to sober down to the practical and comprehensive one prevailing to-day. Whatever occupation the boy or eirl expects to follow after leaving school, it is assumed he will follow it better and thus live more happily and worthily if he has a general education. When, as was formerly the case, the period or term of schooling allowed pupils was shorter than it is now, they were not admitted before the age of eight or nine. Now that kindergarten departments have been universally added to the schools, the pupils are urged to enter at an early age; because experience has shown that at home these little blind folks are coddled rather than trained, so much so in fact that by the time many of them come to school their natural growth of body and mind has been so interfered with by inaction, that all the efforts of the schools cannot make up for lost time and opportunity. The principle of periodicity of growth has now come to be understood and the importance of applying the proper stimulus at the period most sensitive to it comprehended. Children with good sight and hearing have got along without kindergarten training, and so have blind children, but of all the useful means of reaching and developing the average blind child none is so effective as the properly-conducted kindergarten. The practical knowledge of things comes to the blind through the hand, their fingers being veritable projections of their brains. Thus must their hands not only be trained to sensitiveness of touch but to be strong and supple, so that they may, indeed, be dexterous; for as their hands are so are their brains. The kindergarten cultivates ear and heart and hand and brain as nothing else does. Even color is not wholly omitted in kindergartens for the blind. Many of the children see colors, and those who do not love to talk about them and certainly derive some indirect value from considering them. Wise, resourceful kindergartners who have either bought or made some Montesorri didactic material have not failed to utilize it with their newcomers or with their backward children. Of late years where institutions have either enlarged on the original site or rebuilt on a new, the kindergarten department has been housed by itself as an independent unit, all living as a family and with classes under the same roof. This is a great advance.

Blind children with kindergarten training are more susceptible to instruction than those without it. Above this department the course of academic studies in American schools requires from seven to eight years, which means a primary, a grammar and a high school education; or instruction in object lessons, reading, writing, spelling, grammar, composition, arithmetic, history, physiology, botany, zoology, geology, physics, algebra, geometry, civics, English literature, typewriting, bookkeeping and simple business, and sometimes Latin and modern languages. Not a few pupils have fitted for college where they took the regular course with the seeing students, and from where they were graduated usually with distinction. Formerly much of the teaching was oral, which, in many cases, was apt to be more pleasant than profitable to the pupil. Since the general introduction of the embossed textbook and tangible writing, the pupil has been forced to depend more and more upon himself, obviously with better results. In fact, the work has been growing more and more practical, emphasis being put upon the vocational. The methods of teaching the blind correspond in general to those of teaching other hearing children. The common appliances have but to be raised and enlarged as in maps and diagrams, or simply made tangible, which may be done, for example, by notching an ordinary ruler so that the graduations can be felt.

Industrial Training. — Industrial training has been an integral part of the school course from the beginning. Recently educational manual training has been generally introduced as preliminary to the trades. Sloyd has been found especially adapted to the blind. The handicrafts — chair-caning, hammock-making, broom-making, carpet-weaving, and a few others, alone remain of all the many trades taught at one time or another in our schools. Manual occupations of some kind will always be taught, even were it evident that none of them would be followed by the blind as trades; for it is by doing and making that the blind especially learn best. Then, it is essential that they be kept occupied. A few institutions built on the cottage family plan require pupil participation in the daily housework, a policy which if wisely conducted is of not less developmental value than the school occupations, since it tends to build up social efficiency. A youth who is efficient in a community of youth is the more likely to be so in the community of adults. In the past, before the introduction of such varieties of labor-saving machinery as the last half century has seen, many of the discharged pupils followed some manual trade and succeeded in subsisting by it. To-day this is less and less possible. The mind itself of the blind is least trammeled by the lack of sight; hence some pursuit where intelligence is the chief factor would seem to be best adapted to his condition. Music, of course, opens up his most delightful field. It is said that all the force of the superintendents of the early schools was required to prevent the institutions from becoming mere conservatories of music. To-day only those pupils pursue music in regular course who have talent for it; but even those are not allowed to neglect other studies for it. It is the experience of the American schools, as of the British, that the profession of music offers to the educated and trained musician who is blind a field in which he can work his way with least hindrance from his lack of sight, and many are they who have found in it a means of livelihood for themselves and their families. A few in nearly every school are certificated annually as tuners of pianos. Indeed, piano tuning, often joined as it is with piano selling, has become one of the very best occupations yet developed for the men. The public school pianos of several of our cities are regularly kept in order by tuners who are blind.

Since 1900, when the Pennsylvania institution moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia and laid out its play grounds and covered cloisters to invite open-air activities, increased attention to directed play and even to athletics by blind boys has been noticeable all over the country. Most institutions now have a good gymnasium and several have swimming pools.

