Reverend Cornelis van Cutsveld, founder of the first private education school in the Netherlands, was succeeded by a goldmine. After the closure of the “Haagse Idiotenschool”, founded in 1855, in 1920, the entire archive went to the municipality of The Hague, where the historical teacher Annemieke van Drenth found “counters from the useful archive”. “Very special,” says Van Drenth. “School records usually end up in basements or simply discarded.”
Van Drenthe found 356 files of children who were apprentices at the Idiot School in the second half of the 19th century. Describe what happened to them. “An eye opener. You can read it as the closest form of diagnosing children with special needs in the Netherlands.”
in her book Discover the special childwhich appeared last month, van Drenthe merges the history of the first school for special education with the interest shown around the same time for “different” children, who couldn’t keep up with other children in primary education and the “idiot”.
Reverend and writer Van Cutsveld actively searched for these children at his school. He gathered around him a fairly diverse group: from children with serious and obvious malformations to children who were ‘just’ severely neglected and with a little help and attention from the school staff they learned to speak, read and write.
Children in the files fall under the law of insanity, you write.
Van Drenthe: “Yes, they could only be accepted with the permission of the judge advised by the doctors. Children ate and slept at school. In addition, there were children who only went to school during the day, a form that you still see more often in special education. Parents Generally they want it too – then and now.
Well-off parents had staff in the house to deal with these children, but they usually made insufficient progress, especially with really difficult children. It was not until the mid-19th century that more knowledge was gained about the development of privileged children. Van Koetsveld could start his school in This breeding ground. By the way, he also had problems finding the right teachers at that time.”
Was there really a shortage of teachers?
“Absolute. The selection criterion for an idiot school was of a didactic, pedagogical nature. The staff were not allowed to hit or neglect children. Van Koetsveld basically wanted to know what a child could do, and how he could develop further. He thought, which was very modern at the time, That ‘foolish kids’ could really learn something through ‘stimulating the senses.’ He needed good teachers for that, they weren’t easily available at that time either.”
Last month, Van Drenth invited Leiden University, where she worked at the Institute of Educational Sciences. She has published on the history of children with physical and mental disabilities. Like Sim, “the first boy with autism” was discovered in the 1930s by Nun Ida Frey at the Institute of Pediatrics in Nijmegen. It is the first scientific diagnosis described for autism. “There have always been special children,” says Van Drenthe. “But it becomes visible only when serious scientific research has been carried out from the middle of the nineteenth century.”
Where were these kids before?
“At home or in sanatoriums. Sometimes it is just accepted, but sometimes it is hidden and neglected. There was little knowledge about children who did not develop normally. Since the mid-19th century, children with apparent abnormalities have been increasingly seen as a separate category. But there is still little insight into children with less obvious developmental problems.
“It was only after the introduction of compulsory education in 1901 that it became increasingly clear that there was a group of children who were being neglected. Special education developed rapidly after that. Several of these schools were added between 1901 and 1930.”
Do you link the “discovery” of the distinguished child to the advancement of formal education?
“It turns out that children with special needs cannot participate in ordinary education. Van Coatsfield is ahead of his time and sees what others do not see earlier: these children also have the right to a place, the right to development. They need to “wake up from childish ignorance” and they need to Help. This idea came into force in the mid-nineteenth century: children are then increasingly seen as individuals in a development who are stimulated by external stimuli.”
You write Van Coatsfield wanted to give “stupid children” a voice. Under the slogan “We appeal to those who cannot defend themselves.” This seemed very progressive at the time.
Think: All eternity and God gave them. He was really interested in children with disabilities. He took them to his school and really tried to see them in their individuality and get the best out of them.”
Van Drenthe writes that his “first fruit”, a girl named Alida, is Van Quitsveld’s great pride. Alida was thirteen years old when Van Quitsveld found her “in a miserable hut on the floor, her shaggy hair hanging over the stove”. Alida can hardly speak, but as soon as she enters the foolish school, she develops very quickly. Van Drenthe: “In today’s knowledge, you see a severely neglected child who was at his own mercy. Only when she was accepted, and given the attention and pedagogical care, did she really manage to develop.”
Van Coatsfield presented it in his annual reports. Scholars and dignitaries came to see her and other children. Success gave money to his school. Until then, money was an ongoing problem in private education.”
Because it does not yield anything immediately?
“Specifically. You can still see that reflex today. There should be clear and visible results. The idea behind it is that you don’t deserve something unless you can achieve a certain kind of social success. We basically invest in everything that shines.” And it shines much less in things and people in the shadows, even if they are just a part of life.”
Anime Van Drenth: Discover the special child About the school of idiots in the nineteenth century by Reverend Van Quetsveld Amsterdam University Press, 240 pages, €31.99
A version of this article also appeared in the July 11, 2022 newspaper