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A DAY IN THE ONTARIO INSTITUTION FOR THE BLIND.*
A STUDY OF PRESENT-DAY METHODS.
NOT long ago I spent a few profitable and pleasant hours in the Ontario Institution for the Blind. Such a visit as mine has a twofold result, it educates and undeceives. It is astonishing what crude notions otherwise well-educated people have of an institution of this kind, both with regard to its objects and its results. In a brief account of a hurried visit no adequate conception can be formed of the full scope and importance of the work done in such an institution, but still enough may be gained to open the mental eye and set the mind thinking.
The institutions for the blind here, and elsewhere in Christendom, are the results of what is termed the gospel of humanity. Only recently I read with considerable interest a detailed and graphic account of excavations among the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and, while these revealed a culture and a civilization equal, if not superior, to our own, the archæologists failed to discover an hospital, or indeed an institution of any kind whose mission was to ameliorate the sufferings of the afflicted and the helpless, or to protect the widow and orphan. Our communal, provincial or national systems for helping the helpless are the result of our common Christianity; and just in proportion as Christian influences abound in any country, so likewise shelters and aids exist for those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
The advantages of the site of the Ontario Institution for the Blind are apparent to the most cursory observer. From a sanitary point of view, nothing could be more admirably suited. It sits well up on the brow of a hill, while the soil is specially dry and well adapted to the sanitary needs of the institution.
The main building is about three hundred feet in length, with an extension containing the pupils' dining-room, domestic quarters kitchens, bakery and store-room, etc. The division into small classes, the diversity of educational and instructional work, literary, musical, and industrial rooms for working, for study and practice, all absorb a space out of proportion to the mere numbers. With the present resident staff and appliances the building barely accommodates 140 pupils in the proportion of eighty boys to sixty girls, and from 130 to 140 is the average attendance.
In 1881 the present principal, Mr. A. H. Dymond, was appointed. The choice of Principal Dymond was a peculiarly happy one, as
*Abridged from an admirable illustrated article in the Brantford Expositor.
subsequent events have abundantly proved. A widely-read man of much real culture, with a broad general knowledge of men and affairs, coupled with a keen insight into human nature, and above all with a deep, earnest, enthusiastic and always sympathetic devotion to the responsible work he is called upon to direct, he makes an admirable principal. During the Biennial Convention of American Instructors to the Blind, held in Brantford in 1892, he took an active part in the association's deliberations, and they marked their appreciation of his character and talents by unanimously electing him president for the two years' term.
Mr. Hossie, the bursar, has filled that office for nearly the whole time of the institution's existence. He is a faithful officer, and his name in connection with Sunday-school work is a household word in Ontario.
The literary staff consists of three gentlemen and two ladies, the junior master having also special charge of the male pupils out of school hours. There are five music teachers-three ladies and two gentlemen, two of the number being non-residents. Then there are a trade instructor, a piano-tuning instructor, two ladies at the head of the sewing, knitting and fancy-work departments, with one assistant, a former pupil, who is attached to both the latter branches. Lastly, there is the kindergarten directress, through whose hands all the juniors pass in their way to the regular classes. Not only are the subjects of instruction numerous, but the teaching is in almost every case individual instead as in a sighted school en bloc. Fifty or sixty seeing children can be taught at one time by the aid of a pointer and black board, but only one at a time by the slow process of realizing the form of a letter by the touch of the fingers, and this where a child has often had no conception of form whatever; and so with almost every study in a greater or less degree. Even if the pupils be taught as a class the instruction is oral and has to be literally rubbed into the memory by constant and most assiduous repetition. So it follows there must be many teachers, patient teachers, teachers well trained in the art of teaching both thoroughly and attractively; and that, of course, means competent, experienced persons who must be well paid.
The grounds are most artistically displayed with bush and brush, and tall tapering trees. You can hardly conceive a prettier spot than this on a bright summer day. The singing of the birds overhead, the subdued roar of the distant city, and the sweet strains of music softly stealing through the windows just behind you, taken altogether, fill the ear and the eye with harmony and beauty.
