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generally below the average even of their own class when they are
admitted to these institutions. Their superior physique shows the
regeneration which proper food and hygienic conditions produce in the
worst cases.


More than two thousand years ago Aristotle pointed out that physical
health was the basis of mental health, and the importance of a sound
physical development as an essential condition of successful education.
“First the body must be trained and _then_ the understanding,” declared
the great Stagirite. The “new spirit” of modern education is admirably
expressed in the Aristotelian maxim. This new spirit is a protest
against the practice, futile from the standpoint of society, and brutal
from the standpoint of the child, of attempting to educate hungry,
physically weak, and ill-developed children who are unfitted to bear the
strain and effort involved in the educational process. No one who has
studied the matter at all can doubt that the physical deterioration
which accompanies the impoverishment of the workers is of tremendous
significance educationally. All the evidence gathered upon the subject
in Europe and this country tends to the conclusion that physical
weakness and underdevelopment account for a very large percentage of our
educational failures. The studies of Porter, in St. Louis, Smedley and
Christopher, in Chicago, and of Professor Beyer, who is perhaps our
greatest authority, all tend to confirm the results of European
investigations, that children of superior physique make the best pupils.
Dull, backward pupils are generally inferior in physical

The number of dull and backward children in our public schools is so
great that a study from this physiological point of view would seem to
be quite as desirable and important as the many exhaustive and valuable
psychological studies with which the literature of Child Study abounds.
For many years special tutorial methods and institutions have existed
for idiot and feeble-minded children and such other classes of
distinctly defective children as epileptics, the blind, the deaf, and
the dumb. But it is only in recent years that any effort has been made
to deal with that far larger class of children distinguished equally
from these distinctly defective classes and from normal, typical
children. These pseudo-atypical children, as Dr. Groszmann terms them,
are much more numerous than is generally supposed. Professor Monroe, of
Stanford University, gathered particulars relating to 10,000 children in
the public schools of California and found that 3 per cent of the
children were feeble-minded and not less than 10 per cent backward and
mentally dull, needing special care and attention.[66] These children
who “skirt the borderland of abnormity” cannot properly be dealt with in
the ordinary classes, and it has been found necessary in most cities to
establish special classes for their benefit. While some of these classes
have children whose backwardness is more apparent than real, the
children of foreign immigrants, for example, whose difficulties with the
language cause them to be placed in grades with much younger children,
the problem is still serious when all possible allowance has been made
for these. In districts where the number of foreign-born children is
very small the percentage of backward children is very great. The
percentage found in the schools of California by Professor Monroe is
probably not too high for the country as a whole. In a general way it
corroborates the findings of European investigators, and a number of
educators to whom I submitted the question have given estimates based
upon their personal observations ranging from 10 to 15 per cent.

If we accept the California figures and apply them to the whole country,
we get a total of about 1,500,000 such children enrolled in the public
schools, for not more than one-fourth of whom has any special provision
been made or attempted. The seriousness of this aspect of the problem
will be apparent to teachers and others familiar with school work who
know how seriously 1 or 2 such children in a class of 40 or 50 will
impair the efficiency of the teacher’s efforts. By reason of their
dulness and slow mental action such children absorb too much of the
teacher’s time, which might more profitably be spent upon other
children, and thus act as a drag upon all the members of the class.

Moreover, they become discouraged by their failures, and, hardened by
constant rebuke and the taunts of their brighter companions, finally
careless, defiant, and altogether incorrigible. In many cases they leave
school before they are of the legal age, their leaving welcomed, and
often suggested, by the teachers, who not unnaturally tire of the
hindrance to their work. Yet they are the very children who can least of
all afford to miss whatever education they are capable of. They, more
than any others, need the training and development of their minds to fit
them for the battle of life. How can they otherwise be expected to earn
their daily bread in the competitive labor market, where dulness of
brain must inevitably prove a serious handicap? And unless they can
stand the test of that competition, they must become paupers. Many of
these children are taken away from school and sent to work, because,
their parents say, “they can’t learn and are better helping to pay the
rent than wasting their time in school.” In connection with the movement
for the prevention of child labor, we have come across hundreds of
instances of this kind. Factory inspectors and physicians in industrial
centres where child labor is prevalent have frequently pointed out that
a very large number of child workers are quite unfit for work. They were
sick and backward in school, and instead of that special care being
given them which their condition demanded in order that they might be
equipped for the struggle for existence, they were removed altogether
from the school’s influences and subjected to conditions which tend to
further deterioration, physical, mental, and moral.[67]

So that the problem is not merely one of economic waste represented by a
fruitless and vain expenditure for the education of children who are not
capable of benefiting by it. It is not merely a question of economic
waste added to educational failure and the peril to society which that
failure must involve in the crime which ignorance breeds and fosters.
All these things are involved, and, in addition to them, is involved the
terrible fact that we turn them adrift in the world, unfit for its
service and unable to adjust themselves to its needs. In the very nature
of things, because they are ill developed of body and mind, they must
become industrially inefficient. They sink from depth to depth in the
industrial abyss,

“To endure wrongs darker than death or night.”

