Vygotsky 1929

The Fundamental Problems of Defectology

Source: XMCA Research Paper Archive;
First Published: Collected Works of L S Vygotsky. Volume 2, The Fundamentals of Defectology, Plenum Press 1993;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.



Only recently, the entire field of theoretical knowledge and practical scientific work, which we conveniently call by the name of “defectology,” was viewed as a minor part of pedagogy, not unlike how medicine views minor surgery. All the problems in this field have been posed and resolved as quantitative problems. Entirely accurately, M. Kruenegel States that the prevailing psychological methods for studying an abnormal child (A. Binet’s metric scale or G. I. Rossolimo’s profile) are based on a purely quantitative conception of childhood development as impeded by a defect (M. Kruenegel, 1926). These methods determine the degree to which the intellect is lowered, without characterizing either the defect itself or the inner structure of the personality created by it. According to O. Lipmann, these methods may be called measurement, but not an examination of ability, Intelligenzmessungen but not Intelligenzpruefungen (O. Lipmann, H. Bogen, 1923), since they establish the degree, but neither the kind nor the character of ability (O. Lipmann, 1924).

Other pedological methods for studying the handicapped child are also correct and relevant-not only psychological methods, but also those encompassing other sides of a child’s development (anatomical and physiological). And here, scale and measure have become the basic categories of research, as if all problems of defectology were but problems of proportion, and as though all the diverse phenomena studied in defectology could be encompassed by a single scheme: “more versus less.” In defectology, counting and measuring came before experimentation, observation, analysis, generalization, description, and qualitative diagnosis.

Practical defectology likewise chose the simplest course, that of numbers and measures, and attempted to realize itself as a minor pedagogical field. If, in theory, the problem was reduced to a quantitatively limited, proportionally retarded development, then, in practice, the idea of simplified and decelerated instruction naturally was advanced. In Germany, the very same Kruenegel, and in our country A. S. Griboedov, rightly defend the notion: “A reexamination of the curriculum and methods of instruction used in our auxiliary schools is essential” (A. S. Griboedov, 1926, p. 28), since “a reduction of educational material and a prolongation of its study time” (ibid.), – that is, purely quantitative indicators-have constituted until this time the only distinctive features of the special school.

A purely arithmetical conception of a handicapped condition is characteristic of an obsolete, old-school defectology. Reaction against this quantitative approach to all theoretical and practical problems is the most important characteristic of modern defectology. The struggle between these two attitudes toward defectology – between two antithetical ideas, two principles-is the burning issue in that positive crisis which this area of scientific knowledge is presently undergoing.

Viewing a handicapped condition as a purely quantitative developmental limitation undoubtedly has the same conceptual basis as the peculiar theory of preformed childhood operations, according to which post-natal childhood development is reduced exclusively to quantitative growth and to the expansion of organic and psychological functions. Defectology is currently undertaking a theoretical task which is analogous to the one once performed by pedology and child psychology, when both defended the position that a child is not simply a small adult. Defectology is now contending for a fundamental thesis, the defense of which is its sole justification for existence as a science. The thesis holds that a child whose development is impeded by a defect is not simply a child less developed than his peers but is a child who has developed differently.

If we subtract visual perception and all that relates to it from our psychology, the result of this subtraction will not be the psychology of a blind child. In the same way, the deaf child is not a normal child minus his hearing and speech. Pedology has long ago mastered the idea that if viewed from a qualitative perspective, the process of child development is, in the words of W. Stern, “a chain of metamorphoses” (1922). Defectology is currently developing a similar idea. A child in each stage of his development, in each of his phases, represents a qualitative uniqueness, i.e., a specific organic and psychological structure; in precisely the same way, a handicapped child represents a qualitatively different, unique type of development. Just as oxygen and hydrogen produce not a mixture of gases, but water, so too, says Guertler, the personality of a retarded child is something qualitatively different than simply the sum of underdeveloped functions and properties.

The specific organic and psychological structure, the type of development and personality, and not qualitative proportions, distinguish a retarded child from a normal one. Did not child psychology long ago grasp the deep and true similarities between the many developmental processes in a child and the transformation of a caterpillar first into a chrysalis and from a chrysalis into a butterfly? Now, through Guertler, defectology has voiced the view that a child’s retardation is a particular variety or special type of development, and not a quantitative variant of the normal type. These, he states, are different organic forms, not unlike a tadpole and a frog (R. Guertler, 1927).

There is, actually, complete correspondence between the particular characteristic of each age-level in the development of a child and the particular characteristics of different types of development. Just as the transition from crawling to walking, and from babble to speech, is a metamorphosis (i.e., a qualitative transformation from one form into another) in the same way, the speech of a deaf-mute child and the thought processes of an imbecile are functions qualitatively different from the speech and thought processes of normal children.

Only with this idea of qualitative uniqueness (rather than the overworked quantitative variations of separate elements) in the phenomena and processes under examination, does defectology acquire, for the first time, a firm methodological basis. But no theory is possible if it proceeds from exclusively negative premises, just as no educational practice can be based on purely negative definitions and fundamentals. This notion is methodologically central to modem defectology, and one’s attitude toward this notion determines the exact position of a particular, concrete problem. Defectology acquires, with this idea, a whole system of positive tasks, both theoretical and practical. The field of defectology becomes viable as a science because it has assumed a particular method and defined its object for research and understanding. As B. Schmidt [no ref. ] put it, only “pedological anarchy” can follow from a purely quantitative conception of juvenile handicaps, and programs of treatment and remediation can be based only on uncoordinated compendia of empirical data and techniques and not upon systematic scientific knowledge.

It would be a great mistake, however, to think that with the discovery of this idea the methodological* formation of a new defectology is complete. On the contrary, it has only just begun. As soon as the possibility of a particular perspective on scientific knowledge is determined, then the tendency arises to search for its philosophical foundations. Such a search is extremely characteristic of modem defectology and is an indication of its scientific maturity. As soon as the uniqueness of the phenomena being studied by defectologists has been asserted, the philosophical questions immediately arise: that is, questions of principles and methods of knowledge and examination of this uniqueness. R. Guertler has attempted to establish a basis for defectology in an idealistic philosophy (R. Guertler, 1927). H. Noell based his discussion of the particular problem of vocational training for students in auxiliary schools on the modem “philosophy of value,” developed by W. Stem, A. Messer (1906, 1908), Meinung, H. Rickert, and others. If such attempts are still relatively rare, then the tendency toward some philosophical formulation is easily detected in almost any significant new scientific work on defectology.

Apart from this tendency toward philosophical formulations, absolutely concrete separate problems face defectology. Their solution constitutes the major goal of research projects in defectology.

Defectology has its own particular analytical objective and must master it. The processes of childhood development being studied by defectology represent an enormous diversity of forms, almost a limitless number of types. Science must master this particularity and explain it, as well as establish the cycles and transformations of development, its imbalances and shifting centers, and discover the laws of diversity. Further, there is the practical problem of how to master the laws of development.

This article attempts to outline critically the fundamental processes of defectology in their intrinsic relationship and unity from the point of view of those philosophical ideas and social premises, assumed to be the basis of our educational theory and practice.


The dual role of a physical disability, first in the developmental process and then in the formation of the child’s personality, is a fundamental fact with which we must deal when development is complicated by a defect. On the one hand, the defect means a minus, a limitation, a weakness, a delay in development; on the other, it stimulates a heightened, intensified advancement, precisely because it creates difficulties. The position of modem defectology is the following: Any defect creates stimuli for compensatory process. Therefore, defectologists cannot limit their dynamic study of a handicapped child to determining the degree and severity of the deficiency. Without fail, they must take into account the compensatory processes in a child’s development and behavior, which substitute for, supersede, and overarch the defect. Just as the patient-and not the disease is important for modem medicine, so the child burdened with the defect-not the defect in and of itself-becomes the focus of concern for defectology. Tuberculosis*, for example, is diagnosed not only by the stage and severity of the illness, but also by the physical reaction to the disease, by the degree to which the process is or is not compensated for. Thus, the child’s physical and psychological reaction to the handicap is the central and basic problem-indeed, the sole reality-with which defectology deals.

A long time ago, W. Stem pointed out the dual role played by a defect. Thus, the blind child compensates with an increased ability to distinguish through touch-not only by actually increasing the stimulability of his nerves, but by exercising his ability to observe, estimate, and ponder differences. So, too, in the area of psychological functions, the decreased value of one faculty may be fully or partially compensated for by the stronger development of another. For example, the cultivation of comprehension may replace keenness of observation and recollection, compensating for a poor memory. Impressionability, the tendency to imitate, and so forth compensate for weakness of motivation and inadequate initiative. The functions of personality are not so exclusive that, given the abnormally weak development of one characteristic, the task performed by it necessarily and in all circumstances suffers. Thanks to the organic unity of personality, another faculty undertakes to accomplish the task (W. Stem, 1921).

In this way we can apply the law of compensation equally to normal and abnormal development. T. Lipps saw in this a fundamental law of mental life: if a mental event is interrupted or impeded, then an “overflow” (that is, an increase of psychological energy) occurs at the point of interruption or obstruction. The obstruction plays the role of a dam. This law Lipps named the law of psychological damming up or stowage (Stauung). Energy is concentrated at that point where the process met with delay, and it may overcome the delay or proceed by roundabout ways. Thus, in place of delayed developmental processes, new processes are generated due to the blockage (T. Lipps, 1907).

A. Adler I and his school posit as the basis of their psychological system the study of abnormal organs and functions, the inadequacy of which constantly stimulates an intensified (higher) development. According to Adler, awareness of a physically handicapped condition is, for the individual, a constant stimulation of mental development. If any organ, because of a morphological or functional deficiency, does not fully cope with its task, then the central human nervous and mental apparatus compensates for the organ’s deficient operation by creating a psychological superstructure which shores up the entire deficient organism at its weakened, threatened point. Conflict arises from contact with the exterior milieu; conflict is caused by the incompatibility of the deficient organ or function and the task before it. This conflict, in turn, leads to an increased possibility of illness and fatality. The same conflict may also create greater potentialities and stimuli for compensation and even for over-compensation. Thus, defect becomes the starting point and the principal motivating force in the psychological development of personality. It establishes the target point, toward which the development of all psychological forces strive. It gives direction to the process of growth and to the formation of personality. A handicap creates a higher developmental tendency; it enhances such mental phenomena as foresight and presentiment, as well as their operational elements (memory, attention, intuition, sensibility, interest)-in a word, all supporting psychological features (A. Adler, 1928).

We may not and ought not agree with Adler when he ascribes to the compensatory process a universal significance for all mental development. But there is no contemporary defectologist, it seems, who would not ascribe paramount importance to the effect of personality on a defect or to the adaptive developmental processes, i.e., to that extremely complex picture of a defect’s positive effects, including the roundabout course of development with its complicated zigzags. This is a picture which we observe in every child with a defect. Most important is the fact that along with a physical handicap come strengths and attempts both to overcome and to equalize the handicap. These tendencies toward higher development were not formerly recognized by defectology. Meanwhile, precisely these tendencies give uniqueness to the development of the handicapped child; they foster creative, unendingly diverse, sometimes profoundly eccentric forms of development, which we do not observe in the typical development of the normal child. It is not necessary to be an Adlerite and to share the principles of his school in order to recognize the correctness of this position.

“He will want to see everything,” Adler says about a child, “if he is nearsighted; to hear everything, if he is hearing impaired; he will want to say everything, if he has an obvious speech defect or a stutter. ... The desire to fly will be most apparent in those children who experience great difficulty even in jumping. The contrast between the physical disability and the desires, fantasies, dreams, i.e., psychological drives to compensate, are so universal that one may base upon this a fundamental law: Via subjective feelings of inadequacy, a physical handicap dialectically transforms itself into psychological drives toward compensation and overcompensation” (1927, p. 57). Formerly, it was believed that the entire life and development of a blind child would be framed by blindness. The new law states that development will go against this course. If blindness exists, then mental development will be directed away from blindness, against blindness. Goal-oriented reflexes, according to I. P. Pavlov, need a certain tension to achieve full, proper, fruitful development. The existence of obstacles is a principal condition for goal achievement (1951, p. 302). Modem psychotechnics is inclined to consider control [or self-direction] to be a function so central to the educational process and to the formation of personality as a special case of the phenomena of overcompensation (J. N. Spielrein, 1924).

The study of compensation reveals the creative character of development directed along this course. It is not in vain that such psychologists as Stern and Adler partly based the origins of giftedness on this understanding. Stem formulates the idea as follows: “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger; thanks to adaptation, strength arises from weakness, ability from deficiencies” (W. Stern, 1923, p. 145).

It would be a mistake to assume that the process of compensation always, without fail, ends in success, that it always leads from the defect to the formation of a new capability. As with every process of overcoming and struggle, compensation may also have two extreme outcomes-victory and failure- and between these two are all possible transitional points. The outcome depends on many things, but basically, it depends on the relationship between (1) the severity of the defect and (2) the wealth of compensatory reserves. But whatever the anticipated outcome, always and in all circumstances, development, complicated by a defect, represents a creative (physical and psychological) process. It represents the creation and re-creation of a child’s personality based on the restructuring of all the adaptive functions and on the formation of new processes--overarching, substituting, equalizing-generated by the handicap, and creating new, roundabout paths for development. Defectology is faced with a world of new, infinitely diverse forms and courses of development. The course created by a defect-that of compensation-is the major course of development for a child with a physical handicap or functional disability.

The positive uniqueness of the handicapped child is created not by the failure of one or another function observed in a normal child but by the new formations caused by this lapse. This uniquely individual reaction to a defect represents a continually evolving adaptive process. If a blind or deaf child achieves the same level of development as a normal child, then the child with a defect achieves this in another way, by another course, by other means. And, for the pedagogue, it is particularly important to know the uniqueness of the course, along which he must lead the child. The key to originality transforms the minus of the handicap into the plus of compensation.


There are limits to uniqueness in the development of handicapped children. The entire adaptive system is restructured on new bases when the defect destroys the equilibrium that exists among the adaptive functions; then, the whole system tends towards a new equilibrium. Compensation, the individual’s reaction to a defect, initiates new, roundabout developmental processes-it replaces, rebuilds a new structure, and stabilizes psychological functions. Much of what is inherent in normal development disappears or is curtailed because of a defect. A new, special kind of development results. “Parallel to the awakening of my consciousness,” A.M. Shcherbina tells us about himself, “was the gradual, organic elaboration of my psychic uniqueness. Under such conditions, I could not spontaneously sense my physical shortcomings” (1916, p. 10). But the social milieu in which the developmental process occurs place limits on organic uniqueness and on the creation of a “second nature.” K. Buerklen formulated this idea beautifully as it applies to the psychological development of the blind. In essence, this idea may be extended to all of defectology. “They develop special features,” he said about the blind, “which we cannot observe among the seeing. We must suppose that if the blind associated only with the blind and had no dealings with the seeing then a special kind of people would come into being” (K. Buerklen, 1924, p. 3).