Prior to 1900 the only systematic schooling given the blind was in residential institutions. Since then for various reasons, chiefly the supposed demands of the times, a number of cities have opened day classes for blind children in connection with the public schools. In such cases the blind pupils living in several school districts are united in one convenient centre or home-room under a teacher who coaches them for recitation in the grade rooms with the other children. The plan is feasible enough and is found to be successful in proportion as the teachers and those responsible for it are alive to the needs of the individual child and do not try to make him conform to the usual hours and the limitations of the common school system. Keeping handicapped children all the time in the community where they live and not even a part of the time off in special residential schools, as used to be deemed necessary, is doubtless a move in the right direction. But it must not be forgotten that children handicapped by lack of sight not only deserve but require enlarged and enriched opportunities of development; for it takes them longer to do things than it does children who see, and moreover they are far more dependent for balance and poise upon whatever training they get at school. In some cities having such centres private associations for the blind have tried to provide the needed supplementary training. Teaching the adult blind at home called “home teaching” is carried on in 13 States. Two States now (1917) conduct summer schools for a limited number of adults, using their institution plants for this purpose.

Books. — The American schools for the blind were founded upon embossed books. Dr. Howe states somewhere that the simple reading from embossed print did more to establish the schools in the country than any other one thing. Extraordinary pains were taken by Dr. Howe and his assistants to perfect a system which should be at once readily tangible to the fingers of the blind and legible to the eyes of their friends. The result was the small lower-case letter of Dr. Howe, the Boston line print, as it is often called. To this the jury gave preference before all other embossed systems exhibited at the great exhibition of the industry of all nations, in London, in 1851. Backed by such endorsement and all the authority of Dr. Howe, the system was rapidly adopted into the American schools. It was then the theory that the blind would be further isolated from their friends if their alphabets were dissimilar. The blind of themselves had devised a writable system — arbitrary and composed of dots or points — one which they could both read and write. But the early superintendents would not countenance it. However, many of the blind failed to read the line-letter system; because to read it requires extreme nicety of touch, which all the blind by no means have. Characters composed of points, not of lines, are scientifically adapted to touch reading. In the 33d report of the New York institution, Supt. William B. Wait wrote: “Now, which is the more important, that all the young blind should be able to read, thus being made, in fact, like the seeing, or that they should be taught an alphabet which in some sort resembles that used by the seeing, but by doing which only 34 per cent of them will ever be able to read with any pleasure or profit?” This attitude of the New York school was the outcome of statistics gathered from seven institutions, in which 664 pupils were involved, and of experiments made by Mr. Wait with his own pupils, using a system scientifically devised by him, composed of points in arbitrary combination. This was in 1868. At the next convention of the American instructors of the blind, it was resolved “That the New York horizontal point alphabet as arranged by Mr. Wait should be taught in all institutions for the education of the blind.” Europe was a long time accepting a writable point system. That of Louis Braille, devised in 1829, though much used by individuals, was not officially adopted into the Paris school where it originated until 1854. In contrast, America devised, printed, spread and resolved to accept its writable system in less than one-half the time. The benefits of a tangible writable system are vast. It puts the blind more nearly on a par with the seeing, particularly as pupils in school. Its adoption here, next to that of tangible printing, makes obtainable the ideal of American schools for the blind. Every tangible system has its defects. French “braille” as adopted into England has antiquated abbreviations and contractions for the use of adults; and is involved with rules allowing much bad use, like the omission of all capitals. The New York point as printed also laid itself open to much criticism as to “good use.” The American braille, the latest system, combining the best features of French braille and of New York point, was devised by a blind teacher of the Perkins institution. It takes full account of “good use,” and those who use the system deem it very satisfactory. In 1892, when the American braille system was adopted into several schools, a typewriter for writing braille was invented, and this was followed by the invention of another machine for embossing braille directly on plates of thin brass from which any number of duplicates could be struck off on paper. Here was a means of creating a new library at once. But the chief value of the invention lay in the fact that as the machine was simple and inexpensive and could be operated if necessary by a blind man, any institution could have a printing office of its own. And several schools immediately established such offices, from which they issued at once whatever their school classes demanded. By co-operating in the selection of the books to be embossed these schools have created in a comparatively few years a library of books in American braille than which there is no superior in any system in any country, and they have added an immense amount of music in the braille music notation, which is the same all over the world. A typewriter and a machine for embossing brass plates in the New York point system promptly appeared also, and a great library of both books and music has rapidly been issued in this system, especially from the American Printing House for the Blind at Louisville, Ky.; so that in America we have the condition of two competing point systems when but one would obviously be enough. More than one system means duplication and therefore lessening both the book production and the reading done by the blind themselves. Seeking a way out of this dilemma, a group of especially competent blind people was created a “uniform type committee.” For several years it conducted tests in many States and in several countries, the funds being subscribed by private individuals, by themselves, by other blind people and their friends and by school printing plants. To-day the country seems to be on the eve of uniformity.