Where giant machines, inventors’ brains, and ambitious immigrants in
countless numbers all conspire to narrow the labor market, they are
ruthlessly thrust aside. They are not only unemployed but unemployable.
They become paupers, driven into the morass of pauperism by forces that
are practically, for them, irresistible. Thus is the problem of
pauperism perpetuating itself. And to the economic waste represented by
the expenditure upon them in the schools must be added the further cost
of their support as dependants and paupers. It is a vicious circle.


That these same conditions are a fruitful source of criminality is
unquestionable. All our studies of juvenile delinquency point to the
fact that a very large proportion of the children who become truants,
moral perverts, and criminals are drawn from this same class of
physically degenerate children. It is commonplace nowadays to say that
many of our criminals are not really criminals at all, but the victims
of physical or mental abnormalities, often directly traceable to low
nutrition. In observing a number of juvenile delinquents the proportion
of ill-developed children is generally noticeable. Professor G. Stanley
Hall says, “Juvenile criminals, as a class, are inferior in body and
mind to normal children, and ... their social environment is no less
inferior.”[68] Professor Dawson found among boys and girls in
reformatory institutions a tendency to lighter weight, shorter stature,
and less strength of grip; 16 per cent of them being “clearly sufferers
from low nutrition.”[69] Professor Kline has shown the same general
condition in a striking study, and concludes that “low nutrition breeds
discontent and a tendency to run away.”[70] A mass of very similar
testimony might be cited from the records of the most competent
investigators in this and other countries. It is the universal
experience that a low standard of physical development is almost
invariably associated with low mental and moral standards.

It is no mere coincidence that inferiority of physique should be thus
universally and inseparably associated with inferiority of economic
condition. It is not a mere coincidence that superiority of physique
should be generally associated with mental superiority. Nor will the
suggestion of coincidence suffice to explain the universal association
of low physical and mental development with criminal propensities. These
facts possess a very definite, and very obvious, relation as cause and
effect. The three main divisions of degeneracy, physical, mental, and
moral, are inseparable and spring from the same causes. From the
investigations which have been made in this country and from the
voluminous literature upon the subject which similar investigations in
European countries have produced, I am satisfied that poor, defective
nutrition lies at the root of the physical degeneration of the poor; and
_a priori_ reasoning would justify the conclusion that the mental
degeneracy evidenced by the enormous number of backward children,
educational failures, and the moral degeneracy evidenced by increasing
juvenile delinquency and crime, are due to the same fundamental cause.
From those data alone we might, with ample justification, adopt the
words of a famous authority and say, “Defective nutrition lies at the
base of all forms of degeneracy.”[71] We need not, however, rely upon
this method, for there is no lack of direct testimony to show that low
nutrition is the prime and most fruitful cause of mental dulness and its
attendant evils.

I do not wish to be understood as contending that physical, mental, or
moral defects never exist except as a result of defective nutrition, or
that malnutrition never exists except as a result of poverty. I know,
for instance, that a great many children are backward in their studies
because they are handicapped by defects of vision or hearing, adenoid
growths, and the like. These are often easily curable, and the fitting
of proper glasses, or the removal of adenoid growths by slight surgical
operations, suffice to bring such children up to the standard of
normality. In an examination of over 7000 children in New York public
schools one-third were found to have “defects of vision, interfering
with the proper pursuit of their studies.”[72] In such cases
malnutrition may or may not be the initial cause. That defective vision
is often attributable to low and improper nutrition is beyond question.
My contention is that the vast majority of dull and backward children,
whose number makes a serious pedagogical problem, and a still more
serious social problem in that so many of them become either inefficient
and dependent, or criminal, are dull and backward as a result of
physical inferiority directly traceable to poor and inadequate feeding.

