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New Left Review I/74, July-August 1972


Octave Mannoni

Itard and his Savage

The remarkable story of the re-education of the ‘savage’ of Aveyron, and the pedagogic methods devised by his teacher, Dr Itard, still influence many of the techniques used in the training of backward children today, more than a century and a half later. The situation is paradoxical in several respects; first and foremost because, although it is possible to discover in Itard’s two papers on the subject [1] Jean Itard, The Wild Boy of Aveyron, in Wolf Children by Lucien Malson, NLB £2·50. what can be learned from the failure of the experiment, that is, what Itard should have learned from it—what could have been Itard’s re-education by his savage—it is not this that has been retained by later researchers. Rather they have kept certain aspects of his methods, themselves posed in an arbitrary way and derived a priori from philosophic concepts current at the time, principally those of Condillac. Relying on these concepts from the start, Itard is seen drafting his re-education plan in advance like a schoolmaster working out his time-table, laid out in five numbered sections and deduced (as he wrote in so many words) from the ‘doctrine’ to which he subscribed.

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