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Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard (1774-1838) was a student of Pinel. He supported Rousseau's "noble savage" belief and the philosopher Condillac's "sensationalism" view (a view that all knowledge comes through the senses). Itard was also profoundly influenced by Periere's work with educating deaf-mutes.

In 1799, Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard heard reports of a boy abandoned in the woods of Aveyron, France, who had apparently been raised by wolves. "Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron," as he was called, was chosen by Itard as an experimental subject to prove the validity of the "blank slate" concept: that a person could become, or be made into, whatever one wants. Itard had the child brought to Paris and entrusted to the care of his housekeeper.

Victor was probably in his early teens, a child with severe mental retardation who likely had been abandoned by his parents.Itard saw Victor as someone who had never been tainted by civilization, and who could, with the proper teaching, become the perfect human being.

Victor the Wild Boy
Victor the Wild Boy

The "blank slate" would be filled with carefully selected information. From a child who could not speak, would not sleep in a bed, wear clothes or eat cooked food, Victor made tremendous strides, learning to use simple communication, and interacting with others, notably Itard's housekeeper, who spent a great deal of time with him. As a scientific study, this was all very optimistic.

But Itard grew tired, not seeing the great gains he hoped for, and gave up his hope of Victor becoming "super" normal. Living outside of society had not necessarily protected Victor from unnatural wants and corruption, as Rousseau's philosophy suggested; it had only deprived him of language, guidance, comfort, and human affection.

Even with his limited success, Itard did prove that children with mental retardation could improve to some extent. This would have a positive influence on many of the educators of the following century.