Education and Rehabilitation

Among the notable advances in education in 17th century Europe were those growing out of the work of John Comenius. Comenius was an educational reformer and religious leader who was part of a larger reform movement at the time that promoted education for everyone, not just the elite of the society. Comenius’s educational reform program was built upon ideas of pansophism, or universal knowledge. His ambition was to create an educational system that would teach all things to all people, according to the laws of nature that, in turn, reflected God’s truths. Comenius promoted individualized education, tailoring his subject matter and methods to children’s stages of learning. His emphasis was on learning through discovery rather than through memorization. For this reason, he is today often referred to as the father of modern educational methods (Piaget, 1999).

A primary educational focus of Comenius was language teaching. He developed several workbooks for teaching vocabulary, including his 1658 book The visible world (Orbis sensualium pictus), said to be the first picture book for children. The book was designed to teach children Latin vocabulary, using cues from the picture book to provide a meaning context.

A half-generation or so after Comenius developed his individualized teaching approach to learning language, a group of individuals at Port Royal in France developed another language teaching program in which children learned language by devising deep structure rules from their native language and translating and using those rules to learn a second language. Their Port Royal Grammar was to be memorialized by Noam Chomsky who used it in his book on Cartesian linguistics (1966) to show the historical grounding for his universal grammar.

The early modern period also provided innovations in rehabilitation, especially for teaching literacy and speech to deaf children. In the 16th century, in Spain, Pablo Ponce de Leon (1520-1584), began his language training of the deaf by having them read and write, and to transfer these skills into speech. Pablo used a manual alphabet in instruction. He pointed to the object associated with the written word (Moores, 1978, p. 34).

A student of Pablo Ponce de Leon, describing his language growth under Pablo’s teaching regimen, offered a sense of how the training progressed:

While I was a boy and ignorant…I began to work by copying what my teacher had written: and I wrote all the words of the Castilian tongue in a book prepared to that purpose. Hereupon I began, adjuvante Deo, to spell, and to utter some syllables and words with all my might, so that the saliva flowed from my mouth abundantly. Then I began to read history, and in ten years read the history of the whole world. Afterwards I learned Latin. All this was through the great grace of without which no mute can exist (Peet, 1851, p. 149).

A bit later, another Spaniard, Ramirez de Carrion tutored deaf sons of a Spanish nobleman noblemen. De Carrion’s emphasis was on teaching them oral speech and his goal was total integration of the boys into hearing society, which he succeeded in doing.

Carrion’s methods were later summarized by Juan Pablo Bonet (1579-1633) in his popular 1620 book (see above). Bonet advocated early intervention and the provision of a consistent language environment. For example, he insisted that everyone living in a house with a deaf person use the manual alphabet. He also promoted the early teaching of speech on the basis of the manual alphabet and the printed word, arguing that the lack of early language training is an impediment to later speech development (Moores, p. 36-7). Bonet considered speech reading to be a given talent—one that is not learnable (Moores, p. 18). And in his book on the The reduction of letters and the art of teaching the mute to speak, Bonet recommended that speech be taught by reducing the letters of the alphabet to their phonetic values.

Following the tenets of Francis Bacon’s philosophical empiricism, Bonet advocated teaching language through the senses. For example, he taught about objects by pointing out their sensory attributes (Deland 1931).

In this lesson he ought to be well versed; and this can be accomplished, for it is the very threshold of reasoning; and he must learn that words and concepts by which he is to express what he thinks; and with this in view he will have to be asked many questions about different things, some of them are so similar as to demand feeling rather than sight to distinguish them, and these he must weigh I his head, so as to recognize differences in things that need some consideration (Deland 1931, p.33, quoting Bonet).

Bonet attached great importance to early intervention and the provision of a consistent language environment for deaf children. For example, he insisted that everyone living in a house with a deaf person use the manual alphabet. Speech reading he considered to be an art and not teachable (Moores, 1978, p. 18).

In Italy, at around this same time, Jerome Cardan (1501-1576) developed the idea of substituting one sense for another, with the aim of teaching his deaf students to read. And a half-century later, John Bulwer, in England, proposed an "academy of the mute" for who were hearing impaired. Included in the curriculum of such an academy would be his technique for lip-reading, that he described in his Philocophus; or, The Deafe and Dumbe Man's Friend (London, 1648). Bulwer also recommended that hearing be fostered though other sensory avenues than hearing. He described, for instance, how the deaf can enjoy music by listening to its vibrations through their teeth.

At the end of the 17th century, John Conrad Amman (1669-1724), a Swiss physician practicing in the Netherlands, wrote about instruction for the deaf and for those who stuttered. His Surdus loquens (1692) was often reprinted. Amman’s primary teaching method involved oral imitation of physical movements. He had his students attend to his lips and larynx while he spoke and then imitate these movements while vocalizing.