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Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature

By Douglas Keith Candland | Go to book overview

2 Kaspar Hauser and the Wolf-Children

IF ITARD fell short of achieving his stated goal to civilize Victor, Victor taught Itard what Itard needed to know to forever change the lives of the blind and deaf. It is comforting to think that our failures may become successes; less so that probable or seeming successes may become failures.

Itard's hope to show the influence of education on a human being previously untrained and unaccustomed to human ways was not met. Victor was not to become socialized as a human being, despite Itard's teaching and Madame Guérin's life-long care. Itard worked for five years at the project, and Madame Guérin cared for Victor as boy and man for thirty; however, neither enabled Victor to enter the socialized and civilized activities of humankind. What Itard and Victor accomplished would serve as an example and a promise of what might be done for those born with sensory and mental defects. Victor did not change society's attitude toward these unfortunates, to be sure, any more than Itard singlehandedly invented Braille, sign language, and ways for the sensory-deprived to communicate both with one another and with those with full capacity for speech, seeing, and hearing. Yet Itard and Victor inspired later generations to take seriously the problem of how to communicate with those unable to do so in usual ways. Even more than this, the recent work that teaches apes communication owes much to Itard, and he, in turn, to the example of Peter, the wild-boy.

Itard's "progress report" is rich in its account of the techniques he used to try to reach Victor's intellect. Within a century, these techniques would become the foundations of an experimental psychology. The techniques, known today as matching to (or from) a sample, selection of the oddity, discriminating one sensory experience from others, making finer and finer discriminations, testing for the presence of concepts, such as long or large--these are all the examples of the "psychophysical methods" that Weber and Fechner would use fifth, Nears later with the idea of establishing a measure of psychological experience both between and

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