Buerklen’s views can be elaborated as follows: Blindness, as a physical handicap, gives impetus to compensatory processes. These, in turn, lead to the formation of unique features in a blind person’s psychology and to the reformulation of all his various functions, when directed toward a basic, vital task. Each individual function of a blind person’s neuropsychological apparatus has unique features, often very marked in comparison with those of a seeing person. In the event that a blind person were to live only among blind people, these biological processes, which formulate and accumulate special features and abnormal deviations, would, when left alone, inevitably lead to the creation of a new stock of people. Notwithstanding, under pressure from social demands, which are identical for the seeing and the blind, the development of these special features takes a form in which the structure of a blind person’s personality as a whole will tend to achieve a specific, normal social type.

The compensatory processes which create unique personality features in a blind child do not develop freely. Rather, they are devoted to a specific end. Two basic factors shape this social conditioning of a handicapped child’s development.

First, the effect of the defect itself invariably turns out to be secondary, rather than direct. As we have already said, the child is not directly aware of his handicap. Instead, he is aware of the difficulties deriving from the defect. The immediate consequence of the defect is to diminish the child’s social standing; the defect manifests itself as a social aberration. All contact with people, all situations which define a person’s place in the social sphere, his role and fate as a participant in life, all the social functions of daily life are reordered. As emphasized in Adler’s school of thought, the organic, inherent (congenital) causes of this reordering operate neither independently nor directly, but indirectly, via their negative effect on a child’s social position. All hereditary and organic factors must also be interpreted psychologically, so that their true role in a child’s development can be taken into consideration. According to Adler, a physical disability which leads to adaptation creates a special psychological position for a child. It is through that special position, and only through it, that a defect affects a child’s development. Adler calls the psychological complex, which develops as a result of the child’s diminished social position due to his handicap, an “inferiority complex” (Minderwertigkeitsgefuehl). This introduces a third, intermediate factor into the dyadic process of “handicap compensation” so that it becomes “handicap inferiority complex compensation.” The handicap, then, evokes its compensation not directly but indirectly, through the feelings of inferiority which it generates. It is easy to illustrate, through examples, that an inferiority complex is a psychological evaluation of one’s own social position. ‘Me question of renaming the auxiliary school has been raised in Germany. The name Hilfisschule seems degrading to both parents and children. It inflicts a stamp, as it were, of inferiority on the pupil. The child does not want to attend a “school for fools.” The demeaning social status associated with a “school for fools” partially affects even the teachers. They are, somehow, on a lower level than teachers in a school for normal children. Ponsens and O. Fisher [no ref] propose names such as therapeutic, training, or special school (Sonderschule), school for the retarded, and other new names.

For a child to end up at a school for fools means to be placed in a difficult social position. Thus, for Adler and his followers, the first and basic point of the educational process is a struggle against an inferiority complex. It cannot be allowed to develop and possess the child or to lead him into unhealthy forms of compensation. The basic idea of individual-psychological therapeutic education, says A. Friedmann, is encouragement (Ermutigung). Let us assume that a physical handicap does not lead, for social reasons, to the generation of an inferiority complex-that is, to a low psychological estimation of one’s own social standing.

Thus, notwithstanding the presence of a physical handicap, there will be no psychological conflict. As a result, some people with, let us say, a superstitious, mystical attitude toward the blind have a specific conception of the blind, a belief in their spiritual insight. For them, a blind person becomes a soothsayer, a judge, a wise man. Because of his handicap, he holds a high social position. Of course, in such circumstances, there can be no question of an inferiority complex, feelings of disability and so on. In the final analysis, what decides the fate of a personality is not the defect itself, but its social consequences, its socio-psychological realization. The adaptive processes, also, are not aimed directly at making up the deficiency, which is for the most part impossible, but at overcoming the difficulties which the defect creates. The development and education of a blind child have to do not so much with blindness itself as with the social consequences of blindness.

A. Adler views the psychological development of the personality as an attempt to attain social status with respect to the “inherent logic of human society,” and with respect to the demands of daily life in society. Development unwinds like a chain of predetermined, even if unconscious, actions. And, in the end, it is the need for social adaptation which, by objective necessity, determines these actions. Adler (1928), with good reason, therefore, calls his psychology positional psychology, in contrast to dispositional psychology. The first derives psychological development from the personality’s social position, the second from its physical disposition. If social demands were not placed upon a handicapped child’s development, if these processes were at the mercy of biological laws only, if a handicapped child did not find it necessary to transform himself into an established social entity, a social personality type, then his development would lead to the creation of a new breed of human being. However, because the goals of development are set a priori (by the necessity of adapting to a sociocultural milieu based on the normal human type), even the adaptation process does not occur freely, but follows a definite social channel.

Thus, a handicapped child’s developmental processes are socially conditioned in two ways. The social effect of the defect (the inferiority complex) is one side of the social conditioning. The other side is the social pressure on the child to adapt to those circumstances created and compounded for the normal human type. Within the context of final goals and forms, profound differences exist between the handicapped and the normal child in the ways and means of their development. Here, precisely, is a very schematic view of social conditioning in that process. Hence, there is a dual perspective of past and future in analyzing development that has been complicated by a defect. Inasmuch as both the beginning and the end of that development are socially conditioned, all its facets must be understood, not only with respect to the past, but also with respect to the future. Along with an understanding of compensation as the basic form of such development comes an understanding of a drive toward the future. The entire process, as a whole, is revealed as a unified one, as a result of objective necessity striving for-ward toward a final goal, which was established in advance by the social demands of daily life. The concept of unity and wholeness in a child’s developing personality is connected to this. Personality develops as a united whole, with its own particular laws; it does not develop as the sum or as a bundle of individual functions, each developing on the basis of its particular tendency.

This law applies equally to somatics and physics, to medicine and pedagogy. In medicine, the belief is becoming more prevalent that the sole determinant of health or illness is the effective or ineffective functioning of the organs and that isolated abnormalities can be evaluated by the degree to which the other functions of the organism do or do not compensate for the abnormality.

W. Stem advances the following idea: Individual functions deviate from normality, while the whole personality or organism might still belong to an entirely normal type. A child with a defect is not necessarily a defective child. The degree of his disability or normality depends on the outcome of his social adaptation that is, on the final formation of his personality as a whole. In and of themselves, blindness, deafness, and other individual handicaps do not make their bearer handicapped. Substitution and compensation do not just occur randomly, sometimes assuming gigantic proportions and creating talents from defects. Rather, as a rule, they necessarily arise in the form of drives and idiosyncrasies at the point where the defect prevails. Stem’s position supports the fundamental possibility of social compensation where direct compensation is impossible, i.e., it is the possibility in principle that the handicapped child can, in principle, wholly approximate a normal type that might enable winning full social self-esteem.

Compensation for moral defectiveness (moral insanity), when it is viewed as a special kind of organic handicap or illness, can serve as the best illustration of secondary social complications and their role in a handicapped child’s development. All consistent, intelligent psychologists proceed from a similar point of view. In part, in our country the reexamination of this question and the clarification of the falsity and scientific groundless of the very concept of moral disability as applied by P. P. Blonskii, A. B. Zalkind, and others has had great theoretical and practical significance. West European psychologists are coming to the same conclusions. What was taken to be a physical handicap or illness is, in fact, a complex of symptoms with a specific psychological orientation found in children who have been completely derailed socially; it is a socio and psychogenic phenomenon, not a biogenic disorder.

Anytime the erroneous recognition of certain values comes into question, as J. Lindworsky stated at the First Congress on Special Education [lit. “Therapeutic Pedagogy"] in Germany, the reason for this should be sought, not in an inherent anomaly of the will, nor in specific distortions of individual functions. Rather, it should be sought in the view that neither the surrounding milieu nor the individual himself fostered recognition of those values. Probably, the notion of calling emotional illness moral insanity would never have been conceived, if first the attempt had been made to summarize all the shortcomings of values and motives met among normal people. Then, it might have been discovered that every individual has his own insanity. M. Wertheimer also comes to this conclusion. Wertheimer, citing F. Kramer [no ref] and V. K. Garis [no ref], the founder of Gestalt psychology in the United States,” asserts that if one examines the personality as a whole, in its interaction with the environment, the congenital psychopathic tendencies in a child disappear. He emphasizes the fact that a well-known type of childhood psychopathy exhibits the following symptoms: rude carelessness, egoism, and preoccupation with the fulfillment of elemental desires. Such children are unintelligent and weakly motivated, and their physical sensitivity (for example, pain sensitivity) is considerably lowered. In this, one sees a particular type which, from birth, is destined for asocial behavior, ethically handicapped with respect to inclinations, and so on. While the earlier term moral insanity implied an incurable condition, transferring these children into a different environment often shows that we are dealing with a particularly keen sensitivity and that the deadening this sensitivity is a means of self defense, of closing oneself off, and of surrounding oneself with a biological defensive armor against environmental conditions. In a new environment, such children display completely different characteristics. Such results occur when children’s characteristics and activities are examined not in isolation, but in their relation to the whole, in the dynamics of their development (Si duo paciunt idem non est idem). In theoretical terms, this example is indicative. It explains the emergence of alleged psychopathy, of an alleged defect (moral insanity), which was created in the imagination of the investigators. And this is why they were unable to explain the profound social unsuitability of the children’s development in similar cases. The significance of sociopsychogenic factors in the child’s development is so great that it could give the illusion of being a handicap, the semblance of illness, and an alleged psychopathy.


In the last two decades, scientific defectology has become aware of a new form of disability in children. In essence, it is a motor deficiency (M. O. Gurevich). Although oligophrenia (mental retardation) has always been characterized primarily by some mental defect or another, a new form of abnormal behavior-the underdevelopment of a child’s motor apparatus-has recently become the object of intense study as well as of practical and therapeutic pedagogical activity. This form of disability in children has various names. Dupre calls it debilite motrice (i.e., motor disability, by analogy with mental disability). While T. Heller calls it motor delay, and in extreme forms, motor idiocy. K. Jacob and A[?]. Homburger (1926a, 1926b) label it motor infantilism and M. O. Gurevich calls it motor deficiency. The essence of this phenomenon, as implied by the various nomenclatures, is a more-or-less pronounced developmental motor deficiency, which is in many ways analogous to the mental disability of oligophrenia.

This motor disability, to a large extent, permits compensation, motor functions, and the equalization of the handicap (Homburger, M. Nadoleczny, Heller). Motor retardation often and easily responds, within certain limits, of course, to pedagogical and therapeutic influence. Therefore, taken alone, motor delay requires, as in the scheme, the dual characterization: defect- compensation. The dynamics of this form of disability, like those of any other form, can be ascertained only if one takes into account the organ’s positive response stimuli, namely, those which compensate for the defect.

The introduction of this new form of deficiency into the inventory of science has had a fundamental and profound significance. This is not only because our definition of disability in children has broadened and been enriched by the knowledge of vitally important forms of abnormal development in a child’s motor system and the compensatory processes created by it but also, and principally, because it has demonstrated the relationship between this new form and other forms which were already known to us. For defectology (both theoretical and practical), the fact that this form of disability is not necessarily connected to mental retardation is of fundamental importance. “A deficiency of this type,” says Gurevich, “not infrequently coexists with mental deficiency. Sometimes, however, it may exist independently of it, just as mental deficiency may be present when the motor apparatus is well developed” (cf. Questions of Pedology and Child Psychoneurology, 1925, p. 316). Therefore, motor operations are of exceptional importance in the study of handicapped children. Motor delay may combine, in varying degrees, with all forms of mental retardation, thus creating a unique picture of childhood development and behavior. This form of disability can often be observed in deaf children. Naudacher [in a report in Gurevich, op.cit.] offers -statistics for the frequency with which this form of deficiency combines with other forms: 75 percent of all idiots, 44 percent of the imbeciles, 24 percent of the debiles, and 2 percent of normal children that were studied were found to have a motor disability.

It is not the statistical computation that is fundamentally important and decisive. Rather, it is the unquestionable proposition that motor delay can occur independently of any mental disability. It may be absent in the case of mental retardation and may exist in the absence of any mental deficiency. In instances of combined motor and mental deficiencies, each form has its own dynamics. Compensation for operations in one sphere may occur at a different tempo, in a different direction, than in another sphere. As a result, an extremely interesting interrelationship between these spheres is created in the process of a handicapped child’s development. Given the relative independence of the motor system from the higher mental functions and the fact that it is easily guided, it is often found to play a central role in compensating for mental defects and in equalizing behavior. Therefore, when studying a child we must not demand only a twofold characterization (motor and mental) but must also establish the relation between the two spheres of development. Very frequently this relation may be the result of compensation.

In many cases, according to K. Birnbaum’s view [no ref.], even real defects, embedded organically in cognitive behavior, can be compensated for, within certain limits, by training and through development of substitutional function; “motor training” which is now so highly valued. Experimental investigations and practical experience in school corroborate this. M. Knienegel, who has most recently conducted experimental research on the motor skills of mentally retarded children (M. Kruenegel, 1927), applied N.I. Ozeretskii’s metric scale of motor skills. Ozeretskii set himself the task of creating a method for determining motor development graduated by age level. Research has shown that motor skills are more highly developed than mental capabilities from one to three years, for 60 percent of all the children studied. In 25 percent of cases, motor skills coincided with cognitive development and they lagged behind in 15 percent. This means that motor development in a mentally retarded child most frequently outstrips his intellectual development at one to three years and only in one quarter of the cases coincides with it. On the basis of his experiments, Knienegel comes to the conclusion that about 85 percent of all mentally retarded children in auxiliary schools, with the appropriate education, are capable of work (trade, industrial, technical, agricultural, and so forth). It is easy to imagine the great practical significance that the development of motor skills can have in compensating, to a certain degree, for mental defects in mentally retarded children. M. Kruenegel, along with K. Bartsch, demands the creation of special classes for vocational training and for the development of motor skills for mentally retarded children (ibid.).

The problem of motor disability is A wonderful example of that unity in diversity which can be seen in the development of a handicapped child. Personality develops as a single entity, and as such, it reacts to the defect and to the destruction of equilibrium caused by the defect. It works out a new system of adaptation and a new equilibrium in place of the one destroyed. But precisely because personality represents a unit and acts as a single entity, its development involves the advances of a variety of functions which are diverse and relatively independent of each other. These hypotheses-the diversity of relatively developmentally independent functions, and the unity of the entire progress in personality development-not only do not contradict each other, but, as Stem has shown, reciprocally condition each other. The compensatory reaction of the entire personality, stimulated by the defect in another sphere, finds expression in intensified and increased development of some single function as, for example, motor skills.