The big doors of the main hall swing outwards as you enter, and on all lawful days, that is every day but Saturday and Sunday, the latch hangs on the outside from 10 a.m. till noon and from 2 o'clock until 4 p.m. Your footstep in the hall brings "Matura," the blind attendant, to your side, who will conduct you to the visitors' reception-room. The room is comfortably, but not luxuriously, furnished. A handsome desk-table stands in the middle of the floor, and is littered with papers, periodicals, blue books, and all the usual etcetras found on such tables. The principal proved an easy subject to interview, and on the slightest provocation drifted off into a pleasant chat upon just such subjects as were nccessary to this sketch. To the suggestion that I might go over the building and see the classes at work, he readily assented; nay, more, he offered to conduct me himself. I gladly accepted, of course, but where there were many agreeable lady teachers, I thought-but that is neither here nor there.
Somehow I had an idea that the pupils contributed something towards their keep. That is altogether a mistake. It is supported entirely by provincial funds, and no charge is made for board or instruction. Total blindness is not necessary before admission can be had. The fact of one's sight being so defective as to prevent one from receiving the ordinary education afforded by the Public Schools is a sufficient qualification. It will be understood, therefore, that many of the pupils can see more or less.
The period of instruction varies according to the circumstances and abilities of the pupils, the object being in all cases to fit them for usefulness in life, and for supporting themselves, if necessary, by their own efforts. No intelligent young person
who has taken a course of instruction at the institute is without the means of contributing substantially towards his or her maintenance.
I have been in a number of kindergarten rooms here and there, and a somewhat ripe experience in this connection bids me say I never saw a more interesting one than that of Mrs. Murray, nor one where the results were so surprisingly good as compared with the opportunities and materials at hand. With deftly tender hands, a kind motherly manner, and a deep personal interest in the welfare of the little mites, with whom she is brought so much more into touch than other teachers, the kindergarten directress moves about among these little ones like the good spirit she is. There must have been some ten or a dozen little people in the room, the greater portion of whom
had no vision whatever. For the most part the children had either been born blind or blindness had followed some infantile disease. The little ones are arranged around a table much as they are in a Public School kindergarten. They were singing a cuckoo song. Each child requires the personal attention of the teacher. Each child has to be taught his or her task, not by a general example, but by a special individual lesson. The work and responsibility of the teacher will be at once apparent. The Froebel system of gifts, of course, obtains in the school. The same little fancy things are made by the children, and the fancy weaving, plaiting, sewing and moulding of the non-seeing kindergartner is decidedly ahead of her more favoured little sister. The books used are all in embossed type and the children read by the sense of touch. They are fully as advanced as sighted pupils of their age generally are.
Principal Dymond next took me to one of the class-rooms of the senior scholars, the most advanced perhaps in the institution. The subject specially was the Life and Times of Lord Bacon, and the method of procedure resolved itself into a pleasant and educational discussion between the teacher and her students. In the English literature class the subject of special study was Hamlet," and the students evinced an almost perfect knowledge of their task. Quotations would be asked every now and again, and questions concerning the whole play, indicating the familiarity of the student with the work. "He was a man, take him all in all," "Seems, Madam! nay, 'tis," and "It is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance," are a few of the quotations rendered, with their place in the play. A sort of literary talk followed, in which the chief works of Alexander Pope, author of the "Essay on Man," and the poet Dryden, were considered. There was an easy familiarity with the life, works and literary character of the writers of the period that impressed one with the thoroughness of the teaching.
The library is a curious place, with its great, massive, thick books in all corners. They are printed in New York point or ordinary embossed letters. I imagine that as a small print "Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress" is to a large print family Bible, so is a book of a certain length in our letters to one of the same length in the embossed type. The library is well stocked with interesting volumes of standard works. Everything of a frivolous character or a degrading tendency is carefully eliminated from the selection of books.
In a short time the dinner-bell rang out upon the air. Along came the girls first, in couples, arm in arm, laughing and chatting