Arthur Newsholme.

School hygiene: or, The laws of health in relation to school life online

. (page 5 of 10)
Online LibraryArthur NewsholmeSchool hygiene: or, The laws of health in relation to school life → online text (page 5 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

done in the evening, and should rather take the form of re-
capitulation of work done during the day than break into new

(3.) The School-work may he badly arranged. — The most
common fault under this head is too long lessons. The brain
becomes fatigued when attention to one subject is prolonged.
Much better results can be obtained in an hour's lesson by
devoting five minutes in the middle of it to drill-exercises, than
if the whole hour is devoted to mental work. Lessons should
never exceed an hour in duration even for elder scholars, and
three-quarters of an hour is preferable. Singing or drill-
exercises for a {q\\ minutes in the interval arouse the nervous
energies and facilitate subsequent attention to work.

Even during school-hours much can be done to diminish
fatigue by cham^^e oj subjects. Thus languages or history should
alternate with mathematics, memory and reasoning being
successively exercised. Then mechanical work, as writing or
drawing, may follow, succeeded by object-lessons and experi-
mental lectures. By some such succession as this the best
results can be obtained with the least mental fatigue. In this
connection, the proposed introduction of technical and indus-
trial instruction into elementary schools is a most important
step in the right direction, and will have invaluable influence
on both the mental and physical training of children. The
time devoted to manual instruction, while it is useful in itself
as an introduction to industrial occupations, haa an important


bearing, which has already been discussed, on the due develop-
ment of every part of the brain, and on the maintenance of
that balance between different parts, upon which healthful and
co-ordinated mental action depends.

(4) Examinations are chiefly sources of danger to older
scholars, especially when they are of a competitive character,
bringmg into action the force of emulation. The mobile
nervous system, and the somewhat greater preponderance of
the emotional faculties in girls, render them peculiarly prone
to suffer when subjected to competitive examinations.

We are not prepared to condemn examinations ; it would be
difficult or even impossible to discover an efficient substitute.
If well conducted, an examination may be of great educative
value. It finds out weak points, and shows how future efforts
may be made more successful, while the anticipation of the
examination guides and stimulates the scholar's efforts. The
best results of a teacher's work, especially his personal influence
on the training of mental or moral faculties, and the influence
of an upright and consistent example, can, however, never be
brought to the test of an examination.

Doubtless the best motive for studying a subject would be
the interest it affords ; but this cannot be aroused till the
scholar enters the subject, and sometimes not even then ; hence
the necessity for some external definite motive.

Examinations at the best are but means to an end ; they
cease to be beneficial when they are made the object of the
teacher's tuition, and they are most pernicious when undue
strain is put on children for some weeks before the known date
of an examination rather than a steady unwavering system of
work throughout the year. Examinations, in order to be
satisfactory, should review the work actually done by the
scholar. The duty of the examiner is rather to find out how
much the scholar knows, than to distress him by revealing his

F 2


ignorance on obscure ])oints. An examination of the former
kind may be a healtbful and encouraging stimulus, while one
of the latter kind leaves only a sense of embarrassment
and irritation in the scholar's mind, which weakens him for
future efforts.

The occurrence of headaches, restlessness, irritability, and
inability to fix the attention, are finger-posts showing over-work
in preparation for examinations, and should receive early at-

In 1872 the Massachusetts Board of Health enquired by
circular of a number of physicians and teachers whether in their
experience phthisis (consumption) was ever brought on by
over-study. Of 191 replies, 146 were in the affirmative, and
Dr. Bowditch, then Chairman of the Board, said: "I find
almost invariably in patients predisposed to phthisis, that a
prize gained or an examination concluded is the signal for
entire decay of the physical powers, under the violent strain
put previously on the mind, and with a total neglect of corre-
sponding physical exercise." The fact that such a large
proportion of answers were in the affirmative is not so
conclusive as at first sight appears ; tor those doctors having
definite cases to narrate would be much more likely to answer
the circular than others whose experience was negative.

(5.) Puni!>hinents are a valuable means of bringing refrac-
tory children to reason \ though the fear of them, when wielded
by an unmerciful teacher, may lead nervous children to
excessive and injurious efforts.

The advisability of corporal punishment is a somewhat
vexed question. It is urged against it that it is hurtful and
degrading to those who receive it, while it hardens the
sensibilities of those who inflict it. The latter is certainly not
true, if the punishment is moderate, and not inflicted
under the influence of passion. As regards the former, most


teachers assert that there are children so wayward and
obstinate, that there is no way of controlling them except
through fear of bodily pain. If bodily punishment is ever
inflicted, it should be as a last resort, and at an hour-or-t\vo's
interval after the offence requiring it, in order that the punish-
ment may not be vindictive, and that it may be quite clear to
the dehnquent that the teacher is simply the instrument of
punishment which is the natural result of the offence.