The notion, expressed in the study of motor skills, that the separate functions of the personality are diverse and complex in structure, has recently pervaded all areas of development. When carefully analyzed, not only personality as a whole, but also its separate aspects reveal the same unity in diversity, the same complicated structure, and the same interrelationship of separate functions. One might say, without fear of error, that the development and expansion of scientific ideas about personality at the present time are moving in two, seemingly opposing directions: (1) discovery of its unity and (2) discovery of its complicated and diverse structure. In part, the new psychology moving in this direction has almost destroyed, once and for all, former notions about the unity and homogeneity of the intellect and that function which the Russians, not altogether accurately, call “giftedness” and which the Germans call Intelligenz.

Intellect, like personality, undoubtedly represents a single entity but is neither uniform nor simple. Rather, it is a diverse and complicated structural unity. Thus, Lindworsky reduces the intellect to the function of perceiving relationships, a function, which in his eyes, distinguishes humans from animals, and which gives thought unto thought. This function (the so-called intellect) is no more inherent in Goethe than to an idiot and the enormous difference which we observe in the thought processes of various people can be reduced to the life of ideas and memory (J. Lindworsky, 1923). We will return later to this paradoxically expressed, but profound idea of Lindworsky. Now, what is important to us is the conclusion which the author drew from his understanding of the intellect at the Second German Congress on Therapeutic Pedagogy. Any mental defect, Lindworsky affirmed, is based in the final analysis on one or another of the factors used in perceiving relationships. A mentally retarded child can never be presented simply as mentally retarded. It is always necessary to ask what constitutes the intellect’s deficits, because there are no possibilities for substitution, and they must be made available to the mentally retarded. In this formulation we already find the notion absolutely clearly expressed that various factors must enter into the composition of such a complicated education; that, corresponding to the complexity of its structure, there is not one but many qualitatively different types of mental disability; and finally, that because the intellect is so complex, its structure permits broad compensation of its separate functions.

This doctrine now meets with general agreement. O. Lipmann systematically traces the steps through which the development of the idea of overall ability has passed. In the beginning, it was identified with any single given function, for example, memory; the next step was the recognition that ability appears in an entire group of psychological functions (attention, synthesis, discrimination and so forth). C. Spearman distinguishes two factors in any rational activity: one is the factor specific to the given type of activity and the other is the general one, which he considers to be ability. A. Binet finally reduced the determination of ability to the mean of an entire series of heterogeneous functions. Only recently the experiments of R. Yerkes and W. Koehler on monkeys, and those of E. Stem and H. Bogen [no ref.] on normal and retarded children have established that not just one ability but many types of ability exist. Specifically, rational cognition coincides with a rational operation. For one and the same person, a certain type of intellect may be well developed and, simultaneously, another type may be very weak. There are two types of mental retardation – one affects cognition and the other operation; they do not necessarily coincide. (“There is,” says Lipmann, “a mental retardation of cognition and a mental retardation of operations.”) Similar formulations by Kenman, M. N. Peterson, P. Pinter, G. Thompson, E. Thomdike and others more or less recognize this (O. Lipmann, 1924). E. Lindemann applied the methods of W. Koehler, which were developed for experiments on monkeys, to severely retarded children. Among them, there appeared a group of severely retarded children who turned out to be capable of rational activity. Only their ability to remember new operations was extremely weak (E. Lindeman, 1926). This means that the ability to devise tools, to use them purposefully, to select them, and to discover alternate methodsthat is, of rational activity-was found to occur in severely retarded children. Therefore, we must select, as a separate sphere of research, practical intellect; namely, the ability for rational, purposeful activity (praktische, natuerliche Intelligenz). By its psychological nature, rational activity is different from motor ability and from theoretical intellect.

Lipmann and Stem’s suggested profiles of practical intellect are based on the criteria of practical intellect, laid out by Koehler, namely the ability to use tools purposefully. This ability undoubtedly has played a deciding role in the transition from monkey to man and which appeared as the first precondition of labor and culture.

A special qualitative type of rational behavior, relatively independent of other forms of intellectual activity, practical intellect may be combined in varying degrees with other forms, each time creating a unique picture of the child’s development of behavior. It may appear as the fulcrum of compensation, as the means of equalizing other mental defects. Unless this factor is counted, the entire picture of development, diagnosis, and prognosis will certainly be incomplete. Let us leave for a moment these questions of how many major types of intellectual activity can be discerned-two, three or mom-of what the qualitative characteristics of each type are, and of which criteria allow one to distinguish one given type from another. Let us limit ourselves to pointing out the profoundly qualitative distinctions between practical and theoretical (problematic) intellect, which have been established by a series of experimental studies. In particular, the brilliant experiments by Bogen on normal and mentally retarded (feebleminded) children without doubt revealed that the aptitude for rational, practical functioning represents a special and independent type of intellect; the differences in this area between normal and disabled children, established by the author, are very interesting (O. Lipmann and H. Bogen, 1923).

Studies on practical intellect have played and will long continue to play a revolutionizing role in the theory and practice of defectology. They raise the question of a qualitative study of mental retardation and its compensation, and of the qualitative determination of intellectual development in general. For example, by comparison with a blind child, a deaf-mute, whether mentally retarded or normal, turns out to be different in terms not of degree, but of type, of intellect. Lipmann speaks about the essential difference in origin and type of intellect and when one type prevails in one individual and another in another (O. Lipmann, 1924). Finally, even the idea of intellectual development has changed. Intellectual development is no longer characterized by merely quantitative growth, by a gradual strengthening and heightening of mental activity; rather, it boils down to the notion of transition from one qualitative type to another, to a chain of metamorphoses. In this sense, Lipmann brings up the profoundly important problem of qualitative characteristics of age, by analogy with the phases of speech development established by Stern (1922): the stages of speech about objects, actions, relationships, and so forth. The problem of complexity and heterogeneity in the intellect demonstrates new possibilities for compensating within the intellect itself. The fact that aptitude for rational performance is present in profoundly retarded children reveals vast and absolutely new perspectives for the education of such a child.


The history of cultural development in an abnormal child constitutes the most profound and critical problem in modem defectology. It opens up a completely new line of development in scientific research.

A normal child’s socialization is usually fused with the processes of his maturation. Both lines of development-natural and cultural-coincide and merge one into the other. Both series of changes converge, mutually penetrating each other to form, in essence, a single series of formative socio-biological influences on the personality. Insofar as physical development takes place in a social setting, it becomes a historically conditioned biological process. The development of speech in a child serves as a good example of the fusion of these two lines of development-the natural and the cultural.

This fusion is not observed in a handicapped child. Here the two lines of development usually diverge more or less sharply. The physical handicap causes this divergence. Human culture evolved in conditions of a certain stability and consistency in the human biological type. Therefore, its material tools and contrivances, its sociopsychological apparatuses and institutions are all intended for a normal psychophysiological constitution. The use of these tools and apparatuses presupposes, as necessary prerequisites, the presence of innate human intellect, organs, and functions. The creation of conformable functions and apparatuses conditions a child’s socialization; at a certain stage, if his brain and speech apparatus develop normally, he masters language; at another, higher stage of intellectual development, the child masters the decimal system of counting and arithmetic operations. The gradual and sequential nature of the socialization process is conditioned by organic development.

A defect creates a deviation from the stable biological human type and provokes the separation of individual functions, deficiencies or damage to the organs. It thereby generates a more or less substantial reorganization of the entire development on new bases and according to a new type: in doing all this, it naturally disturbs the normal course of the child’s acculturation. After all, culture has adapted to the normal typical human being and accommodates his constitution. Atypical development (conditioned by a defect) cannot be spontaneously and directly conditioned by culture, as in the case of a normal child.

From the point of view of the child’s physical development and formation, deafness, as a physical handicap, appears not to be a particularly severe disability. For the most part, deafness remains more or less isolated and its direct influence on development as a whole is comparatively small. It does not usually create any particularly severe damage or delays in overall development. But the muteness which results from this defect, the absence off human speech, creates one of the most severe complications of all cultural development. The entire cultural development of a deaf child will proceed along a different channel from the normal one. Not only is the quantitative significance of the defect different for both lines of development but, most importantly, the qualitative character of development in both lines will be significantly different. A defect creates certain difficulties for physical development and completely different ones for cultural development. Therefore, the two lines of development will diverge substantially from one another. The degree and character of the divergence will be determined and measured in each case by the different qualitative and quantitative effects of the defect on each of the two lines.

Frequently, unique, specially created cultural forms are necessary for cultural development in the handicapped child. Science is aware of a great number of artificial cultural systems of theoretical interest. Parallel to the visual alphabet used by all humanity is a specially created tactile alphabet for the blind-Braille. Dactylology, (i.e., the finger alphabet) and the gesticulated, mimed speech of the deaf-mute have been created alongside the phonetic alphabet of the rest of mankind. By comparison with the use of the usual cultural means, the process of acquiring and using these auxiliary cultural systems is distinguished by profoundly distinctive features. To read with the hand, as blind children do, and to read with the eye are different psychological processes, even if they fulfill one and the same cultural function in the child’s behavior and have similar physiological mechanisms at their base.

To formulate the problem of cultural development in a handicapped child as a particular line of development, governed by special laws, with its own particular difficulties and means of overcoming them, represents a serious goal for modem defectology. The notion of primitivism in a child is basic here. At the moment, it seems as though singling out a special type of psychological development among children, namely, the development pattern of the primitive child, meets with no objections from any direction, although there is still some controversy about the content of this idea. The meaning of the concept of primitivism is defined by its opposite--acculturation. Just as being handicapped is the polar opposite of ability, so primitiveness is the polar opposite of cultural development.

A primitive child is a child who has not completed cultural development. The primitive mind is a healthy one. In certain conditions the primitive child completes normal cultural development, and achieves the intellectual level of a cultured person. In this respect, primitivism is distinct from mental retardation. The latter is a result of a physical handicap; the mentally retarded are limited in their natural intellectual development and as a result of this do not usually attain full cultural development. With respect to natural development, on the other hand, a “primitive child” does not deviate from the norm. His practical intellect may reach a very high level, but he still remains outside cultural development. A “primitive” is an example of pure, isolated natural development.

For a long time, primitivism in a child was considered to be a pathological form of childhood development and was confused with mental retardation. In fact, the outward appearances of these two phenomena are often extremely similar. Limited psychological activity, stunted intellectual development, deductive inaccuracy, conceptual absurdity, impressionability, and so forth, can be symptoms of either. Because of the research methods currently available (Binet and others), the primitive child may be portrayed in a way that is similar to the portrayal of the mentally retarded. Special research methods are necessary to discover the true cause of unhealthy symptoms and to distinguish between primitivism and mental retardation. In particular, the methods for analyzing practical, natural intellect (natuerliche Intelligenz) may easily reveal primitivism with a completely healthy mind. A. E. Petrova, in giving us an excellent study of childhood primitivism and outlining its most important types, demonstrated that primitivism may equally combine with an exceptional, an average, and a pathological child’s mind (“Children Are Primitives,” in Gurevich (Ed), Questions of Pedology and Childhood Psycho-neurology. Moscow, 1925.

Instances in which primitivism combines with certain pathological forms of development are particularly interesting for the study of defects, since such instances occur most frequently in the histories of handicapped children’s cultural development. For example, psychological primitivism and delays in cultural development may very often be combined with mental retardation. It would be more accurate to say that delays in the cultural development of a child occur as a result of mental retardation. But in such mixed forms, primitivism and mental retardation remain two different natural phenomena. It is in just such a way that congenital or early childhood deafness usually combines with a primitive type of childhood development. But primitivism may occur without a defect. It may even coexist with a highly gifted mind. Similarly, a defect does not necessarily lead to primitivism but may also coexist with a highly cultured type of mind. A defect and psychological primitivism are two different things, and when they are found together, they must be separated and distinguished from one another.

An issue of particular theoretical interest is alleged pathology in a primitive individual. When analyzing a primitive little girl who spoke Tatar and Russian simultaneously and who was acknowledged to be psychologically abnormal, Petrova demonstrated that the entire complex of symptoms, implying illness, stemmed in fact from primitivism, which, in turn, was conditioned by the lack of command of either language. “Our numerous observations prove,” Petrova says, “that complete substitution of one poorly grasped language for another, equally lacking in fluency, does not occur without psychological repercussions. This substitution of one form of thought for another diminishes mental activity particularly when it is already not abundant” (ibid., p. 85). This conclusion permits us to establish precisely what constitutes cultural development from a psychological point of view and what, if missing, causes primitivism in a child. In the given example, primitivism is created by an imperfect command of language. But more generally, the process of cultural development basically depends on acquiring cultural psychological tools, which were created by mankind during its historical development and which are analogous to language from a psychological perspective. Primitiveness boils down to the inability to use such tools and to the natural forms in which psychological operations appear. Like all other higher psychological operations, all the higher forms of intellectual activity become possible only when given the use of similar kinds of cultural tools. “Language,” says Stern, “becomes a tool of great power in the development of his [the child’s – L.V.] life, his ideas, emotions and will; it alone ultimately makes possible any real thought, generalization and comparison, synthesis and comprehension” (W. Stern, 1923, p. 73).

These artificial devices, which by analogy with technology are sometimes called psychological tools, are directed toward mastering behavioral processes-someone else’s or one’s own-in the same way that technology attempts to control the processes of nature. In this sense, T. Ribot (1892) has called reflex attention natural and conscious attention artificial, seeing in it a product of historical development. The use of psychological tools modifies the whole course and structure of psychological function, giving them a new form.

During childhood, the development of many natural psychological functions (memory, attention) either are not observable to any significant degree or take place in insignificant quantities. There is no way, therefore, that the development of these functions alone can account for the enormous difference in the corresponding activities of children and adults. In the process of development, a child is armed and rearmed with the most varied of tools. A child in the more advanced stages is as different from a child in the younger stages as an adult is from a child--not only in the greater development of functions, but also in the degree and character of cultural preparedness, in the tools at his disposal, that is, in the degree and means he has of controlling the activity of his psychological functions. Thus, older children are distinguished from the younger ones in the same way adults are distinguished from children, and normal children are distinguished from the handicapped ones. They are distinguished not only by a more developed memory, but also by the fact that they remember differently, in different manners, by different methods; they use memory to a different degree.

The inability to use natural psychological functions and to master psychological tools in the most basic sense determines the kind of cultural development a handicapped child will attain. Mastering a psychological tool and, by means of it, one’s own natural psychological functions generates an artificial development, as it were; that is, it raises a given function to a higher level, increases and expands its activity. Binet explained experimentally the significance of making use of a psychological function with the help of a tool. In analyzing the memory of individuals with exceptional computational skills, he happened upon one individual with an average memory, but armed with a skill in remembering equal to and, in many respects, superior to that of those with exceptional computational skills. Binet called this phenomenon a simulated exceptional memory. “The majority of psychological operations can be simulated,” he says, “that is, they can be replaced by others, which are similar to them in externals alone, but which are different in nature” (A. Binet, 1894, p. 155). In the ,given case a difference was discovered between natural memory and artificial or technical-mnemonic memory, that is, a difference between two ways of using memory. Each of them, in Binet’s opinion, possesses its own kind of rudimentary and instinctive technical mnemonics. Technical mnemonics should be introduced in schools along with mental arithmetic and stenography---not in order to develop the intellect, but to make available a way of using memory (ibid., p. 164). It is easy to see in this example how natural development and the use of some functions as tools may not coincide.

There are three fundamental points which define the problem of cultural development for an abnormal child: the degree of primitivism in the childhood mind; the nature of his adoption of cultural and psychological tools; and the means by which he makes use of his own psychological functions. The primitive child is differentiated not by a lesser degree of accumulated experience, but by the different (natural) way in which it was accumulated. It is possible to combat primitivism by creating new cultural tools, whose use makes culture accessible to the child. Braille’s script and finger spelling (dactylology) are most powerful methods of overcoming primitivism. We know how often mentally retarded children are found to have not only a normal, but a highly developed, memory. Its use, however, almost always remains at the lowest level. Evidently, the degree of development of memory is one thing, and the degree of its use quite another.

The first experimental research into the use of psychological tools in handicapped children was recently carried out by followers of N. Ach. Ach himself, having created a method for analyzing functional word use as a means, or as a tool, for elaborating conceptualization, pointed out the fundamental similarity between this process and the process by which the deaf acquire language (1932 [sic], but probably 192 1). Bacher (1925) applied this method to an investigation of learning disabled children (debiles) and showed that this is the best method for analyzing mental retardation qualitatively. The correlation between theoretical and practical intellect turned out to be insignificant, and mentally retarded children (to the extent of their debilitation) could apply their practical intellect much better than their theoretical intellect. The author sees in this a correspondence with similar results achieved by Ach in his experiments with brain-damaged individuals. Because the mentally retarded do not use words as tools for working out ideas, higher forms of intellectual activity based on the use of abstract concepts are impossible for them (ibid.). How the mastering of one’s own psychological activity influences the execution of intellectual operations was discovered at the time of Bacher’s research. But this is precisely the problem. Stern considers these two means of using language as different stages in speech development. He said: “...But subsequently a decisive turnabout in speech development occurs again, a vague awareness of the meaning of language and the will to conquer it awakens” (1922, p. 89). The child makes the most important discovery of his life, that “everything has a name” (ibid.); that words are signs-they are the means of naming and communicating. It is this full, conscious, voluntary use of speech that a mentally retarded child apparently does not attain. As a result, higher intellectual activity remains inaccessible to him. F. Rimat 7 was completely justified in selecting this method as a test for examining mental ability; the ability or inability to use words is a decisive criterion of intellectual development (F. Rimat, 1925). The fate of all cultural development depends on whether children themselves make the discovery about which Stern speaks. Do they master words as fundamental psychological tools?

Studies of primitive children reveal literally the same thing. “How do a tree and a log differ?” Petrova asks one such child. “I haven’t seen a tree, I swear I haven’t seen one” (There is a linden tree growing in front of the window). In response to the question (while pointing to the linden tree) “And what is this?” comes the answer: “It’s a linden.” This is a primitive answer, in the spirit of those primitive people whose language has no word for “tree;” it is too abstract for the concrete nature of the boy’s mind. The boy was correct: none of us has seen a tree. We’ve seen birches, willows, pines and so forth, that is, specific species of trees (A.E. Petrova, in Gurevich (Ed.), 1925, p. 64). Or take another example. A girl “with two languages” was asked: “In one school some children write well, and some draw well. Do all the children in this school write and draw well?” “How should I know? What I haven’t seen with my own eyes, I cannot explain it as if I had seen with my own eyes...” (a primitive visual response) (ibid., p. 86). This nine-year old girl is absolutely normal, but she is primitive. She is totally unable to use words as a means of solving mental tasks, although she talks; she knows how to use words as a means of communication. She can explain only what she has seen with her own eyes. In the very same way, a “debile” draws conclusions from concrete object to concrete object. His inadequacy for higher forms of abstract thought is not a direct result of an intellectual defect; he is completely capable of other forms of logical thinking, of operations governed by common sense and so forth. He simply has not mastered the use of words as tools for abstract thinking. This incapacity is a result and a symptom of his primitivism, but not of his mental retardation.

Kruenegel (1926) is fully justified when he states that G. Kerschensteiner’s basic axiom does not apply to cultural development in a mentally retarded child. That axiom says that the congruence of one or another cultural form with the psychological structures of a child’s personality lies at the base of cultural development: the emotional structure of cultural forms should be entirely or partially adequate to the emotional structure of individuality (G. Kerschensteiner, 1924). The fundamental problem in a handicapped child’s cultural development is inadequacy, the incongruence between his psychological structure and the structure of cultural forms. What remains is the necessity of creating special cultural tools suitable to the psychological make-up of such a child, or of mastering common cultural forms with the help of special pedagogical methods, because the most important and decisive condition of cultural development-precisely the ability to use psychological tools-is preserved in such children. Their cultural development is, in principle, completely possible. In the use of artificial means (Hilfer) aimed at overcoming a defect, W. Eliasberg justifiably perceived a symptom which is differential, which allows us to distinguish mental retardation (demenz) from aphasia (W. Eliasberg, 1925). The use of psychological tools is, indeed, the most essential aspect of a child’s cultural behavior. It is totally lacking only in the mentally retarded.


We have taken a theoretical cross section of the most important problems of modem defectology noted above because a theoretical approach to the problem provides the most comprehensive, the most concise view, exposing the very essence, the nucleus, of the question. In fact, however, each of the issues merges with a series of practical-pedagogical, and concrete-methodological problems or, more precisely, boils down to a series of separate concrete questions. In order to tackle these issues, special considerations of each question would have been necessary. By limiting ourselves to the most general formulation of the problems, we will concisely indicate the presence of concrete, practical tasks in each problem. Thus, the problem of motor skills and motor deficiency is directly connected to the questions of physical training, and vocational and professional education for handicapped children. The problem of practical intellect is as closely connected with vocational training and with practical experience in acquiring daily living skills, the crux of all education for handicapped children. The problem of cultural development embraces all major questions of academic instruction. The problem of the analytical and artificial methods used in teaching speech to the deaf, which is particularly worrisome to defectologists, can be formulated with the following question: Should children be mechanically drilled in the simplest elements of speech skills, in the same fashion in which fine motor skills are cultivated? Or should children first and foremost be taught the ability to use speech, in other words, be taught the functional use of words as “intellectual tools?” as J. Dewey put it. The problem of compensation in a handicapped child’s development and the problem of social conditioning in this development includes all the issues involved in organizing communal living for children, in a children’s social movement, in sociopolitical education, in personality formation, and so forth.

Our account of the basic problems of being handicapped would stop short of its most essential point if we did not attempt to project a base line in practical defectology, which inevitably derives from this formulation of theoretical problems. What we have designated in theory as the transition from a quantitative understanding of a disability corresponds completely with the primary feature of practical defectology; the formulation of positive tasks confronting special schools. In special schools we can no longer be satisfied with simply a limited version of the public school curriculum or with the use of modified and simplified methods. The special schools confront the task of positive activity, of creating forms of work which meet the special needs and character of its pupils. Among those who have written on this question, A. S. Griboedov has expressed this thought most concisely, as we have already observed. If we reject the idea that a handicapped child is a lesser likeness of a normal child, then, unavoidably, we must also reject the view that special schools are prolonged versions of public schools. Of course, it is extremely important to establish with the greatest possible accuracy the qualitative differences between handicapped and normal children, but we cannot stop here. For example, we learn from numerous contemporary observations of the mentally retarded that these children have smaller cranial circumferences, smaller stature, smaller chest size, less muscle strength, reduced motor ability, lowered resistance to negative influences, delayed associations, and decreased attention and memory span, and that they are more prone to fatigue and exhaustion, less able to exert their will, and so forth (A. S. Griboedov, 1926). But we still know nothing about positive characteristics, about the children’s uniqueness: such is the research of the future. It is only half true to characterize such children as developmentally delayed in physical and psychological terms, weakened, and so forth; such negative characteristics in no way exhaust these children’s positive and unique features. It is not the individual fault of one researcher or another that positive material is lacking. Rather, it is a calamity shared by all of defectology, which is just beginning to reorganize its principal bases and thus to give new direction to pedological research. In any case, Griboedov’s basic conclusion formulates precisely this view: “In studying the pedology of retarded children, we can clearly see that the differences between them and normal children are not only quantitative, but also qualitative, and that consequently they need not stay longer in school, nor attend smaller classes, nor even associate with those who have similar levels and tempo of psychological development. Rather, they need to attend special schools, with their own programs, with unique methodologies and special pedagogical personnel” (1927, p. 19).

There is, however, a serious danger in formulating the question this way. It would be a theoretical mistake to make an absolute concept out of the developmental uniqueness of a child with one kind of defect or another, while forgetting that there are limits to this uniqueness prescribed by the social conditioning of the development. It is equally inaccurate to forget that the parameters of the special school’s uniqueness are described by the common social goals and tasks confronting both public and special schools. Indeed, as has already been said, children with a defect do not constitute “a special breed of people,” in K. Buerklen’s phrase. Instead, we discover that all developmental uniqueness tends to approximate determined, normal, social types. And, the school must play a decisive role in this “approximation.” The special school can set a general goal for itself; after all, its pupils will live and function not as “a special breed of people,” but as workers, craftspeople, and so forth, that is, as specific social units. The greatest difficulty and profoundest uniqueness of the special schools (and of all practical defectology) is precisely to achieve these common goals, while using unusual means to reach them. Similarly, the most important feature for the handicapped child is the final point, one held in common with normal children, but attained through unique developmental processes. If special means (a special school) were used to attain special goals, this would not warrant being called a problem; the entire issue stems from the apparent contradiction of special means to achieve precisely the same goals, which the public schools also set themselves. This contradiction is really only an apparent one: it is precisely in order that handicapped children achieve the same things as normal children, that we must employ utterly different means.

Chapter 1
Defect and Compensation


In those systems of psychology, which place at their center an integral approach to personality, the idea of overcompensation plays a dominant role. “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger” is the idea formulated by W. Stern when he pointed out that strength arises from weakness and ability from deficiencies (W. Stern, 1923, p. 145). The psychological trend created by the school of Adler, the Austrian psychiatrist, is very widespread and influential in Europe and America. This so-called “individual psychology” (i.e. the psychology of personality) has developed the idea of overcompensation into a whole system, into a complete doctrine about the mind. Overcompensation is not some rare or exceptional phenomenon in the life of an organism. An endless number of examples can be given demonstrating this concept. Rather, it is to the highest degree, a common and extremely widespread feature of living matter. True, until now no one has worked out an inexhaustible and comprehensive biological theory of overcompensation. In a series of separate areas of organic life, these phenomena have been studied so thoroughly and their practical application is so extensive that we have substantial grounds for talking about overcompensation as a scientifically established, fundamental fact in the life of an organism.

We inoculate a healthy child with a vaccine. The child endures a mild case of the disease and upon recovering becomes immune to smallpox for many years. This organism acquires an immunity, i.e. it not only has recovered from a mild illness which was brought on by inoculation, but comes out of the disease healthier than before. This organism succeeded in producing an antidote which was considerably stronger than the vaccine administered. If we now compare our child with others who have not been vaccinated, then we shall see that with respect to this terrible illness he is overly healthy: he will not only not become ill now, like other healthy children will, but he will not even be able to become sick, he will remain healthy even when this poison again infiltrates the bloodstream.

While at first glance paradoxical, this organic process which transforms sickness into superior health, weakness into strength, and infection into immunity, bears the label of superior overdevelopment or “overcompensation,” as some authors say. This means, essentially, that any injury to or negative influence on an organism evokes from it defensive reactions which are considerably more energetic and stronger than is necessary to render the immediate danger harmless. An organism represents a relatively closed, internally connected system of organs which possesses a large reserve of potential energy and concealed strengths. In a moment of danger it acts as a unified (integral) whole, which mobilizes its latent reserves of accumulated strengths and bombards the endangered location with much larger doses of the antidotes than the dose of bacteria threatening it. In this way, the organism not only compensates for the harm inflicted on it but always generates a surplus (of the antidote), gaining superiority over the danger and rendering the organism considerably more able to defend itself than before the onset of danger.

White blood cells rush to the infected area in greater quantity than is needed to combat the infection. This, too, is an example of overcompensation. If a tuberculosis patient is treated with an injection of tuberculin (i.e. tubercle bacillus) then the organism is being counted on to overcome it. The discrepancy between irritation and reaction, the inequality between the action and the counteraction within the organism, the surplus of the antidote, the cultivation of superior health through disease, and the ascendancy to a higher stage by overcoming danger are all important factors for medicine and pedagogy, treatment and education. Even in psychology this phenomenon was widely adopted when the mind began to be studied not in isolation from the organism --a soul dissected from the body-but within the organism’s system, as its distinct, unique and higher function. Overcompensation was found to play no lesser role in the system of personality. It will suffice to look at modem psychotechnics where such an important personality forming function as physical exercise essentially amounts to the phenomenon of overcompensation. Adler turned his attention to defectively functioning organs which had been impeded or destroyed as a result of a handicap. Such organs out of necessity enter into combat and struggle with the external world to which they must adjust. This struggle is accompanied at times by increased illness and fatality but it also bears the seeds of increased possibilities for overcompensation (A. Adler, 1927). In the case of illness or removal of one of two organs (a kidney, a lung), the other organ takes over the full function of both and develops in a compensatory manner. Similarly, the central nervous system takes over the compensation of a single impaired organ, determining more precisely and perfecting the work of that organ. The psychological system superimposes on that organ a psychological superstructure which elevates and increases the efficiency of the remaining organ’s operation.

“The sensation of having a defective organ constantly stimulates the individual’s psychological development,” Adler quotes O. Ruele (1926, p. 10).