A striking evidence of the association of underfeeding and mental
dulness is afforded by the coincidence of numbers in the two classes
wherever careful, expert investigations have been made. More than twenty
years ago, as a result of some discussion upon the subject in the House
of Commons, Dr. Crichton-Browne, the famous English authority upon
mental diseases, prepared, at the request of the then vice-president of
the Committee of Council on Education, Mr. Mundella, a report upon the
physical and mental condition of the children in the elementary schools
of London.[73] In that report Dr. Crichton-Browne pointed out that
dulness, “sudden failure of intellect and languor of manner,” so
prevalent among poorer children, were generally associated with hunger
and semi-starvation. Later, the British Medical Association appointed a
committee consisting of Drs. Hack Tuke, D. E. Shuttleworth, Fletcher
Beach, and Francis Warner. They visited 14 schools scattered over a wide
area and having a total enrolment of about 5000 children. For the
purposes of examination 809 children were selected, of which number 231
were classed in the report as being mentally dull, and 184 as showing
evident signs of defective nutrition. The report adds, “We do not
suppose that we noted defective nutrition in all cases in which it may
have been present.” Very often the conditions noted are coexistent, so a
careful analysis of the figures was made, with the result that of the
cases of mental dulness 28.50 per cent were found to be among those
reported as suffering from defective nutrition, and the same proportion
of mentally dull included in the cases of defective nutrition.[74] In
the examination of the 7000 New York public school children already
referred to, Dr. Cronin found 650 cases of “bad mentality” and 632 cases
of “bad nutrition.” Similar investigations in several European cities,
notably Turin, Christiania, and Paris, show very similar results.

More conclusive still is the testimony of experience in cases where
school meals have been introduced. In 1883 Mr. Mundella, M.P.,
introducing the education estimates in the House of Commons, described
an experiment which was being carried on in the elementary schools at
Rousden by Sir Henry Peek in the way of providing a cheap, wholesome,
and nutritious midday meal for the children. The cost of the meals was,
according to Mr. Mundella, who spoke from a statement furnished by Sir
Henry Peek himself, less than two and a half cents per meal, five meals
costing twelve cents. The school inspectors testified that the results
had been eminently satisfactory “both from a physical and educational
point of view.” The meals proved to be an incentive to more regular
attendance and, by providing the children with the requisite stamina,
increased their mental efficiency, the result being an increased average
of passes in the government examination upon which the governmental
grants-in-aid were based.[75] In the following year, 1884, Mr. Jonathan
Taylor, a prominent member of the Social Democratic Federation, induced
the Sheffield School Board to introduce a system of providing cheap
school dinners. It was found that a good, substantial meal, which Mr.
Taylor describes as “sufficient in quantity and excellent in quality,
and forming such a dinner as satisfies myself, and which the teachers in
the schools are in the habit of partaking of along with the children,”
could be provided at a cost of less than two cents per capita, that sum
including the cost of fuel, cook’s wages, and other working expenses.
While, as the committee in charge reported to the school board, it was
soon found that there were a large number of children who could not
afford even two cents for a meal, the results of the experiment speedily
manifested themselves in a marked physical and mental improvement in the
children. It was particularly demonstrated that children who were
formerly dull and backward showed much improvement in their work after
they had partaken regularly of the school dinners for a short time.[76]
During the twenty years which have elapsed since these initial
experiments were made, many similar schemes have been introduced in
British schools, and in every case so far as I have been able to
ascertain the facts, there has been a marked improvement in the physical
and mental condition of the children affected.

Mrs. Humphry Ward has given a most interesting account of an experiment
in a “Special School for Defectives” at Tavistock Place, London, the
pioneer school of its kind in London. That it is a special school for
physically defective children does not detract from the importance of
the results noted. For some time there had been an arrangement whereby
the children were provided with a midday meal for which their parents
were charged three cents a day, the deficit being met by the managers
from the school fund. Complaint was made by some of the visitors
interested in the experiment that the meals were not good enough, not
sufficiently nourishing for children of that class, and the managers
were prevailed upon to improve the dietary to a considerable extent.
Mrs. Ward says: “The experiment of a more liberal and varied diet was
tried. More hot meat, more eggs, milk, cream, vegetables, and fruit were
given. In consequence the children’s appetites largely increased, and
the expense naturally increased with them. The children’s pence in May
amounted to £3 13_s._ 6_d._ ($17.64), and the cost of the food was £4
7_s._ 2_d._ ($20.92); in June, after the more liberal scale had been
adopted, the children’s payments were still £3 13_s._ 10_d._ ($17.72),
but the expenses had risen to £5 7_s._ 8_d._ ($25.84). Meanwhile the
physical and mental results of the increased expenditure are already
unmistakable. Partially paralyzed children have been recovering strength
in hands and limbs with greater rapidity than before.... The effect,
indeed, is startling to those who have watched the experiment.
Meanwhile, the teachers have entered in the log-book of the school their
testimony to the increased power of work that the children have been
showing since the new feeding has been adopted. Hardly any child now
wants to lie down during school time, whereas applications to lie down
used to be common; and the children _both learn and remember