Certain forms of corporal punishment should never be
allowed. Boxing the ears or blows on the head are always
dangerous, and so is the use of a hard inflexible stick.

It would appear that teachers are gradually finding that they
can maintain discipline without any form of corporal punish-
ment. In the city of New York it has been forbidden in the
public schools, expulsion being substituted for it as a dernier

The giving of impositions requiring the keeping-in of the
scholar tor a prolonged period, and interfering with his meals
and recreation, should seldom be had recourse to. The plan
of having good and bad marks, which are subsequently reported
to parents and made the subject of rewards, works much
better than any form of corporal punishment.

Age and Sex in Relation to School-Wmrk.

Duration of School-work at various Ages.— Statistics of Children
attending School at various Ages. — Growth and Development in
relation to School work. — Weight and Size of Children.— Chart oj
Growth of Children. — Sex in Education. — Character of Educa-
tion in relation to Sex.

Age has a most important bearing on the character, amount,
and distribution of the work to be given to children. During
the period of childhood, including up to the end of the 7th
year, more rapid changes are being undergone than at any
subsequent period of life. At 7 years old a child weighs about
6 times as much as at birth, and has half the stature, and from
one-third to one-fourth of the weight of an adult. The less
book-work the better, during this period. Education is
not confined to schools. From the first moment of life edu-
cation in the best sense commences, and makes rapid strides.
The senses become trained, and the powers of observation are
perhaps keener than at any subsequent period, while the mind
is becoming stored with impressions which form the ground-
work of subsequent mental life.

Much depends on the general training of a child during
this period. His habits are being formed, and his after-
70 ~^



protjress in life is largely determined by the parental and other
influences to which he is at this time subjected.

Various opinions are held as to the age at which attendance
at school should begin. The following table gives the per-
centage at different ages, for the 4,412,148 children attending
public elementary schools in England and Wales during the
year 1885. (Report of Committee of Council on Education,
1885-6, p. 210.)


Per cent.


Per cent.

Under 3 years.







1 1 74



10— II




II —12







II 77



14 and over


It will be seen from this table that 10 per cent, of the total
number of scholars attending school are under 5 years of age,
and that 31 per cent, are under 7 years of age. This
strikingly shows that there is a marked tendency to crowd the
work of school-education into the very early years of life, and
it is therefore of the greater importance to consider what
should be the nature of this education from a hygienic stand-
point, in order that the danger which such early attendance
itriplies, may be averted.

What education then may safely be given at such an age ?
We have already pointed out that in the early years of life the
powers of observation are alone among the mental functions


which are in active operation. To these, then, the instruction
must be primarily addressed. If the mental activities ot
subsequent years are anticipated, and the reflective powers
are prematurely stimulated, the result cannot be otherwise than
disastrous to the mental and physical health of the child.

Undoubtedly the zeal of elementary school teachers has
tended in the latter direction, and it is interesting to note that
in the later forms of school laws, a sounder and more physio-
logical method is being approached. The " merit grant "
in infant-schools can now be obtained only on condition
that simple lessons on objects, and on the phenomena of
nature, and of common life (which appeal primarily to the
senses and the powers of observation) are given, attended by
appropriate and varied occupations. This is a valuable step
in the right direction, and will require further extension, if
future generations are to be saved from that stunted growth of
the mind and body, wiiich premature and excessive stimulation
of the powers of reflection and memory cannot fail to produce.

The next period of life is that of boyhood or girlhood — ■
extending from the 7th to the 14th year or from the appear-
ance of the permanent teeth to puberty.

A child seven years old is unable to attend to any one subject
beyond a limited time. According to Mr. Edwin Chadwick
a pioneer in all sanitary and social reform, a single lesson be-
tween the ages of 5 and 7 should last only 15 minutes; bet^veen
7 and 10 about 20 minutes ; from 10 to 12 about 25 minutes;
12 to 16 about 30 minutes. These limits are too restricted
for the higher ages and for interesting subjects, but the
principle involved is most important.

The amount of work should always be carefully graduated
according to age. For children from 7 to 8 years old, work
should not last longer than 2^ to 3 hours a-day ; from 8 to 10,
from 3 to 3^ hours ; from 10 to 12, about 4 hours ; from 13


to 15, between 5 and 6 hours; and from 15 to 18, never more
than 8 hours, intervals being allowed for recreation.

Mr. Edwin Chadwick has maintained that under the " half-
time " system, children make as good progress as if they
attended school the whole day. Whether this is confirmed or
not, there can be no question that the alternation of directed
manual labour (see page 66), with shorter periods of study,
would be attended with the greatest advantage to the mental
and physical development of children.