The feeling or consciousness of one’s inferiority, caused by an individual’s defect, reflects an evaluation of one’s social position. This feeling becomes the primary driving force behind psychological development. “Significantly intensifying the phenomena of presentiment and foresight along with their operating factors such as memory, intuition, attention, sensitivity, interest, in a word, all the psychological features” (p. I 11), overcompensation leads to the consciousness of superior health in a diseased organism, to the transformation of an inferiority complex into a superiority complex, a defect into giftedness and ability. Having struggled with a speech defect, Demosthenes went on to become one of Greece’s greatest orators. It was said of him that he acquired his great art by increasing his natural handicap, by magnifying and multiplying the obstacles. He practiced his speech pronunciation, filling his mouth with stones and trying to overcome the roar of the ocean waves which muffled his voice. “Se non vero, ben trovato” (Even if it is not true, it is well thought up), goes the Italian proverb. The way to perfection is through the conquest of obstacles. The obstruction of a function stimulates a higher level of its operation. In similar ways, L. von Beethoven and A. S. Suvorov serve as examples of this. The stuttering K. Demulen was an outstanding orator; the blind, deaf-mute Helen Keller a famous writer and prophet of optimism.


Two circumstances force us to take a special look at this doctrine. First of all, particularly in the circles of German social democracy, it is often linked with the teachings of K. Marx. Second, this doctrine is intrinsically tied to pedagogy in theory and in practice. We will put this question aside inasmuch as the doctrine of individual psychology is connected with Marxism; the solution of this question would demand a special investigation. We note only that there have already been attempts made to synthesize Marx and Adler and to study personality within the context of the philosophical and social system of dialectical materialism. We are attempting to understand the reasoning behind the rapprochement of these two lines of thought.

A new direction has already emerged, separating itself from the school of S. Freud as a result of the differences in political and social views of the advocates of psychoanalysis. Apparently the political side played a significant role here inasmuch as F. Wittel (1925) tells how Adler and some of his supporters withdrew from the psychoanalytical circle. Adler and his nine friends were Social Democrats. Many of his followers like to stress this point. Ruele (1926, p. 5), who attempted to synthesize Marx and Adler in his work on the psychology of the proletarian child, states that “Sigmund Freud up until now has done every thing to make his teachings available and useful only to the reigning social strata. As a counterbalance, A. Adler’s individual psychology bears a revolutionary character and its conclusions fully coincide with the principles of Marxist revolutionary socialism.”

As has already been mentioned, all this is debatable, but there are two aspects which make such a rapprochement psychologically possible and warrant attention.

The first is the dialectical character of the new doctrine; the second is the social basis of the psychology of personality. Adler thinks dialectically: personality develops by means of opposition. A defect, ineptitude, or inferiority is not simply a minus, a shortcoming, a negative attribute, but also a stimulus for overcompensation. Adler introduces “the basic psychological law of dialectical transformation: as a result of a subjective feeling of inferiority, an organic defect will be transformed into a psychological drive to compensate and overcompensate” (A. Adler, 1927, p. 57). From this position Adler allows us to include psychology in the context of a broad biological and social doctrine. Indeed, all true scientific thought is advanced by means of dialectics. Even Charles Darwin taught that adaptation results from unfitness, from struggle, destruction, selection. Marx, too, taught that in contrast to utopian socialism, the development of capitalism will inevitably lead to communism through the demise of the capitalistic dictatorship of the proletariat and will not retreat to the sidelines somewhere, as might seem possible from a superficial glance. Adler’s teachings also attempt to illustrate how an expedient and higher level arises from an inexpedient lower level.

As A. B. Zalkind correctly noted, the psychology of personality breaks away from the “biological stimulus approach to personality” and manifests itself “as a really revolutionary characterological movement” because, in contrast to the teachings of Freud, it puts the dynamic, formulating forces of history and social life in the place of biological fate (1926, p. 177). Adler’s teachings stand in opposition not only to the reactionary biological schemes of E. Kretschmer, for whom an innate constitution defines body structure, while character and “the entire subsequent development of human character is equated with a passive unfolding of that basic biological type inherent in man” (Zalkind, ibid. p. 174). Adler’s teachings, however, are also in opposition to Freud’s characterological system. Two ideas set Adler apart from Freud: the idea of the social basis for the development of personality and the idea of the ultimate direction of this process. Individual psychology negates the essential connection between the organic substrata and the overall psychological development of personality and character. The entire psychological life of an individual consists of a succession of combative objectives, directed at the resolution of a single task: to secure a definite position with respect to the immanent logic of human society, or to the demands of the social environment. In the last analysis, the fate of personality is decided not by the existence of a defect in itself but by its social consequences, by its socio-psychological realization. In connection with this, it becomes necessary for the psychologist to understand each psychological act not only with respect to the past but also in conjunction with the future direction of personality. We may call this the ultimate direction of our behavior. Simply put, understanding psychological phenomena from the perspective of both the future and the past essentially represents the dialectical need to perceive phenomena in eternal movement, and to bring to light their future oriented tendencies, determined by the present. Adler’s teachings on the structure of personality and character introduce a new and profound future-oriented perspective, which is valuable for psychology. It frees us from the conservative, backward-looking teachings of Freud and Kretschmer.

Just as the life of each organism is directed by the biological need to adapt, so, too, the dynamics of personality are guided by daily social demands. “We are not in a position to think, feel, want, or act without some kind of goal before us,” states Adler (1927, p. 2). Both a single act and the development of personality as a whole may be understood on the basis of their future-oriented tendencies. In other words, “The psychological life of a man, like a dramatic character created by a good playwright, strives for its final denouement of the fifth ace’ (ibid., pp. 2-3).

The future-oriented perspective, introduced by this interpretation of psychological processes, brings us to one of the two aspects of Adler’s method which compels our attention: individual psychological pedagogy. In Wittel’s opinion, pedagogy is the main area of application of Adler’s psychology. At the same time, with respect to the psychological trend we have just described, pedagogy occupies the same place that medicine does for the biological sciences, engineering for physics, and chemistry and politics for the social sciences: namely, the highest category of truth, since man proves the truth of his thoughts only by application. From the outset, it is clear why precisely this psychological movement helps us understand child development and child rearing: in the unsocialized and unadapted state of childhood lie the very seeds of overcompensation, or the superior overdevelopment of functions. The more adapted some young animal species are, the smaller their potential for future development and rearing. A guarantee of superiority is given only in the presence of inferiority. Hence, ineptness and overcompensation represent the motive forces of childhood development. Such an understanding gives us the key to classical psychology and pedagogy. Just as the flow of a current is defined by its shores and its river beds, similarly, the main psychological line of a growing child’s development is defined out of objective necessity by the social channel and social shorelines shaping personality.


The doctrine of overcompensation has an important significance and serves as a psychological basis for the theory and practice of educating a child with a loss of hearing, sight, and so forth. What horizons will open up to the pedagogue, when he recognizes that a defect is not only a minus, a deficit, or a weakness but also a plus, a source of strength and that it has some positive implications! In essence, psychologists learned this a long time ago; pedagogues have also known this. Only now, however, has this most fundamental law been formulated with scientific accuracy. A child will want to see everything if he is nearsighted, hear everything if he has a hearing loss; he will want to speak if he has a speech problem or a stutter. The desire to fly will appear in children who experience great difficulty even jumping (A. Adler, 1927, p. 57). The dynamic forces of any educational system spring precisely from this opposition between a given organic defect and desires, fantasies, and dreams, that is, the psychological drive to compensate for the defect or loss. In educational practice, this is confirmed at every step. If we hear that a boy limps and therefore runs better than anyone else, we understand that it is a question of this very law. If experimental research shows that, in comparison with the maximum reactions occurring under normal conditions, greatly accelerated and intensified reactions will occur in the face of obstacles, then again we have the same law.

The concept of exemplary human personality which includes an understanding of its organic unity must serve as the basis for educating an abnormal child.

In contrast with other psychologists, W. Stem examined the structure of personality in greater depth. He presumed the following, “We have no right to conclude that a person with an established abnormality has a propensity for abnormality. In the same light it is impossible to reduce a given abnormal personality to a specific isolated characteristic as the sole primary cause” (W. Stem, 192 1, pp. 163 -164).

We shall apply this law to somatics and psychology, to medicine and pedagogy. In medicine, there is a growing tendency to base the sole criterion for health or illness on the question of whether or not the entire organism functions expediently, while individual abnormalities are taken into account only inasmuch as they are normally or insufficiently compensated for by other functions of the organism (ibid., p. 164). Moreover, in psychology, microscopic analysis of abnormalities has led to reevaluation and an examination of these functions as an expression of an overall abnormality in the personality. If we are to apply Stern’s ideas to education, then it will be necessary to reject both the concept and the term “defective (handicapped) children.”

T. Lipps examined this question in the light of a general law for all psychological activity, which he called the law of damned up energy (zakon zaprudy).

If any psychological event is interrupted or impeded in its natural course, or if, at some point, an alien element intrudes, then there occurs a flood of energy at the point of interruption, delay, or agitation in the course of the psychological event” (T. Lipps, 1907, p. 127). “Energy is concentrated at the given point; it is increased and can overcome the delay. It may continue to flow but in a roundabout way. Here, among other things, the high value placed on things lost or damaged is relevant” (ibid., p. 122). This constitutes the main idea of overcompensation. Lipps gave this law universal significance. In general, he viewed any drive as a manifestation of this phenomenon (“of flooding’). He explained not only comic and tragic experiences but also cognitive processes by the operation of this law: “When there appears some obstacle, any purposeful activity will necessarily be channeled through some previous aimless, automatic event.” Present in the dammed up energy is the “tendency to move to one side. The goal, which is impossible to reach by a direct path, is attained thanks to an overflow of force channeled by one such detour” (ibid., p. 279).

The goal of any mental process can be attained only thanks to some difficulty, delay, or obstacle. The point of interruption of any automatic function becomes a goal for other functions; now directed at this point, they are transformed into purposeful (goal-oriented) activity. For this reason, a defect and the resultant disruption of the normal functioning of personality become the ultimate developmental goal -for all individual mental powers. This is why Adler called a defect the basic motivating force in development and the final goal in life’s plan. The formula “defect overcompensation” is the main line of development for a child with some functional or organic defect. Thus, the “goal” is defined beforehand, yet it only seems to be the goal, when in fact it is the primary cause of development.

The education and rearing of handicapped children should be based on the fact that along with a defect come combative psychological tendencies and the potential for overcoming the defect. Education of these children should take into account that precisely these tendencies emerge in the foreground of a child’s development and must be included in the educational process as his motivating strength. Constructing the entire educational process on the basis of natural compensatory drives does not mean alleviating all difficulties that arise as a result of the defect. It means instead concentrating all strengths on the compensation of the defect, selecting, in the appropriate sequential order, those tasks which will bring about the gradual formation of the entire personality from a new standpoint.

What a liberating truth for the pedagogue! A blind child develops a psychological superstructure circumventing his impaired vision with only one goal in mind: to replace sight. Using every possible means available to him, a deaf child works out ways to overcome the isolation and seclusion caused by his deafness. Up to now we have neglected these psychological powers. We have not taken into account the desire with which such a child struggles to be healthy and fully accepted socially. A defect has been statically viewed as merely a defect, a minus.

Education has neglected the positive forces created by a defect. Psychologists and pedagogues have not been acquainted with Adler’s law of the opposition between a physical handicap and the psychological drives to compensate. They have taken into account only the former, the defect. They didn’t understand that a handicap is not just an impoverished psychological state but also a source of wealth, not just a weakness but a strength. They thought that the development of a blind child centers on his blindness. As it turns out, his development strives to transcend blindness. The psychology of blindness is essentially the psychology of victory over blindness.

An inaccurate understanding of the psychology of the handicapped has caused the failure of traditional education for blind and deaf children. The previous understanding of a defect only as a defect is similar to the view that the vaccination of a healthy child merely cultivates disease in him. In fact, it produces superior health. It is most important that education depend not only on the development of natural strengths but also on the ultimate goal toward which they must be oriented. Full social esteem is the ultimate aim of education inasmuch as all the processes of overcompensation are directed at achieving social status.

Compensation strives not for further deviation from the norm, even in a positive sense, but for a superior, if somewhat one-sided, twisted, hypertrophied development of personality, it nevertheless strives in the direction of the norm and toward an approximation of a certain normal social type. A definite social type always serves as the norm for overcompensation. We will find in a deaf-mute child, cut off from the world and excluded from all social contact, not a decreased desire to communicate but an intensified desire to be included in social life. Such a child’s psychological capacity for speech is in reverse proportion to his physical ability to produce speech. Although it may seem paradoxical, a deaf child, even more than a normal child, wants to speak and vigorously (impetuously) gravitates toward speech. Our educational system has sidestepped this issue, and the deaf, without any instruction and in spite of it, have created their own language, arising from this desire to communicate. This is something for the psychologist to examine. Herein lies the reason why the deaf-mute have failed to develop oral speech. In exactly the same way, a blind child develops an increased ability to master space. In comparison with a seeing child, the blind child has a greater sensitivity toward that world which is accessible to us without the slightest difficulty, thanks to sight. A defect is not only a weakness but also a strength. In this psychological truth lie the alpha and omega of social education for children.


The ideas of T. Lipps, W. Stern, and A. Adler contain a wholesome nucleus for the psychology of the education of handicapped children. These ideas, however, are obscured by their vagueness, and in order to completely grasp their significance, we must explain more precisely how they relate to other psychological theories and views which are similar in form or spirit.

First of all, the unscientific optimism which spawned these ideas easily arouses our suspicions. If every defect gives reign to some compensatory strength, then it can be seen as a blessing. Is this really true? Overcompensation, in fact, is only one extreme of two opposite outcomes, one of two possible poles of development affected by a defect. The other extreme is the total failure to compensate, retreat into illness, neurosis, complete asociality from a psychological standpoint. Unsuccessful compensation transforms the child’s energies into a defensive battle with illness, directed toward a false goal, heading life’s entire course along a false path. Between these two extremes we find every possible degree of compensation from minimal to maximal.

Secondly, these ideas are easily confused with directly opposing views and can be mistaken for a return to the past, to a Christian mystical notion of weakness and suffering. Do we not find in the ideas indicated above a high value placed on the superiority of illness at the expense of health, on the recognition of the benefit of suffering, and, in general, on the cultivation of weak, wretched, and impotent forms of life to the detriment of the strong, the normal, and the powerful? No, the new doctrine places a high value not on suffering itself but on overcoming it; not on the humble acceptance of a defect but on mutiny against it; not on weakness alone, but on the impulses and sources of strength engendered in it. Thus, the new doctrine is diametrically opposed to the Christian understanding of the sick. At issue is not poverty but potential wealth of spirit; misery becomes the impulse for overcoming weakness and building up strength. There is a close affinity between Adler’s ideal of strength or power and the philosophy of F. Nietzsche, for whom the will to power was the primary motivating drive in man’s psychological makeup. However, Adler’s view that social significance is the ultimate goal of compensation just as clearly divorces psychology both from the Christian ideal of weakness and from the Nietzschean cult of individual strength.

