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The Wild Boy of Aveyron

The Wild Boy of Aveyron

Harlan Lane

ISBN 9780674953000

Publication date: 05/16/1979

The discovery of Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron, and the accomplishments of his teacher, Jean Marc Itard, launched a debate among philosophers anthropologists, psychologists, and educators that has lasted almost two centuries, has given birth to educational treatment of the mentally retarded with methods that are still widely employed, and has led in this country to a revolution in childhood education.

This beautifully written book by Harlan Lane tells the complete story of Dr. Itard's successes and failures with “l'enfant sauvage,” a story immortalized by director François Truffaut in The Wild Child (L'Enfant sauvage). Lane takes the reader into the central philosophical and scientific debates of the nineteenth century and sheds new light on questions that persist for our own time. Which human activities require social instruction and which do not? Is there a critical period for language acquisition? To what extent can education compensate for delayed development and limited endowment? What are the critical features of effective training methods?


  • In 1800, the boy of the title was a child of perhaps twelve or thirteen who had been wandering alone in the mountainous forests of southern France for an unknown time before his capture. Like other children who have grown up without human contact, the lad, who was later named Victor, behaved in peculiar ways. Most importantly, he could not speak. Victor was discovered at a period when philosophical investigations into human nature had begun to affect medicine, psychology, and pedagogy. He was brought to Paris and turned over to a young doctor, Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard… Dr. Lane tells us how a whole new kind of education descends from Itard’s lifework—first, the training of the physically handicapped, then the training of the mentally retarded. (Before modern times, both kinds of people were regarded as useless and unteachable.) Finally, through Maria Montessori, Itard’s concepts were applied to teaching ordinary youngsters, and Dr. Lane points out how his difficult discoveries have become everyday assumptions. His book is an exceptionally readable, intelligent monument to one of humanity’s benefactors and to his successors, who carried on in Itard’s spirit of scientific curiosity, kindness, and doggedness.

    —New Yorker


  • 1975, Winner of the Thomas J. Wilson Prize

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • Harvard University Press