By H Dominic W Stiles, on 24 February 2017
Giulio Ferreri (1860-1942)* was an oralist teacher of the deaf who was Rector of the Royal National Institution, Milan, for many years. He travelled fairly widely it seems, visiting America, where he studied the educational methods, writing a monograph in 1903 that was translated for the Volta Bureau in 1908 as The American Institutions for the Education of the Deaf. According to the scribbled note in the front of that book, he met Selwyn Oxley on two occasions, in Milan in 1914, and at the Teacher Conference in London in 1925.
Not long after the appearance of Ferreri’s American publication, the French psychologist Alfred Binet and his colleague Théodore Simon, who together created the first IQ test, wrote an article in l’Année psychologique reprinted and translated later in The American Annals of the Deaf, ‘An Investigation Concerning the Value of the Oral Method.’ They found that congenitally deaf taught people who were considered to be oral successes, were unable to communicate effectively orally
when one is a bit of a psychologist, one feels curious to know how an art so delicate as that of speech can be taught to unfortunate beings who are totally deaf. Is it possible that speech, with its delicate shades of intonation which we acquire through the ear, can be learned by individuals who have never heard? Is it possible? Perhaps it will be thought that no one has the right to declare anything impossible; but this is one of those things which require a very strong proof to be accepted. (p.35)
we refrain from concluding that the oral method is a total failure. We do not like such positive assertions; the truth has more delicate shades of distinction. If the oral method really presented no sort of advantage whatever, it would not have held its ground in our schools for thirty years. But we believe that its practical value has been overestimated. It seems to us to be a sort of pedagogy de luxe, which produces moral effects rather than useful and tangible results. It does not enable deaf-mutes to get situations; it does not permit them to enter into relations with strangers; it does not allow them even a consecutive conversation with their relatives; and deaf-mutes who have not learned to speak earn their living just as easily as those who have acquired this semblance of speech. That is the observation which we made again and again, and with a persistency which seemed to us very eloquent. (p.44)
Ferreri was not impressed, responding with what Moores (1997) points out as a very personal attack:
Alfred Binet and his fellow helper, Dr. Simon, have made an investigation as to the value of the oral method, and have published a report of it in their well-known review, l’Année psychologique. In the minds of the authors the results of their investigations must have appeared very important, but to educators of the deaf, as well as to every conscientious scientist, it is a very poor affair. But in that case, it may be asked, is it worthwhile to take this study into serious consideration? It is; because one must apply to the crime of Alfred Binet and Co. the theory of Licurgus, who taught that one should judge a misdeed not in itself but in its consequences. And. in view of the wide circulation and the merits of l’Année psychologique, the mistakes made by the Paris psychologists in judging of the oral method may be disastrous in their consequences upon the opinions of learned men. (p.46)
In regard to the capacity of criticism, which Mr. Binet denies to the educators of the deaf, we can only reply: Inform yourself of what has been written and discussed concerning the methods of teaching and the means of their application during the past thirty years, and you will make a discovery, viz., that the teachers of the deaf understand very well the deficiencies of their work, and that their knowledge and their desires have always found an obstacle in that economic question which, if it is explicable in politicians and public authorities, is shameful in scientists and takes away all value from their investigations. And this is exactly what has happened to the investigations of Binet and Co. (p.48)
The above signed photograph is inserted into the front of Oxley’s copy of the book.
Translated by the author from l’Educazione dei Sordormuti for October 1909. Ferreri, G. 1910. Mistaken investigations concerning the value of the oral method. American Annals of the Deaf, 55(1), 34-38 [Reprinted in American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 142, Number 3, July 1997, pp. 46-48]
Alfred Binet, Théodore Simon American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 142, Number 3, July 1997, pp. 35-45
Moores, Donald F., American Annals of the Deaf, Volume 142, Number 3, July 1997, pp. xvi-xx
I have not at present any information on Ferreri’s personal life – if I have we will update this. He may be the same as this Professor Giulio Ferreri who married an American lady, Ellen Charlotte Alexander, in London in 1901, but I understand that Ferreri is a common name in Italy, being the name for a ‘farrier’ – smith, so it is possible that is another Ferreri also from Milan.