If at the earlier ages more than 3 hours' work is required,
the work becomes too exciting, and children become
prematurely clever, which involves great risks and no genuine
gain. Precocious children seldom realise the promise they

It must be carefully remembered that during the period of
school-life gtotvth and development of every organ are, under
natural conditions, rapidly proceeding, and that, while diligently
cultivating the brain, the rest of the body must not be neg-
lected. There is to some extent an antagonism between
growth {i.e., increase in size), and development (i.e., increase in
structure). The undue and premature elaboration of structure,
as in mental precocity, involves a stoppage or diminution of
growth, and ultimately a feebler brain. *'We do not wish it
to be inferred that brains should, so to speak, be allowed to
lie fallow until their growth is completed, and then have their
structure elaborated by mental education. This would be as
impossible as it is undesirable. We only wish to state the

* For a very valuable detailed discussion of this and other mat-
ters bearing on the physiological aspect of education, see the article
by Sir Crichton Browne, M.D., on "Education and the Nervous
System,'' in Cassell's Book of Health. It is a pity that this Essay
is not published separately for the use of teachers and others in-
terested in the subject.


importance of not over-exciiing the juvenile lirain, and thus
causing it to fall short of the size and power it would otherwise
have attained. The difference has been well stated thus : — At
lo years old we may assume the brain to be a lo-carat brain.
Push on education and make it rapidly the 24-carat brain it
should become only with adult life, and the result will be that
the total value obtained owing to the smaller amount of brain
will be much less than if the forcing system had not been

The evil results of undue excitement of the brain during the
period of growth are not confined to that organ. The brain
has great influence over all other functions of the body. A
fastidious appetite, imperfect digestion, or weak circulation,
followed by retarded growth of body and general enfeeblement,
are not uncommon results of hard study, when insufficient
time is allowed for recreation and other purposes.

It would be well if every parent would at intervals of three
months or even oftener have his children weighed and mea-
sured, keeping a record of the result.

Such information is easily obtained and would be of im-
mense value in warning as to the insidious onset of disease, or
a too rapid increase in stature. It is well known that when a boy
is growing very rapidly his powers of mental application be-
come greatly diminished. He is dull and apathetic, and per-
haps lays himself open to undeserved censure, which might
have been averted had the parent informed the teacher of the
rapid growth and consequent necessity for diminution of
work. Any increase in size beyond 2 to 3 inches a year in-
volvmg undue strain on the system, or any sudden stoppage of
growth (indicating perhaps the onset of consumption or other
diseases, especially if accompanied by diminished weight)
should excite apprehension and lead to medical supervision.

Stoppage of growth or of increase in weight might be due


(i) to insufficient food or clothing, the food being required to
keep up the temperature of the body and no suiplus being left
for purposes of growth ; or (2) to excessive mental work and
deficient exercise in the open air; or (3) to the onset of some
disease. In all cases it requires careful attention even when
no other indications of disorder are present.*

Height and Weight of Children. — The following tables give
valuable information respecting the height, weight, and rate
of growth of boys and girls. They are taken from a most
valuable paper by Dr. Bowditch, of Harvard University, on
*' The Growth of Children," in the 8th Annual Report of the
Massachusetts Board of Health for 1877, and I have specially
arranged them so as to compare boys of different classes, and
boys with girls. For the figures contained in Table I., Dr. Bow-
ditch is indebted to Mr. C. Roberts, of London. In each

* The following remarks of Mr. Sharpe, H. M. Inspector of Train-
ing Colleges, may be quoted as bearing on this point (Report of
Committee of Council on Education, 1885-6, page 403) :—'' 1 should
recommend to other colleges a practice, so far as I know, pursued
by only one training college, viz , Westminster, the weighing of
the students at regular intervals and recording the weights. At the
beginning of the year 1885, all the students (over a hundred in num-
ber), with only three exceptions (all of them in their second year),
increased steadily m weight. The annual inspection took place in
the fifth month ; after the inspection it was found that only two of
the second year's students had continued to increase in weight (one
of whom had been steadily losing weight for three months and had
begun to recover), and the average loss in weight per student
during the few weeks preceding the examination was no less than
3lbs. 1 he experienced vice-principal, Mr. Mansford. has no doubt
that the loss of weight is solely attributable to the anxiety con-
nected with the preparation and giving of lessons. This is the only
form of over-pressure which is to be found in the male training
colleges, and it would be difficult to find a healthier body of young

I may add that in the same college, when students have been
found for two or three months to decrease in weight (the usual rule
being a steady increase), I have been asked to examine into their
physical condition. In several cases this has led to the early de-
tection of disease, and in this way a break- down has been prevented.


















C )





























AGEO 12 3 4 5 R 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25YRS.

Fig. i8. — Chart showng average stature weight, chest girth, and strength of
both sexes, from birth lo 25 years of age, of the general population of the
United Kingdom.

Males Females ,

For "stature without shoes in lbs.,'' read inchu^


although derived fruni a different source, support the same
general conclusions.

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryArthur NewsholmeSchool hygiene: or, The laws of health in relation to school life → online text (page 5 of 10)