The Baboon Boy

It seems that no matter how strange fiction is written, the truth is always stranger.

We’re all familiar with the story of Tarzan and the Apes. But not too many people know that a good part of this story actually happened. Dr. Sperling tells in his book about the true story of the Baboon Boy of South Africa. This boy was first noticed when he was about thirteen years of age. He was discovered living among a group of baboons. He was captured by two troopers of the Cape Mounted Police. And, according to an account in SCIENCE, by John P. Foley of George Washington University, the boy had been nursed and raised by this tribe of baboons. He could not speak at all but chattered just like an ape. He was mischievous and wild and full of tricks. It was later reported that with continued human association the Baboon Boy became a dependable worker, showed remarkable intelligence, and came to develop the use of language, by which he was able to tell of his experiences with the apes.

The point I’m trying to make is that children learn some things naturally and learn other things by emulating their parents. Take walking, for instance. A child will learn to walk with no help at all. In fact, trying to help him walk before he’s ready can actually slow him down.

Birds don’t teach their young how to fly, either. An actual test was made by an English scientist, Dr. D.A., Spalding. He took some swallows right after they were hatched and put them in small boxes, so that they could not use their wings, nor could they see other birds flying. He fed them through a tiny hole in the box. As soon as the normal time that birds fly had elapsed, Dr. Spalding opened the boxes, and away they flew – just as though they’d been taking lessons all their lives.

Doctors made a similar sort of test with two children, a pair of identical twins at the Yale Clinic of Child Development. At ten and a half months they started a six-week training period in stair climbing for one of the infants. They spent six weeks trying to train one of the twins to crawl upstairs. After the twins were a year old they gave the other twin a two-week training period. After this they tested both of the children. The baby with less practice, who had started when she was older, proved to be the better of the two. This proved that if teaching and training are to be successful, they must wait for the process of sufficient growth or development. Trying to cram information into a child’s head when he’s too young can hurt a lot more than it will help.

But there are some things a child must learn from the people in the home. One of these is language. If you isolated a child, and that child never heard a spoken word, he would, of course, never speak a language. Children who are deaf are not dumb but are unable to speak simply because they have never heard human speech.

If a mother or father talks baby talk to a child, it will speak baby talk. If they speak French, it will speak French. And if they speak badly around a child, it will speak badly. It will walk by itself, but it learns to talk in the home – not in school – in the home. As they learned in South Africa, if a child is raised by baboons, he will talk and act like them.

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