In Birmingham, England, a voluntary organization started by the chairman
of the School Board, Mr. George Dixon, provides meals during the winter
months for something like 2500 children. This committee provides a
dinner, absolutely free of cost to the child, consisting principally of
lentil soup and bread and jam. The cost to the organization, according
to Dr. Airy, H.M.I., who gave testimony before the Inter-Departmental
Committee,[78] is less than one cent per meal inclusive, the manager’s
present salary being $500 per year. Formerly it was $750, but he
voluntarily accepted the reduction to $500 when subscriptions began to
fall off. Dr. Airy explained to the committee that the 2500 children
thus fed by this charity constitute about 2½ per cent of the child
population of the entire city. No attempt whatever is made to deal with
any children except those who are known to be “practically starving,”
the far larger number of children who, while being underfed and
seriously so, still get some sort of food, enough to keep them from
absolute destitution, being in no way provided for. One reason for the
low standard of meals given is the desire of the committee to make them
as unattractive as possible, so that few children will eat the dinners
except absolutely forced by sheer hunger. Another reason I give in full
from the “minutes of evidence” because of its bearing upon a phase of
the problem already noted. Dr. Airy was asked concerning the lentil
soup, “Is there any animal stock in it?” and replied: “Yes, there is a
certain amount, but not very much. It has been found by incessant
experiment—because this is an experimental business year by year—that
lentil soup was the best. _A starving child cannot take anything good;
its stomach rejects it at once. We gave far too good soup at first. It
had to be found out by experiment what they would stand._”[79] There is
another charity in Birmingham which provides breakfasts of bread and
cocoa and milk to practically the same class of destitute children.
Several teachers and others connected with educational work in
Birmingham have, in response to my inquiries, assured me that
notwithstanding the fact that the quality of meals given is so poor, and
that only the very lowest class of children is touched by the charity,
there has been a marked improvement in the mental capacity of the
children. One of the teachers, in a personal letter, says: “Of course, I
have no means of proving it statistically for you; our facilities for
child study do not include any system of individual record books, by
which method alone, it seems to me, could statistical data be gathered.
But I know personally several children who have been in my own class in
whom the mental improvement consequent upon their improved diet has been
most marked. If observation counts for anything at all, and I suppose it
does, I have no hesitation in saying that the mental improvement in a
large number of children has been simply marvellous.”

In Norway it has been for several years the custom of the school
authorities in several municipalities to provide, free of charge, a good
dinner for all school children who care to avail themselves of it. The
dinners are prepared in a central kitchen-station and sent out in boxes
to the various schools, special appliances being used to keep the meals
hot. The dinners consist usually of soup, porridge, meat, vegetables,
and bread for the ordinary children, and a special dietary for weak,
sick, or defective children.[80] This system of free dinners was
introduced as a result of a series of experiments made in Christiania.
It was found that the number of backward, dull children who came from
the poorer districts was much higher than elsewhere, and that they were,
as a rule, inferior in physical development. So great was the progress
made by the children in several classes in which the experiment of
giving them one good meal each day was tried that the school authorities
were induced to introduce the system generally into the schools. A
member of the Municipal Council of Trondhjem says, speaking of the free
school dinner system, “Norway now interprets civilization to mean that
society must conspire to save its children from the hostile forces of
unequal economic conditions, and to secure for them equal opportunities
and helpful conditions for the development of their highest and best

As a result of a careful study of the problem of how best to deal with
the backward child, and a comparison of her own observations with those
of teachers and others in Norway and France (where the _cantines
scolaires_ have been attended with results very similar to those
attained in Norway), a New York teacher in charge of a large class of
such children decided to try the experiment of feeding them.[81] “To
build up their intellects is the task we have to accomplish,” she said
to the writer, “and I have found that that can best be done through
building up their bodies first and so securing a decent physical basis
to work upon.” The children contribute a cent each per day to a fund
administered by the teacher, who provides each child with a cup of warm
milk every morning in the middle of the session. Should any child for
any reason be unable to contribute its share, it is not deprived of the
milk on that account, the small deficit being made up out of the
teacher’s own purse. In addition to the milk the children get such of
the products of the cooking classes as are suitable for them, three days
a week. It is a small experiment, too small indeed to justify any
sweeping generalization from it, but it is nevertheless important in
that it confirms fully the experience of foreign investigators that a
very large proportion of the children who are mentally dull need only to
be properly fed in order to enable their minds to develop normally.



A somewhat similar method of feeding the children has been tried for
three years at Speyer School, the practice and experimental school of
Teachers College, Columbia University.[82] The children of the lower
grades are supplied with milk and crackers at ten o’clock in the
morning, and “the teachers are unanimous in the statement that the
children are all happier and more able to work” in consequence of being
fed. These various experiments demonstrate beyond question that

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Online LibraryJohn SpargoThe Bitter Cry of the Children → online text (page 8 of 22)