I love to share with you the non-fiction books that I am enjoying. I am reading The Forbidden Experiment: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron by Roger Shattuck and it is so good I can't put it down even when it's midnight and my eyes can no longer focus. Perhaps you have heard of Victor, as the boy came to be called. You can Google him and find lots of information so I don't want to rehash the whole story here.
A little background: In 1800 a pre-adolescent boy was discovered in southern France -- naked, scarred and uncivilized. The truth about his past will never be fully known because the boy never learned to speak but it is believed that he had survived for at least four years on his own in the wilderness, abandoned or lost when he was just a very young child. Dr. Itard eventually came to be in charge of this strange case. But while it was his duty to observe the boy, educate him and write reports about his progress the person who became Victor's foster mother for the next twenty-seven years was Mme. Guerin, a simple woman of little education who resided on the grounds of the Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Paris. I came across a beautiful passage the other night about Mme. Guerin and it struck me while reading it that it contains the very essence of motherhood:
Madame Guerin had no special training, no theories of education, no career to make, no books to write, no fame to win. She was an "ordinary" person; she must also have been a remarkable human being. Many times Itard comments on the steadiness and effectiveness of her care. If we consider the division of time between them and the importance of the natural attachment that grows up between mother and son, we must assign as much credit for the Wild Boy's development to Madame Guerin as to Itard. The doctor could not possibly have gone on without someone like her. She also reported to him about the boy's behavior--how he slept, his movements and responses, the outings they began to make together to nearby parks and gardens. She was always there, physically and emotionally. Madame Guerin's name should be remembered with as much honor as Itard's in the events that follow. He would surely have agreed. (p.76)
I love that -- "always there, physically and emotionally." And for that we need no special training and cannot hope for any fame.
What led me to this book was my interest in all things Montessori. When Dr. Montessori first came to treat patients who were mentally deficient she used the writings of Itard and his student Seguin as her guides. She also is responsible for translating their books into Italian. Some of the sensorial apparatus that can be found in Montessori classrooms today were developed by Itard for use with Victor. Unfortunately, Victor never achieved many of the things, like speaking for instance, Dr. Itard hoped he would. Dr. Itard was the first to discover "sensitive periods," an insight that is usually attrributed to Dr. Montessori. Since Victor was not exposed to spoken language during his sensitive period for language he never developed the ability to speak beyond a few words.