Third, we must distinguish the doctrine of defect-overcompensation from the old, naive biological theory of organic compensation or, in any case, from the theory of the substitution of sensory organs [lit.: vicarious sensory organs]. Doubtless, this view already contained the first presentiment of that truth which states that the failure of one function serves as the impetus for the development of other compensatory functions. But this presentiment is expressed naively and is distorted. The relationship between sensory organs may be compared to the relationship between paired organs; touch and hearing directly compensate for the loss of sight in the same manner as one healthy kidney will take over the function of the other diseased one. In this case the impaired organ (the eye) automatically capitulates to the healthy organs and recedes into the background while the ear and skin, leaping over all sociopsychological instances, are stimulated to compensate. After all, loss of sight does not affect the vital and necessary functions. Science and practice have long since exposed the shortcomings of this theory. Factual research has shown that intensification of hearing and touch does not occur automatically as a result of impaired vision (K. Buerklen, 1924). On the contrary, in a blind child we are dealing not with the possibility of sight being automatically replaced but with the difficulties arising from its absence. These difficulties are resolved by the development of a psychological superstructure. Thus, we encounter the view that the blind possess a heightened memory, intensified attention, and enhanced verbal skills. A. Petzeld, who has written the best work on the psychology of the blind (Petzeld, 1925), saw precisely the basic characteristic of overcompensation in this phenomenon. He proposes that what is the most distinctive feature in the personality of the blind is the power to internalize by means of speech the social experience of the seeing. H. Grisbach has shown that the teachings on the transference of one sense organ have not withstood criticism: a blind person is brought just as near to the seeing world as he is removed from it by this theory of transference (ibid., pp. 30-3 1). There really is a kernel of truth in the theory that a defect is not, limited to its isolated functional failure but also involves a radical reconstruction of the entire personality. A defect brings to life new psychological powers and gives them new direction. Only a naive understanding of the purely organic nature of compensation, a disregard of the sociopsychological aspect of this process, and an ignorance of the ultimate direction and overall nature of overcompensation distinguish the old doctrine from the new one.

Fourth, we must finally ascertain the true implications of Adler’s doctrine judging by our recently formed therapeutic social pedagogy based on the data of reflex psychology. The distinction between these two circles of ideas can be summed up with the statement that our doctrine of conditional reflexes offers a new basis for constructing a mechanism for the educational process, the doctrine of overcompensation offers a new mechanism for understanding the very process of child development. Many authors, including this one, have analyzed the education of the blind and deaf from the point of view of conditional reflexes and have come to a more profound and important conclusion: There is no fundamental difference between the education of a seeing and a blind child. New conditional connections are formed identically from any input. The effect of organized external influences is a determining factor in education. The first school directed by I. A. Sokolianskii worked out a new method for teaching deaf-blind children speech on the basis of this doctrine and with it achieved both amazing practical results and theoretical positions, which surpass the most progressive systems of European special education for the hearing impaired. We must not, however, stop here. It is impossible to think that theoretically all differences between the education of the blind, deaf, and normal children can be limited. This is impossible because, in fact, a difference exists and makes itself known. Historically, all past experiences with education for the deaf and the blind attest to this. It is still absolutely necessary to take into account the specific developmental characteristics of a child with a defect. The educator must become aware of those specific features and factors in children’s development which respond to their uniqueness and which demand it. From a pedagogical point of view, a blind or deaf child may, in principle, be equated with a normal child, but the deaf or blind child achieves the goals of a normal child by different means and by a different path. It is also particularly important for the educator to know precisely the uniqueness of the path on which he must lead the child since it is impossible to state that blindness does not cause a profoundly unique main line of development.

Essentially, the ultimate character of all psychological acts-their future-oriented directedness -becomes apparent in the most elementary forms of behavior. Goal-oriented behavior had already been observed in the simplest forms of behavior which the Pavlovian school studied from the point of view of conditional reflex mechanisms. Among innate reflexes, Pavlov discovered a unique goal-oriented reflex. With this contradictory label he probably intended to point out two factors: (1) the fact that even here we are dealing with a reflex mechanism; and (2) the fact that this mechanism takes on the appearance of purposeful activity, that is, becomes intelligible only in relation to the future. “All life is the realization of one goal,” says Pavlov, “the preservation of life..” (195 1, p. 308). Indeed, he called this reflex the reflex of life. “All of life’s advancements, all its culture, are achieved by means of this goal-directed reflex and is achieved only by those people striving to attain a specific goal which they themselves have set” (ibid., p. 3 10). Pavlov straightforwardly formulated the significance of this reflex for education. His ideas coincide with the theory of compensation. “For a complete, true and fruitful manifestation of the goal reflex,” he says, it must be placed under a specific amount of stress. An Anglo-Saxon, the highest embodiment of this reflex, knows this well, and therefore he will answer the question: ‘What is the main condition for achieving a goal?’ in a manner most unexpected and incredible to a Russian’s eye and ear with the answer: ‘The existence of obstacles.’ It is as if he were saying: ‘Let my goal-reflex exert itself in response to some obstacle and precisely then I will attain my goal, no matter how difficult it may be.’ It is interesting that the possibility of failure is totally ignored with such an answer” (ibid., p. 311). Pavlov regretted that we do not have “any practical knowledge about such an important factor in life as the goal reflex; this knowledge is so essential in all areas of life, beginning with the most fundamental education” (ibid., pp. 311-312).

C. Sherrington has said the same about this reflex. In his opinion, a reflex reaction cannot really be understood by a physiologist without knowledge of its goal, and he can ]eam about this goal only by examining reaction in light of the whole organic complex of normal functions. This position guarantees the right to synthesize both psychological theories. “The strategic position of the Adlerites,” A. B. Zalkind states, “represents the very same dominant point, not only in general physiological terms but also in clinical and psychotherapeutic formulations” (quoted in Advancements in Reflexology, 1925, p. vi). The author sees the actual theoretical correspondence of these two theories as a confirmation of the “correctness of this basic path,” along which both are headed (ibid.).

The experimental research, already cited, demonstrating that reaction may be strengthened and accelerated in the presence of opposing and obstructing stimulations, may be analyzed simultaneously with respect both to a manifestation of [an impulse for] dominance and a manifestation of overcompensation. L. L. Vasil’ev and I have described these phenomena under the label of dominant processes (Bekhterev, and. Vasil’ev, 1926, L.S. Vygotsky, 1982). V.P. Protopopov has shown that, judging by the greater persistency and intensity of concentration developing as reaction, “The physically handicapped surpass normal people” (1925, p. 26); he explained this by the characteristics of the dominant process. This means that the potential for overcompensation is greater in the handicapped.

It is impossible to analyze questions of education without a future perspective. Detailed examination will lead us to conclusions which attest to this fact. Thus, I. A. Sokolianskii came to the paradoxical conclusion that the education of the deaf-blind is easier than the education of the deaf-mute, the education of the deaf-mute easier than that of the blind, that of the blind easier than that of normal children while, in fact, this sequence is really established by the degree of complexity and difficulty of the pedagogical process. He saw in this the direct result of the application of reflexology to a reexamination of the views on abnormality. “This is not a paradox,” asserts Sokolianskii, “but the natural deduction of the new views on the nature of man and the essence of speech” (in The Ukrainian Herald of Reflexology..., 1926). Protopopov came to a similar conclusion in his experimental research, namely that for the blind-deaf “the opportunity for social communication can be established with extreme ease (1925, p. 10).

How do such psychological presuppositions benefit pedagogy? It is absolutely clear that it is beneficial to compare the education of blind-deaf children with that of normal children on the basis of the degree of difficulty and complexity only when we have in mind equal pedagogical goals under various conditions (normal, hearing children). Only a common task and a single level of pedagogical achievements can serve as the overall measure of difficulty of education in both cases. It would be foolish to ask which is more difficult: to teach a gifted eight-year-old child the multiplication table or a retarded child advanced math. Here the ease in the first case is conditioned not by specific traits but by the easiness of the task. It is easier to teach a blind-deaf child because the level of his development, the aspiration for his development, and the educational goals to be met are minimal. If we wish to teach the normal child only the minimum, hardly anyone will argue that this would demand more work. On the contrary, if we were to assign the teacher of the deaf the same large-scale tasks facing the educator of a normal child, hardly anyone would undertake the task, let alone seek to do it with less effort. Who can more easily be developed into a specific social unit such as a worker, a shop-assistant or a journalist; a normal child or one who is blind and deaf.? One can only answer this question in more than one way. As Protopopov states, for the deaf-mute the opportunities for social communication are easily established, however, in minimal proportions. A club for the deaf or a boarding school (internat) will never become the center of social life. Or let it first be proven that it is easier to teach a blind-deaf child to read a newspaper or to enter into social discourse, than it is a normal child. Such conclusions inevitably arise if we examine only the mechanics of education without taking into consideration the course of development of the child himself and his perspectives.

The operation of overcompensation is determined by two features: by the range and extent of a child’s disability, the degree of divergence in his behavior, and the social demands made for his education, on the one hand, and by the compensatory reserve and the wealth and diversity of functions on the other hand. This reserve is meager in a blind-deaf child; his ineptness is huge. Therefore, it is not easier but immeasurably more difficult to educate blind-deaf children than normal children, if the same results are desired. As a result of all these constraints, what remains and has a deciding significance for education is the possibility that a child with defects may achieve full, even superior social standing. This is achieved exceedingly seldom. However, the possibility itself for successful overcompensation stands out like a blazing torch, like a lighthouse guiding the path of education.

To think that every defect will I inevitably have a fortunate outcome is just as naive as it is to think that every illness will certainly be ultimately cured. Above all, we need a temperate view and realistic evaluations. We know that the problems in overcompensating such defects as blindness and deafness are enormous: the compensatory reserve is poor and insufficient and the developmental path exceedingly difficult.

Therefore it is even more important to know the correct direction. In fact, even Sokolianskii took this into account, and to it he owes the large success of his system. It is not this theoretical paradox which is so important for his method, but an excellent, practical, conditional setting for education. According to his method mimicry (sign language) not only becomes absolutely pointless but the children themselves do not use it even on their own initiative. On the contrary, oral speech becomes an insurmountable physiological need for them (in The Ukrainian Herald of Reflexology..., 1926). This is something about which not a single method in the world can boast and which serves as the clue for the education of the deaf-mute. If oral speech becomes a necessity and supplants mimicry for the children, then it means that instruction is directed along a line of natural overcompensation of deafness; its direction is in line with and not in conflict with the children’s interests.

Traditional instruction in oral speech, like a worn cogwheel, did not mesh with the whole mechanism of a child’s natural strengths and drives. It did not stimulate inner compensatory activity and was therefore ineffectual. Beaten into children with classical cruelty, oral speech became the official language of the deaf. The task of education, however, must be summed up as a mastery of a child’s inner developmental strengths. If Sokolianskii’s chain method has achieved this, then it is because the method in fact incorporated and mastered the forces of overcompensation. These initial successes are not a reliable indicator of the merits of the method; this is a question of techniques and their perfection. Finally, it is a question of practical success. Only the physiological need for speech ensures success and is of primary importance here. If the secret for creating this need (i.e., establishing the goal) has been discovered, it is speech itself.

The position established by Petzeld has the same meaning and value for the education of the blind: the possibility of knowledge for a blind person means the possibility of acquiring full knowledge of everything; a blind person’s potential for understanding means basically the possibility of understanding everything completely (A. Petzeld, 1925). As the author sees it, two characterological features categorize the entire psychological makeup and structure of personality in a blind person: an unusual spatial limitation and a total mastery of speech. A blind person’s personality grows out of the struggle between these two factors. To what extent Petzeld’s principle will be realized in a blind person’s life, what measures and what time frame will be needed for its implementation, are questions for the practical development of education. After all, even normal children, more often than not, fail to realize their full potential in the course of their education. Does the proletarian child really achieve that degree of development for which he has the potential? The same can be said of blind children. However, in order to correctly design even a modest educational plan, it is extremely important to discard the constraints limiting our mental outlook, that is, those constraints which supposedly, by their very nature, frame the special development of such a child. It is important that education aim to realize social potential fully and consider this to be a real and definite target. Education should not nurture the thought that a blind child is doomed to social inferiority.

Summing up, let us dwell on one example. Although in recent times scientific analysis has worked to deemphasize the legend of H. Keller, nevertheless her fate best illustrates the entire course of our thoughts developed here. One psychologist noted absolutely correctly that if Keller had not been blind and deaf, she would never have achieved the development, influence, and fame, which came her way. How is one to understand this? First of all, it means that her serious handicaps evoked enormous compensatory powers. But this is still not all: you see, her reserve of compensations was excessively meager. Secondly, this means that if it had not been for an exceptionally fortunate concurrence of circumstances, which transformed her handicap into social pluses, she would have remained an underdeveloped, plain inhabitant of provincial America. But Helen Keller became a sensation; she became the center of social attention; she turned into a celebrity, a national hero, into a miracle for many millions of American citizens. She became the pride of the people, a fetish. Her handicap became socially useful to her; it did not create an inferiority complex. She was surrounded by luxury and fame; special steamboats were even made available for her educational excursions. Her education became the concern of the entire country. Immense social demands were made of her: there were those who wanted to see her become a doctor, a writer, a preacher! And she became all of these. Now it is almost impossible to tell what really belonged to her and what was done for her by citizen demand. This fact best illustrates the role played by the social demand for her education. Keller herself wrote that if she had been born into a different setting, she would have sat in eternal darkness and her life would have been a wasteland, cut off from any communication with the outside world (1910). In her biography everyone recognized living proof of independence, strength and spiritual life, entrapped in the body’s prison. Even given “ideal external influences on Helen Keller,” one author writes, -we would not have seen her rare book, if her dynamic, powerful, albeit caged-in spirit had not burst forth irrepressibly to meet this influence from the outside"* (H. Keller, 1910, p. 8). Understanding that the condition of being deaf-blind is not only the sum of two components and that “the essence of the concept of deafness and blindness goes much deeper” (ibid., p. 6), the author seeks this essence in a traditional religious, spiritual interpretation; yet the life of Helen Keller did not contain anything mysterious. Her life graphically demonstrates that the process of overcompensation can be defined entirely by two factors: by the popular social demand for her development and education, and by her reserve of psychological forces. This widespread social demand for Helen Keller’s development and for a successful social victory over her handicaps determined her fate. Her defect not only did not become a brake but was transformed into a drive which insured her development. This is why Adler is right when he advises us to examine and act in connection with the integral life plan and its ultimate goal (A. Adler, 1927). Even Kant thought, according to A. Neyer, that we will understand an organism, if we analyze it as a rationally constructed machine; Adler advises us to examine the individual as a personified tendency toward development.

There is not a grain of stoicism in the traditional education of children with mental defects. This education has been weakened by a tendency toward pity and philanthropy; it has been poisoned by morbidness and sickliness. Our education is insipid; it nips the pupil in the bud; there is no salt to this education. We need tempered and courageous ideas. Our ideal is not to cover over a sore place with cotton wadding and protect it by various methods from further bruises but to clear a wide path for overcoming the defect, for overcompensation. For this we need to assimilate these socially oriented processes. However, in our psychological grounding for education, we are beginning to lose the distinction between the upbringing of animal offspring and the upbringing of children, between training and true education. Voltaire joked that, having read J. J. Rousseau, he felt like walking on all fours. This is precisely the feeling which almost all our new science about the child evokes: it often examines a child as if he were on all fours. This notably, is what P. P. Blonskii recognized. “I like very much to put a toothless child in the pose of a four legged animal: it always tells me a lot personally” (1927, p. 27). Strictly speaking, science has studied the child only in this position. A. B. Zalkind calls this the zoological approach to childhood (1926). There can be no argument: this approach to the study of a human being as one of the animal species, as a higher mammal form, is very important. But this is not all and not even the main thing for the theory and practice of education. S. L. Frank, 5 continuing Voltaire’s symbolic joke, says that, in contrast to Rousseau, nature for Goethe “does not negate, but straightforwardly demands the vertical position for man; it does not call man back to a simplified prehistoric primitivity, but forward toward the development and a greater complexity of human nature” (1910, p. 358). Of these two poles, the ideas expressed here are closer to those of Goethe than to those of Rousseau. If the doctrine on conditional reflexes traces man’s horizontal course then, the theory of overcompensation gives him a vertical line.

Chapter 2
Principles of Education for Physically Handicapped Children


The Revolution, which redesigned our schools from top to bottom, barely affected the special schools for handicapped children. In schools for blind, deaf-mute and mentally retarded children, everything stands now precisely as it did before the Revolution, if one does not take into account a few unessential mechanical changes. Thus, work remains even now unrelated in theory and in practice to general principles of social education and to our Republic’s system of public education. The problem is that in order to connect abnormal child education (education for the deaf, the blind, the mentally retarded, and so forth) with the general principles and methods of social education, we must find a system which would successfully coordinate special education with normal education. Before us stands the enormous creative task of rebuilding our schools on new principles. We must project basic policies for such an undertaking, in other words, start from the beginning.

Given all of its merits, our special school is noted for one basic shortcoming: be they blind, deaf-mute, or mentally retarded children, the special school locks its pupils into the narrow circle of the school collective; it creates a small, separated, and secluded world; everything is adjusted and adapted to the child’s defect. Everything focuses attention on the physical handicap of the child and does not introduce the child to real life. Instead of helping children escape from their isolated worlds, our special school usually develops in them tendencies which direct them toward greater and greater isolation and which enhance their separatism. Because of these shortcomings, not only does the overall upbringing of the child become paralyzed but even special education sometimes amounts to almost naught. Take, for example, the speech of a deaf-mute child. In spite of excellent instruction in oral speech, the speech of a deaf child remains in embryo because the secluded world in which he lives does not create a need for it.

Such a secluded system of education for the blind, deaf-mute, and mentally retarded came to us from Germany, where it flourished and was developed to its logical limits.

Therefore, at first glance, it served as a tempting example. If you read the description of German special schools, you will see that they represent far from-ordinary-schools. They grew into a series of very complex institutions, which have as their final goal the expansion and advancement of certain special devices for blind and deaf-mute children, to which they have become accustomed in school and which they cannot do without. The number of institutions often exceeds several dozen. If you pursue this, you will learn that some well endowed schools even own small banks in order to open up credit for the blind and deaf-mute for the purpose of trading and trade activity in their future lives. All such institutions serve the same goal: social charity. In this way, a certain type of fortress is created, solidly conquering for itself a comer of the outside world, and nevertheless bequeathing a certain position on the defective child, even after leaving school. In Germany, even a university education for the blind has until now worn a certain distinction for its special system. The well-known Marburg University includes courses for the blind, which hospitably invite blind citizens from the USSR to come to receive a higher education. It is assumed that those blind persons who wish to specialize in an area of higher education should be separated from the general mass of the student population and placed under special conditions. Precisely because of this, on the one hand, Germany claims to have only an insignificant number of defective children, and, on the other, thanks to the fact that Germany has established maximum isolation of these institutions, many share an opinion about the strength and merit of the German system.

This system differs radically from our pedagogical practice. In our country, instruction and education of the blind and other handicapped children must be seen as a problem of social education; both psychologically and educationally this is a question of social education. In fact, it is exceedingly easy to notice that each physical handicap (be it blindness, deafness or mental retardation) causes, as it were, a social aberration. As soon as his defect is noted, a blind child, from the first days of his birth, acquires some special position even in his own family. His relations with the surrounding world begin to take a different course from that of a normal child. One can say that blindness and deafness mean not only a breach of the child’s activity with respect to the physical world but, most importantly, a rupture of all systems which determine all functions of the child’s social behavior. That this is actually so will become absolutely clear, it seems, if we fully explain this point of view. It is self-explanatory that blindness and deafness are biological factors, and in no way social. The fact of the matter is that education must cope not so much with these biological factors as with their social consequences.

When we have before us a blind child as a subject for education, then we have to deal not so much with blindness by itself as with those conflicts which face the blind child on his entrance into the world. At that time, all the systems which determine the child’s social behavior are disrupted. And therefore, it seems to me from a pedagogical point of view, the education of such a child amounts to rectifying completely these social ruptures. It is as if we have before us a physically disjointed hand. We have to set the affected organ. The main goal is to correct the break in social interaction by using some other path.

I shall not go into a scientific analysis of the psychological conception of deaf-muteness or blindness. I permit myself to dwell only on those generally accepted notions which can usually be found in literature. Blindness or deafness as psychological factors do not exist for the blind or deaf person himself. We are wrong to imagine that a blind person is submerged in darkness, that he feels as though he has fallen into a dark pit. Corroborated both by objective analysis and the subjective impressions of the deaf themselves, sufficiently authoritative research has testified to the fact that such a conception is absolutely false. The blind do not directly sense their blindness, just as the deaf do not feel that they live in an oppressive silence. I would like to point out only that for the educator, as for any person dealing with a blind child in hopes of educating him, blindness exists not so much as a direct physiological factor but as a result of the social consequences of blindness with which he must cope.

In scientific literature and in public opinion, a false conception has taken firm hold about the nature of the biological compensation for a defect. It is believed that nature, in depriving us of one of the senses, seems to compensate by an extraordinary development of the remaining sense, that is, that the blind have an extremely acute sense of touch and that the deaf stand out for their strongly developed sight. Blindness and deafness have been understood in narrowly organic terms. The pedagogical approach to such children has also been from the point of view of biological compensation (for example, if we take out one kidney, then the other takes over the former’s function). In other words, the question of defects has always been posed in crude physical terms. Our whole system of special education [has been], from this perspective, therapeutic or medicinal pedagogy. Moreover, it is clear to every educator that a blind or deaf-mute child is first of all a child and, on a second level, as the German psychologists say, a special child, a blind child or a deaf-mute child.

If, in good conscience, you accept the recently conducted psychological analysis of experiences connected with blindness and deafness (I refer to the most fundamental work in the area of the psychology of the blind, the work published by Buerklen this year), you will be able to see how the psychological makeup of a blind person arises not primarily from the physical handicap itself, but secondarily as a result of those social consequences caused by the defect. Our task consists of seeing to it that medicinal-therapeutical pedagogy does not deprive a child of normal nourishment, because the doctor is wrong who, when prescribing medicine for an ill person, forgets that the sick must also eat normally and that it is impossible to live by medicine alone. Such pedagogy produces an education which from the outset focuses on disability as a principle; as a result, we have something radically different from the fundamentals of social education.

The place of special education in the general educational system is extremely easy and simple to determine if we proceed from its position in relation to education as a whole. In the final analysis, any educational process may, as the physiologists now put it be reduced to the creation of certain new forms of behavior; to the formation of conditional reactions or conditional reflexes. However, from a physiological point of view (a position more dangerous for us in this respect), the education of a defective child does not differ in principle from the education of a normal child. Blindness and deafness physiologically mean simply the absence of one of the sensory organs, as we used to say, or one of the analyzers, as the physiologists now say. This means that under the condition in which one of the paths of contact with the outside world is absent, it may, to a large measure, be compensated for by other paths.

The view of external, experimental physiology [sic], which is a very important view for pedagogy, holds that conditional forms of behavior are in principle connected by the same path with the various sensory organs, or various analyzers. A conditional reflex may be induced from the eye just as well as from the ear, from the ear just as from the skin, and consequently, when in the educational process, we exchange one analyzer for another, one channel for another, we have embarked on the path of social compensation for a given defect.

After all, it is not important that the blind should see letters. It is important that they should know how to read and to read in the same way that you and I read, and that they learn to do this just as normal children do. It is important that a blind person write, and not just move his pen around the paper. If he learns to write by perforating paper with a pen, we again have the same principle and practically an identical phenomenon. Therefore, the formula by Kurtman, who agrees that it is impossible to measure the blind, the deaf-mute and the mentally retarded by the same standard as the normal child must be reversed.

One should and must approach a blind and a deaf-mute child, psychologically and pedagogically, with the same standard used for a normal child.

Essentially there is no difference either in the educational approach to a handicapped child and to a normal one, or in the psychological organization of their personalities. P. Ia. Troshin’s book (1915), now famous in our country, includes this extremely important idea. It is an error to see only illness in abnormality. In an abnormal child, we perceive only the defect, and therefore, our teachings about these children and our approaches to them are limited to ascertaining the percentages of their blindness, deafness or distortion of taste. We dwell on the “nuggets” of illness and not on the “mountains” of health. We notice only defects which are minuscule in comparison with the colossal areas of wealth which handicapped children possess. These absurd truisms, which, it would seem, are difficult to dispute, radically conflict with what we have to say in theory and practice about special education.

I have in my hand a booklet published in Switzerland this year. In it we read some notions which to our educators sound like a great and important discovery: It is necessary to relate to a blind child just as one would to a seeing child, that is, to teach him to walk at the same time as a seeing child learns to walk, and to give him as much opportunity as possible to play with all children. In Switzerland, these notions are considered absurdities while in our country we believe the opposite to be true. It seems to me that there are two directions in special education implied here: orientation toward illness; orientation toward health. Both the statistics of our practical experience and the data from our scientific theory force us to recognize the first as a false direction for our special education. I could cite some data in this field but will limit myself to a reference to the accounts of the last congress in Stuttgart, which took place this year, on questions of the education and well-being of the blind. Here, the German and the American systems came into conflict. The educational system of the former is oriented towards the shortcomings of a blind child, the other toward the child’s remaining reserve of health. Although the collision of the two systems occurred in Germany, it turned out to be a shattering experience for the Germans. The German position proved to have no justification in life.

I allow myself to illustrate one point of special education upon which I am advancing as the main thesis. It can be formulated as follows: any question of special education is at the same time a question of special education in its entirety. For the deaf, only the organ for hearing is affected; all remaining organs are healthy. Because of his hearing impairment, the deaf child cannot learn human speech. It is possible to teach the deaf child oral speech by means of lipreading, by connecting the different representations of lip movement which accompany speech; in other words, it is possible to teach a child “to hear with his eyes.” In this way, we can successfully teach the deaf to speak not only one specific language, but several languages with the help of kinesthetic (motor) sensations evoked during articulation.

This method of instruction (the German method) has all the advantages over other methods, such as the methods of mimicry (the French method), or the method of manual alphabet (dactylology, writing in the air), because such speech makes communication possible between the deaf and the hearing and serves as a too] for developing thought and consciousness. For us, there was no doubt about the fact that it is precisely oral speech, the oral method, which must be placed at the head of the agenda in education for the deaf-mute. However, as soon as you turn to practice, you will immediately see that this particular question is a question of social education as a whole. In practice, it turns out that instruction in oral speech has produced exceedingly deplorable results. This instruction takes up so much time, and it usually does not teach one to build phrases logically but produces pronunciation in place of speech; it limits vocabulary.

Thus, this approach causes an extremely difficult and confused situation, which theoretically is favorably resolved by one method, but in practice produces the opposite results. In German schools, where this method of teaching the deaf-mute oral speech is used, the greatest distortions of scientific pedagogy can be observed. Because of the exceptional cruelty and coercion applied to the child, he successfully learns oral speech, but his personal interest is lost along the way. Mimicry is forbidden in these schools and is cause for punishment. Nevertheless, educators have not found the means to eliminate mimicry. The famous school for the deaf, named after J. Vatter, is renowned for its outstanding successes in this respect, but the lessons in oral speech are conducted with enormous cruelty. When forcing a pupil to master a difficult sound, the teacher could knock out his tooth and, having wiped the blood from his hand, he would proceed to the next sound.

This practical side of life is at odds with the method itself. The pedagogues assert that oral speech is unnatural for the deaf-mute; that this method is unnatural, since it contradicts the child’s nature. In this case, we are convinced that neither the French, the German, the Italian, nor a combined method can offer a way out of this dilemma, that only the socialization of education can offer the solution. If a child has a need for oral speech, if the need for mimicry is eliminated, only then can we be assured that oral speech will develop. I am forced to address the specialists, and they find that the oral method is better verified by life. Within a few years after completion of school, when the students gather together, it turns out that, if oral speech was the condition for the children’s existence, then they mastered this speech completely; if they had no need for oral speech, then they returned to the muteness with which they first entered school.

In our schools for the deaf-mute, everything conflicts with the children’s real interests. All their instincts and drives become not our allies in the cause of education, but our enemies. We have produced a special method, which in advance is at odds with the child; before beginning, we want to break the child in order to engraft speech onto his muteness. And in practice this forced method turns out to be unacceptable, by its very nature it dooms speech to atrophy. From this I will not draw the conclusion that oral speech is unsuitable for our schools. I want only to say that not a single issue of special education can be addressed solely within the narrow framework of special education. Ile question of instruction in oral speech is not a question of methods of articulation. We must approach it from a different, unexpected angle.

If we [seek to] teach the deaf-mute to work [but] if he learns to make Negro rag dolls to sell and to make “surprises” and carry them around to restaurants, offering them to the guests, this is not vocational education but training to be beggars who find it more convenient to beg for alms with something in their hands. In such a situation, it might be more advantageous for a deaf person than for a speaking person because people will buy more readily from the former. If, however, life demanded oral speech as an inescapable necessity, and if in general the question of vocational training were posed in normal terms, then one could be assured that the acquisition of oral speech in the schools for the deaf-mute would not pose such a problem. Any method may be carried to an absurdity. This has happened with the oral method in our schools. This question can be correctly resolved only if we pose it in all its breadth, as a question of social education as a whole. This is why it seems to me that all our work should be reexamined from beginning to end.

The question of vocational education for the blind compels us to come to the same conclusions. Labor is presented to children in an artificially prepared form, while the organization and collective components of labor have been excluded; these components are taken on by the seeing for themselves, and the blind person is left to work in isolation. What results can be expected when the pupil is only a laborer, on whose behalf someone else carries out the organizational work and who, not being accustomed to cooperation with others at work, turns into an invalid upon graduation from school? If our school introduced the blind child to industrial and professional labor which included the social and organizational elements, the most valuable educational elements resulting from vocational training for the blind might be totally different. Therefore, it seems to me that maximum orientation toward normal child activity must serve as the point of departure for our reexamination of special education. The entire problem is extremely simple and clear. No one would think of denying the need for special education. It is impossible to say that no special skills are needed by the blind, by the deaf and the mentally retarded. But these special skills and training must be subordinated to general education, to general training. Special education must merge with the overall child activity.


Let us turn to mentally retarded children. Even here, the basic problem is the same: the fusion of special and general education. Here, it seems the air is a bit fresher, and new ideas from the public school have already penetrated this area. But even here, the basic problem has remained unsolved up until now, and in this case, the puny calves of special education push out the fatted calves of mainstream education. In order to illustrate, I will dwell on how A. N. Graborov resolved this question in his book The Auxiliary School (1925), the best book we have at our disposal in this area. I will say in advance that here this question has been decided basically in the old way-to the advantage of the fat calves. The author is completely right when he says that methods developed from practical experiences of educating mentally retarded children have significance not only for the auxiliary school, but also for the regular public school. It is so much more important to be able to clearly and distinctly define the fundamental positions of auxiliary education. It is even more important for special education to understand definitively certain fundamental laws of general education. Unfortunately, neither foreign nor Russian literature clearly defines either. Scientific thought has still not penetrated the barrier between the theory of normal child development and the theory of abnormal development. Until this is accomplished, until accounts have been completely squared off between abnormal pedagogy and general pedagogy, both will remain incomplete, and defectology will inevitably be without principles. This could not have been more clearly stated in Graborov’s book. The book is a breath of fresh air without any doubt, and the author wants to keep abreast of the new approach to education-he wants to but he is not able to.

These are only a few minor points, which when carefully reviewed turn out to be not simply details, but indications of the groundlessness which we have just mentioned. In actual studies of abnormal development and its various forms, physical abnormality has been distinguished from psychological abnormality. In the second category, we find mentally retarded children (but are they physically healthy?) as well as children “with partial failure in only the emotional, volitional sphere.” “In this case you almost always find deficient development of the intellect” (A. N. Graborov, 1925, p. 6). Here you have a model of the vague manner in which the question of moral deficiency has been conceptualized. Precisely in these few lines, mentioned in passing, we find pedagogical negligence, carelessness, inconsistency, and weakness. We also find the weak psychological hypothesis that insufficient mental development causes problems in the emotional-volitional sphere: “In any discussion or effort to arrive at a decision, the struggle among motives is usually insignificant; motives of a moralistic or lawful nature are usually ignored by the subject, and egotistical tendencies tend to prevail” (ibid.).

How simple it all is! The trouble is not that the author expresses himself at times with vagueness and confusion; the trouble is, rather, that we have no clear-cut conception of child defectology, and it is impossible to build any pedagogical theory on such fogginess. Whenever there is a “prevalence” of egotistical motives, any approach to child education becomes impossible. After this, we are not surprised by the author’s following assertion: “A defective child in the classroom means the breeding ground for contagion within the school” (ibid., p. 20). It comes as no surprise that the German system is partial to an isolated educational system, in which the “auxiliary school makes no attempt to return to the normal [mainstream] school within a certain time period the children entrusted to them” (ibid., p. 29). The fundamental understanding of child defectology, as it is practiced according to English law and American juridical practice, with all types of organic idiosyncrasies, is suddenly transformed into a new pedagogical theory. The pedagogical side of the matter is therefore overflowing with judgmental errors. No, the judgments, taken separately are approximately true, (that is to say they are sometimes true but at the same time not true) because the theory as a whole is full of that fundamental groundlessness which has characterized psychological theory. Third, the author says that during schooling “we must implant in him the child – L.V. firmly established habits of social behavior” (ibid., p. 59). And finally, fourth, “it is necessary to adequately orient the child to his surrounding world” (ibid.).

The above named necessities come third and fourth. Well, what comes first and second? Enculturation of the senses and psychological medical support. Here again we have not details but the cornerstone. If enculturation of the senses and psychological support are of primary importance, and social habits and orientation to the surrounding world are third and fourth, we have not traveled a single step from the “classical” system of therapeutic pedagogy with its nursing home atmosphere, with its zealous attention to microscopic illnesses, with its naive confidence that the psychological makeup may be developed, cured, “brought into harmony” and so forth, by therapeutic measures without regard for the general development of “habits of social behavior.”

Inasmuch as our system resolves the main issue of any educational program in defectology, – namely the interaction between general and special education-it is reflected in a basic view of the problem. Must we medically treat the defect “in a handicapped child,” concentrating three-fourths of his education on the correction of this defect, or must we develop the enormous deposits and deep layers of psychological health within the child? “All work is of a compensatory, corrective nature,” says the author (ibid., p. 60); and with that statement the core of his system is revealed. Other approaches, such as the biogenetic point of view, “the discipline of the natural causes” (ibid., pp. 64, 72), concur totally with this statement. And the same could be said of the vague phraseology which accompanies attempts to define the “final” goal for “vocational education” as “harmonious development,” and so forth (ibid., p. 77). One asks oneself. Are these details which the editor inadvertently left in, or are they essential elements of a theory doomed to scientific and pedagogical groundlessness inasmuch as they represent a system of education without a precise point of departure? For a resolution one turns, of course, not to comments made in passing, but to those chapters which elaborate on the question, where there is to be found a system of “exercises in psychological orthopedy” (a psychological support system) (ibid., Chapter 14) with its classic “lessons in silence” and, along the same lines, Egyptian labor for children, senseless, burdensome, synthetic and futile. I have selected a few items as examples:

Exercise #1... On the count of one, two, three, complete silence is to be established. The end of the exercise is signaled by the teacher’s rap on the table. Repeat 3 or 4 times, hold to the count of 10, then 15, 20, 30 seconds. The pupil who does not hold out (who turns around, begins to talk, etc.), has to continue on an individual basis or in groups of 2-3 people. The class follows...

Exercise #2. On command silence is established. The teacher gives one of the pupils a task which must be executed as quietly as possible. After each exercise is completed, a 20-30 second rest follows, then discussion. The number of exercises equals the number of pupils in the class ... Examples: 1) Misha, going up to the board, takes chalk and puts it on the table. Then, he is to take his seat quietly, and so forth. Quiet.

And so on and so on. In another exercise: “hold the position you have assumed as long as possible” (ibid., pp. 158-159).

Give each child a thin book with a hard cover or a small board of an appropriate size, which must be held horizontally. On this plane he must hold a piece of chalk, or even better, a small stick whittled out of wood about 10- 12 cm. in length and about 1-1.5 cm. in diameter. The slightest movement will topple this stick over. In the first position, a child stands, with his heels together, toes apart, and holds the small board in both hands; another pupil sets the stick on it they should take a photograph! – L.V.) ...

Exercise #4: the same exercises ... only without spreading the feet: toes together” (ibid., p. 159).

One can say without a vestige of polemical fervor or exaggeration that the senselessness of these exercises is striking and by far exceeds the nonsense of the old German book of translations, although they are both in the same category: “Do you play the violin?” ‘No, my little friend, but this man’s aunt is going abroad.” The exact same senselessness.

Moreover, all the exercises in psychological support and the cultivation of the senses constitute similar nonsense: one must learn to finish as quickly as possible the tasks of carrying a dish full of water, threading beads, throwing rings, unstringing beads, tracing letters, comparing tables, striking an expressive pose, studying smells, comparing the strength of smells. Who can be reared from all of this? Does this not sooner transform a normal child into a mentally retarded child rather than develop in the retarded child those mechanisms of behavior, psychology, and personality which have not yet meshed with the sharp teeth of life’s intricate gears? How does this all differ from “the sharp teeth of the little mice of our neighbor” in the French primer? If you bear in mind that “each exercise is repeated frequently in the course of a series of lessons” (ibid., p. 157), and that precisely these exercises constitute “the first and second place” among the school’s priorities (ibid., p. 59), then it becomes clear that until we dispense with pre-scientific pedagogy and turn the auxiliary school 180 degrees on its axis, we will develop nothing with our conical stick (of 10-12 cm. length and 1-1.5 cm. in diameter) on a thin board and will achieve nothing in our attempt to educate the retarded child, but instead only force him into greater retardation.

This is not the place for a full development of all the positive possibilities for exercises in psychological support and sensorimotor control at play, at work activity, and in a child’s social conduct. However, one cannot help but mention that these same lessons in silence, if conducted without commands and with meaning, regulated by real need, and by the mechanism of play, would suddenly lose the character of Egyptian torture and would serve as an excellent educational means. The argument is not whether or not to teach a child to observe silence, but which means to employ to this end. Do we need lessons in obedience upon command or lessons in purposeful, meaningful silence? This frequently cited example illustrates the overall description of the difference between the two different systems: the old, therapeutic system and the new social pedagogy. And what does segregation of the sexes mean in the education of mentally retarded children other than a harsh retreat into the recesses of the old theory and digression into its isolated positions (A. N. Graborov, 1925)? It is embarrassing to repeat these absurd truths about the pointless separation of the sexes and about the direct benefit of acquainting boys and girls with each other, as if these truths applied tenfold to a retarded child. Where, if not in school, will a retarded boy have real human contact with girls? What will seclusion in his already extremely barren and meager life do for him besides intensify his instinctual drives? And all the wise reasoning about the “appropriate exercise of satisfaction” will not save the theory at its most vulnerable point. “You cannot give a child candy and then use it as an incentive to do something right. The reverse should be true ... Suffering precedes pleasure” (ibid., p. 100). As a result the candy comes afterward, and that’s all there is to it.

No, it is impossible to construct a theory and system of education on good intentions alone, just as it is impossible to build a house on sand. If we begin to say as well that the “goal of education is to create a harmonious education,” and by harmony we mean “the manifestation of a creative individuality,” etc., we will create nothing. The new pedagogy for the handicapped child demands, first of all, a courageous and decisive rejection of the outdated as-old-as-Adam systems, with lessons in silence, beads, orthopedy and cultivation of the senses, and second of all, a disciplined, sober, and conscientious assessment of the real goals of social education for such a child. These are the necessary and unavoidable prerequisites for the long-overdue and slow-in-coming revolutionary reform of [the education for] handicapped children. For all their freshness, such books as that by A. N. Graborov have come only halfway. From these examples, it is clearly seen that the special problemssuch as teaching speech to deaf-mute children, training blind children in vocations, establishing sensorimotor control among the mentally retarded, and, indeed all questions of special education-can be answered only on the basis of social education as a whole. It is impossible to decide them in isolation.


It appears to me that the development of our school represents an extremely outdated form of education in comparison with the practice of the West Europeans and the Americans. We are a good ten years behind in comparison with the techniques and devices of the West European schools, and it would seem to us that it is necessary to be on an equal footing with them. But, there are two answers to the question of what constitutes success in Europe and America. On the one hand, this success includes features which we need to cultivate in our schools, and on the other hand, these steps were taken in precisely a direction which we must categorically reject. For example, the achievements by the Germans in the area of work with the blind have caused quite a sensation around the world. (I dwell on this aspect, because it is elucidated in S. S. Golovin’s book.) The work is connected with the name of P. Perls, and the results can be formulated in one phrase: the introduction of the blind into heavy industry on the basis of real, very successful experience.

For the first time in the history of mankind, the blind have begun to work with complex machinery, and this experiment has proved very fruitful. The Berlin Commission on the Investigation of Professions Suitable for the Blind recognized 122 professions beyond of that narrow circle of professions set aside for the blind (blind musicians, choristers, craftsmen and the helpless), the greater part of which are connected with jobs in heavy industry.

In other words, the highest form of labor (polytechnical skills and social, organizational experience) turned out to be absolutely suitable for the blind. Nothing needs to be said about the colossal value such a statement has for pedagogy. It is tantamount to the notion that it is possible to overcome this handicap by granting the blind full entry into the labor force.

One must take into consideration that this experiment involved those who became blind during the war and that we make expect to encounter some difficulties when we turn to those who were born blind. Yet there is no doubt that theoretically and practically, this experience, on the whole, can be applied to those born blind. Let us note two important principles which serve as the basis of assumption for this work. The first is that the blind will work side by side with the seeing. In no job will the blind work by themselves, alone in isolation. They will definitely work together in cooperation with the seeing. Such a system of cooperation has been worked out so that it is easier to apply it to the blind. The second principle is that the blind are not to specialize in one machine or job alone. For pedagogical reasons, they are to transfer from one division of machinery to another; they are to switch from one machine to another because general polytechnical fundamentals are needed for participation in production as a conscientious worker. I will not begin to cite passages. I suggest, however, reading those sections from Golovin’s work where he lists the machines on which the blind are to work: presses, punching presses, cutting machines, threading machines, drills, electric lathes, and so forth. Hence, the labor of the blind turns out to be fully suitable for heavy industry.

This is the healthy and positive side of European and American special pedagogy to which I have already referred. This aspect we must adopt for our special schools. But I must say that in all countries up until now, these accomplishments have been directed along a course which is at its very core profoundly alien to us. You know how sharply our social education differs from that of the Americans and the Germans. According to our general direction, the use of new pedagogical technology must proceed along a completely different path; it should be swung around 180 degrees. I shall not begin now to comment concretely about how this path will be realized, because I would have to repeat the truisms of overall social pedagogy, on the basis of which our system of social education is constructed and contained. I allow myself simply to make the following points: There is only one essential guiding principle for overcoming and compensating for the various defects-pedagogy must orient itself to a lesser degree toward deficiency and illness and to a greater degree toward the norm and the child’s overall health.

What constitutes our radical divergence from the West with respect to this question? Only the fact that there it is a question of social welfare, whereas for us it is a question of social education. There it is a question of charity for invalids and social insurance against crime and begging. It is extremely difficult to get rid of the philanthropic, invalid-oriented point of view. We often hear assertions that biogenetic cases are of interest not as much for special education as for social disdain. The way the question was posed amounts to a radical untruth. The question of educating handicapped children has until now been kept in the background mainly because more pressing questions demanded our attention during the first years of the Revolution. Now the time has come to bring the question before wide public attention.