The United States Bureau of Education gives the number of embossed books in the country in the year 1915 as 127,247. The greater part of these are in the school libraries, thousands belonging to departments for the blind in public libraries; from both of these sources the circulation to the blind at home is surprisingly large. A fact mainly accountable for this is that such books pass through the mails postage free. There are now, besides fiction in great variety, periodical magazines embossed for finger reading, notably the Matilda Ziegler Magazine, a monthly appearing in no less than 15,000 copies. A journal of inter-communication among all agencies in behalf of the blind, a quarterly in common print, called the Outlook for the Blind, has been issued since 1907 and is of far-reaching service to all interested in work for the blind.

Higher Education. — The Association of American Instructors of the Blind, formed in 1871, has met biennially ever since, usually as guest of one or another institution. The proceedings of each convention have been published. The principles underlying the scheme for educating the blind being to make them as little as possible a class apart from the rest of the community, it has not been deemed wise to attempt to establish a national college for the higher education of those capable of taking it, but efforts are making toward enabling the brighter and worthier pupils to attend one of the colleges for the seeing, at the expense of the States or the schools from which they come. Seven states have already (1918) made appropriations of money for such higher education. The school instruction of the blind is comparatively an easy matter. That work is less of a science than the more difficult task of instructing the deaf. But training them vocationally or for social efficiency is usually difficult, and it is becoming more and more so as society grows in complexity, and the places easily open to the blind become filled by them. Since 1900, through the vastly increased attention given the adult blind by private associations and public commissions, which have opened new shops for their employment and increased the kinds of occupations provided them, the schools have made their curricula more definitely vocational, and moreover their superintendents have more and more actively assumed the responsibility not only of preparing their charges for something definite but even of providing them work or positions when leaving the shelter of school.

Vocational Statistics. — Blindness in itself does not necessarily unfit its possessor for employment or even self-support; and there are few occupations in which some blind person has not made good. But while it is usually easy to equip a blind person for a vocation, it is always difficult to place him, as the average employer of labor does not want him. This fact seriously militates against the potential economic success of the blind and has always done so. It tends to superimpose idleness upon blindness, which is tragedy indeed. And yet the blind are very properly classed as socially competent. The proposed plan of our government for doing its duty to those of its soldiers who are blinded in the great war, i.e., not only re-educating them but also finding or making places for those capable of filling them, is splendid and a most encouraging sign of the times. Even when back in 1878 an exhaustive census of the graduates from all over the country was compiled, it revealed the following facts: 16 became superintendents of other institutions; 214 became teachers or were otherwise employed in institutions; 34 became ministers of the gospel; 84 authors, publishers or lecturers; 310 were engaged as teachers of music or were vocalists outside of institutions; 69 had been organists in churches; 125 piano tuners; 937 had been engaged as teachers, employees and workers in handicraft; 277 were storekeepers, etc.; 45 became owners and managers of real estate; 760 (mostly women) were employed at housework at home or in families, or at sewing with machines, or by hand, and 78 were in homes of employment. Further, according to the census of the United States, while there were about 55,000 blind in the land, but 2,560 were found in almshouses. What proportion of these ever attended our schools will never be known, but it must be remembered that blindness is an affliction of old age.

Bibliography. — Anagnos, M., ‘Education of the Blind’ (Boston 1882); Diderot, ‘Essay on Blindness’ (Reprint, London 1895); ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ article “Blindness” (Vol. III, New York 1911); Haüy, Valentin, ‘Essay on the Education of the Blind’ (Reprint, London 1894); Howe, Julia Ward, ‘Memoir of Dr. Samuel G. Howe’ (Boston 1877); Illingworth, W. H., ‘History of the Education of the Blind’ (London 1914); La Sizeranne, Maurice, ‘The Blind as Seen through Blind Eyes’ (translated by F. Park Lewis, New York 1893); ‘The Blind Sisters of Saint Paul’ (New York 1907); Mell, Alexander, ‘Encyclopædisches Handbuch des Blinden-Wesens’ (Vienna 1899); ‘Nelson's Encyclopedia,’ article “Blind, Training of the” (Vol. II, New York 1910); Richards, Mrs. Laura A., ‘Letters and Journal of Samuel G. Howe’ (Vol. II, ‘The Servant of Humanity,’ (Boston 1909); Sanborn, F. B., ‘Dr. S. G. Howe’ (New York 1881); ‘Reports,’ American Association of Instructors of the Blind (1853-1915); State Commissions for the Blind (1906-16); United States Bureau of Education 1872, 1899, 1913, 1915 (Washington Government Printing Office); International Conferences on the Blind (London 1902-14, National Institute for the Blind); ‘American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology’ (1913-16); Outlook for the Blind (Columbus 1907-15).

Edward Ellis Allen,
Director Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind.