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Report on the Influence
of School-Books upon Eyesight





British association for the Enhancement of








(Second Edition Revised.)





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Excerpt from Rules: "The copyright cf the reports of Research Committees
shall be vested in the Association."

Section L. Birmingham, 1913.] [BRITISH ASSOCIATION.




Report l of the Committee, consisting of

Dr. G. A. AUDEN (Chairman), Mr. G. F. DANIELL
(Secretary], Mr. C. H. BOTHAMLEY, Mr. W. D.
LEY SMITH, and Mr. W. T. H. WALSH, appointed
to inquire into the influence of School-books upon

THE Committee was appointed at Portsmouth in
1911, and from the beginning of its investigations
has had the advantage of the assistance of Dr. H.
Eason, Professor H. R. Kenwood, Mr. R. B.
Lattimer, Miss Brown Smith, and Dr. Louisa

In view of the fact that Local Education
Authorities are able greatly to influence the selec-
tion of school-books, the Committee made an
inquiry, on which is based the section of this report
headed ' Present Practice of Local Education
Authorities.' At the request of the Committee
Dr. H. Eason, Mr. Bishop Harman, and Professor
Priestley Smith drew up the ' Oculist Sub-Com-
mittee's Report.' The typographical section of
the report has been revised since its original
presentation at Dundee, and to this portion
oculists, school medical officers, directors of
education, teachers, publishers, printers, and type-
founders have contributed. The Committee desires
to record its sense of obligation to the pioneer
work of Javal.

1 This report is a revision (involving substantial alterations) of that
presented by the Committee in 1912, and is printed from the type in
which the report of 1912 was set up, at the request of the Committee,
subsequently to its issue in the ordinary type used for the Annual Report
of the Association.



The Present Practice of Local Education A uthorities
in England and Wales.

In a circular (No. 596) issued by the Board of
Education in 1908 the functions of the School
Medical Officer are defined. Under the heading
of ' Arrangements for attending to the health and
physical condition of school children ' it is stated
that he will advise the Local Education Authority
with reference to improvements of the school
arrangements. It is further stated in the Circular
that ' As regards cases of defective eyesight he will
indicate such measures as can be taken to remedy
or mitigate the defects by altering the position of
the children in the class, or improving the lighting
of the school in amount or direction ; and he will
call attention to the strain imposed on eyesight by
the use of too small type in text-books, the teaching
of very fine sewing, &c.' There can be no doubt
that this suggested advice has in many cases led
to an improvement where certain school arrange-
ments have been prejudicial to vision ; but hitherto
it has not been possible to deal effectively with the
provision of satisfactory school text-books.

A circular letter was sent to the Education
Authority of each county and county borough
stating the objects of the Committee, and asking
for information on the following points :

(1) Whether the eyesight of the children in

the schools of the Authority is tested at
regular intervals ;

(2) Whether advice on the care of the children's

eyesight is given to school teachers ;

(3) Whether the teachers instruct the children

in the general care of eyesight ;

(4) What regulations (if any) have been adopted

for the selection of school-books and


atlases (including limits of price, size of
type, character of illustrations, weight, &c.),
wall maps, charts, and diagrams ;
(5) Whether any definite principles or rules
have been laid down by or for those who
select school-books for the Authority.
Replies were received from sixty Authorities, to
whom and their officers the Committee is much
indebted for the information supplied.

Under the system of medical inspection now
general in public elementary schools, in accordance
with the day-school code, the eyesight of children
of school age is tested at least twice during their
school life, the test being made, with few excep-
tions, by means of the well known test-cards. A
few Authorities in both counties and county
boroughs go further, and employ a competent
oculist, either part or full time, his duty being to
examine special cases and prescribe spectacles or
recommend that medical or operative treatment
be obtained. Some Authorities have arrangements
under which spectacles according to the prescription
of their oculist are supplied to the children at cost
price, which is comparatively low by reason of
special contracts. Arrangements are also made
for free provision of spectacles in case of need,
frequently with the aid of voluntary associations.

The school medical officers and ophthalmic
surgeons on the occasion of their visits give advice
to the teachers concerning the treatment of children
with defective sight. With one or two important
exceptions, however, it would seem that instruction
concerning proper and improper use of the eyes in
school-work has not been given to teachers. The
Committee is pleased to report that, under the
new regulations for the training of teachers,
hygiene, including testing of eyesight, is now a


compulsory subject for the Board of Education
examination of training-college students.

We learn that it is not customary for teachers
to give the children special instruction concerning
the care of their eyes. It is stated in several
instances that teaching of this kind is given
incidentally in the course of the lessons on hygiene
which form part of the school curriculum ; but
nothing more is done, and what is done amounts
to very little.

Speaking generally, no definite principles or
rules as to printing and other conditions of legibility
have been adopted in the selection of school-books,
atlases, diagrams, &c. Two or three Authorities,
when drawing up their book-lists, have given
considerable attention to their possible effects on
eye-sight, but without formulating any definite
rules. Several state that the Committee or officers
responsible for the supervision of the book-supply
pay attention to the type, paper, &c. ; several, on
the other hand, inform us that the selection of
books, &c., is left to the teachers.

Summarising the evidence generally, it may
be said that whilst effective arrangements for
the detection of existing defects in the eyesight
of elementary school children are general and
arrangements for the supply of proper spectacles
at cheap rates are not uncommon, practically no
systematic attention is given to the influence of
school-books upon eyesight.

The replies lead us to believe that the report
of the Committee will have attention from Local
Education Authorities.

Report of the Oculist Sub-Committee.

The eye of the child is a growing eye. It is
immature both in structure and in function. At


birth the eye has a volume equal to about half
that of the full-grown eye ; the materials of which
it is built are comparatively soft and yielding ; the
functional power of the visual apparatus is merely
a perception of light. By growth and develop-
ment, rapid at first, slower later on, the eye tends
progressively to acquire the dimensions and the
powers of the normal completed organ.

Nutrition by healthy blood, and the natural
stimulus of voluntary use, are essential to this
process. We know by experience that in early
infancy disease may arrest the growth of the eye,
and that suspension of use, as when a serious
ophthalmia prevents an infant for many weeks from
attempting to use its eyes, may check functional
development to an extent which cannot after-
wards be made good. On the other hand, exces-
sive efforts, due to unnatural demands on the
eyesight, are apt to be injurious in the opposite
direction. Unfortunately there is evidence to show
that the demand made on the eyesight of school
children is not infrequently excessive.

At the age when school life begins the visual
apparatus is still immature. The orbits, the eyes
themselves, and the muscles and nerves which move
them, have still to increase considerably in size.
The various brain-structures concerned in vision
have not only to grow but to become more complex.
The intricate co-ordinating mechanism which
later will enable the eyes, brain, and hand to work
together with minute precision is awaiting develop-
ment by training. The refraction of the eyes is
not yet fixed. It is usually more or less hyper-
metropic, with a tendency to change in the direction
of normal sight ; in other words, it has not reached
the ideal condition in which the eyes see distant
objects without accommodative effort, but is tend-

B 2


ing towards it. In short, the whole visual apparatus
is still unfinished, and is therefore more liable than
at a later age to injury by over-use.

Over-use of the eyes is chiefly to be feared in
such occupations as reading, writing, and sewing,
not in viewing distant objects. During near work
the head is usually bent forward, and the blood-
vessels of the eyes tend to become fuller ; the
focus of the eyes is shortened by a muscular effort
which alters the form of the crystalline lens ; the
visual axes, which in distant vision are nearly
parallel, are held in a position of convergence,
and if the work be reading, they are also moved
continuously from side to side. It is near work,
therefore, that makes the greatest demand upon
the eyes, and the nearer the work the greater the
strain. Moreover it is chiefly in near work that
continuous mental effort is required.

Children who do too much close eye-work
suffer in various ways. Some simply from fatigue,
showing itself by inattention, mental weariness,
temporary dimness of sight, or aching of the eyes
and head. Some from congestion of the eyes, as
shown by redness, watering, and frequent blinking.
A certain number, in circumstances which pre-
dispose them to the disorder, develop strabismus, or
squint. Some others and these cases are perhaps
the most important of all develop progressive

Myopia, or short sight, commonly depends on
undue elongation of the eyeball. It is never, or
hardly ever, present at birth. It is rare at five
years of age. It usually begins during school life,
and increases more or less from year to year during
the period of growth. It sometimes continues to
increase after growth is completed. It is not
necessarily, or always, associated with over-use of


the eyes, either in school or elsewhere, for we see
it arise after illness, we meet with it in illiterates,
and we know that the predisposition to it is strongly
hereditary. But it is everywhere most frequent
among the most studious, and there is a mass of
evidence to show that it depends very largely,
both in its origin and in its progress, on over-use
of the eyes in near work.

A moderate myopia which does not increase
may be regarded as an innocent, though somewhat
inconvenient, over-development of the eye. A
high myopia usually involves serious stretching
and thinning of the coats of the eye, and a liability
to further trouble. A high myopia in a child is a
very grave condition, for further deterioration
always follows. In connection with myopia alone,
to say nothing of other eye defects, the question of
school-work in relation to eyesight deserves more
attention than it has hitherto received.

The subject has many sides : the lighting of
school-rooms, the arrangement of the desks, the
design and proportion of individual desks, the
attitudes of the scholars, the amount of work
required, are all factors of importance ; but they
cannot be considered here. Our present effort is
directed to the standardising of school-books, a
very important step in the desired direction.

Small print leads the young scholar to look too
closely at his book. He is not yet familiar with
the forms of the words, and his attention is not
easily secured unless he has retinal images larger
than those which satisfy the trained reader. To
obtain these larger images he brings the book too
near to his eyes, or his eyes too near the book, and
this, for the reasons already given, is apt to be
injurious. Hence the importance of establishing
certain standards of legibility for school-books,


having regard to the ages of the scholars who are
required to use them, and of employing only such
books as reach these standards.

The importance of the matter becomes still
more evident when we remember that, according to
recent medical inspection, at least 10 per cent, of
the children in our elementary schools have serious
defects of vision, and about 20 per cent, errors of
refraction, and see less easily and clearly, even
when provided with proper glasses, than do normal-
sighted children.

At what age should children begin to read from
books ? From the hygienic point of view the later
the better, and there is reason to believe that little,
if anything, is lost educationally by postponing the
use of books in school until the age of seven at
earliest. Beginners may learn to. read from wall-
charts ; and in the general instruction of young
children, teaching by word of mouth, with the help of
black-boards, large-printed wall-sheets, pictures, and
other objects which are easily seen at a distance, is
preferable from the medical standpoint, for it has the
great advantage of involving no strain on the eyes.

Hygienic Requirements with which School-books should


The Committee desires to acknowledge the
helpful advice received from Mr. J. H. Mason, Mr.
R. J. Davies, Mr. F. J. Hall, Mr. H. Fitzhenry, and
Mr. F. Killick in connection with the technical and
trade aspects of this section of its report ; also to
thank Messrs. Caslon & Co., the Chiswick Press,
John Haddon & Co., the Imprint Publishing Co.,
Miller & Richard, Shanks & Sons, Stephenson,
Blake & Co., R. H. Stevens & Co., for the loan
of specimen books, types and printing papers.


The factors which have been taken into con-
sideration are : (i) The nature of the psychological
process involved in reading ; (2) the quality of the
workmanship employed in book-production ; (3) the
quality of the paper on which text and illustrations
are printed ; (3a) the mode of binding books ;
(4) the character of the illustrations and the pro-
cess employed for their reproduction ; (5) the colour
and quality of the ink used in printing the text ;
(6) the mode of printing ; (7) the character of the
type ; (8) the size of the type faces and their
vertical and horizontal separation ; (9) the length
of the lines ; (10 to 18) particular requirements
of special subjects.

1. The psychology of the reading process. The
special consideration to be here noted is that the
printing should be such as will facilitate the main
aim of reading viz. the getting of the meaning of
what is read. The trained reader generally recog-
nises whole words and phrases at a glance. It is
therefore important that the process of beginners
should be made as easy as possible towards the re-
cognition of word-wholes and phrase-wholes by the
use of type suitable in character and judiciously
spaced. The best type for isolated letters is not
necessarily the best for word-wholes, and attention
must be given to the comparative legibility of
letters as seen in context.

2. Workmanship. It frequently happens that
much of the good effect of well-selected type, paper,
&c., is neutralised by inefficient workmanship. In
all the recommendations which follow, good work-
manship will be assumed.

3. Paper. ^-The paper should be without gloss.
Glazed paper is trying to the eyes by reason of
reflections which are apt to interfere with binocular


vision. Pure white paper gives the greatest con-
trast with the ink, and therefore a paper which is
white or slightly toned towards cream-colour is to
be preferred under average conditions of class-room
illumination. A hard-wearing paper of suitable
quality should be used, as a soft paper has two
defects (i) it is readily soiled, (2) the surface is
easily rubbed off and the detritus is injurious.
The surface should be fairly smooth, because a
rough-surfaced paper necessitates a heavy im-
pression in order that the unbroken surface of
each letter may appear, which impression is liable
to cause a still rougher surface on the other side
of the sheet. The print of one side must not
show through from the other, and the printing
must not affect the evenness of the surface of the
other side. These rules also apply to illustrations,
which afford a good test of the opacity of the
paper. Books are occasionally bound and pressed
before the ink is dried, and a faint impression of
the opposite sheets causes a haze. Copies with
this defect should be rejected.

3a. Mode of binding books. Books should be
stitched with thread. Books should open flat and
should not require the restraint of the hand to keep
them so ; stabbing or clipping should therefore
be avoided. If not flat, the convex surface of
the page gives rise to eye-strain. On recent tests
of a large number of school-books Mr. Bishop
Harman reports .that certain small books with very
good paper and type could not be passed as
satisfactory because they were clipped from side to
side with wire staples. The books could not be
opened flat ; the back margin was lost and some-
times even the print near the back. The excessive
handling needed to keep such books open would
soon cause the pages to be soiled. Even in the


better samples of wire-stabbed and thread-stabbed
work the margin was reduced.

4. Illustrations include (i) pictures for young
readers, (2) diagrams and sketches, and (3) photo-
graphic reproductions involving considerable
elaboration of detail. For (i) it is important to
recollect that children are only confused by elabo-
rate or complex pictures. Bold, firm treatment
of a few objects is appropriate alike to their
visual powers and to their understanding. From
this point of view line blocks from pen-and-ink
drawings are preferable to half-tone blocks from
photographs or from wash-drawings. The pictures
should be of a good size, and the printed text
should not extend in narrow lines at the side. In
the case of (2) diagrams, it is important that the
lettering should not be too small to be easily read.
(3) For the older scholars it is sometimes necessary
to provide illustrations exhibiting details with the
precision most readily obtainable by photography.
For the sake of obtaining effective illustrations by
the half-tone method, use is frequently made of
highly glazed paper. Whenever this is done it is
important that such paper should be used for illus-
trations only, and not for the text. By the use of
recent methods it is possible to secure half-tone
prints with good rendering of detail on matt paper.
Blurred photographs not only fail to instruct;
they tend to injure eyesight.

5. Ink. The ink should be a good black, and
it is important to secure a proper, sufficient, and
even distribution of it over the whole page. The
use of coloured inks for reading matter is strongly
to be deprecated, especially the use of more than
one colour on a page.

6. Mode of printing. It is important that types
should be in true alignment along the base line.


The practice of printing from stereos produces
quite satisfactory results, provided that the stereo
is carefully made from new or little-worn type. A
slight thickening of all the lines results from stereo-
typing, but this in no way detracts from legibility.
Stereos should not be used when they begin to show
signs of wear. The ordinary text of school-books
which are intended for continuous reading should
not be printed in double columns.

7. Character of type. 1 The type should be
clean-cut and well-defined. Condensed or com-
pressed type should not be used, as breadth is even
more important than height. The contrast between
the finer and the heavier strokes should not be great,
for hair-strokes are difficult to see. On the other
hand, a very heavy-faced type suffers in legibility
through diminution of the white inter-spaces, as, for
example, when the space in the upper half of the e
is reduced to a white dot. In an ideal type the
whites and blacks are well balanced in each letter,
and it is easy to discriminate between e f c t and o,
between /and /, and between h and k ; and to recog-
nise m, an, nu, nv, w, in. The general form of the
letters should be broad and square rather than
elongated vertically ; thus the letter o should
approach the circular shape. Legibility is not in-
creased by adding to the height of a letter without
adding to its width. There should be a lateral
shoulder on every type so that each letter is distinct.
Long serifs should be avoided, and any extension
sideways which forms or suggests a continuous line
along the top or bottom is detrimental.

The upper half of a word or letter is usually
more important for perception than is the lower
half, because the upper half of most letters has a
more distinctive shape than the lower. In some

1 For explanation of technical terms, see Appendix.


recent type-faces the designers have accordingly
shortened the letters below the line, and lengthened
those above thus the p is shortened and the h
lengthened, at the same time the upper parts of
the t have been raised. It is too early to pass
judgment on the results, and more experiment is

With reference to the question of ' modern-
face ' versus ' old-face ' design for type, the
Committee is not prepared to advise the use of
either to the exclusion of the other, good and bad
varieties of both styles being at present in use.
Great contrast between the thick and thin strokes
is a serious defect which often appears in ' modern
face.' It is claimed for the * modern face ' that the
letters are more legible, and it may be conceded that
failure to provide the minimum height of the short
letters is more frequent in ' old face.' Hence the
letters of the ' modern face ' are sometimes more
legible in the case of sizes below twelve-point.
The advocates of the ' old face ' contend that the
1 modern face ' letters remain isolated, whereas the
letters of the ' old face ' flow more naturally into
words ; thus the form of the word and its meaning
are apprehended smoothly. It is also claimed
that the basic design of the ' old face ' is of higher
aesthetic merit. The Committee insists on the
importance of the minimum height and breadth
for the small letters (vide columns 2 and 3 of the
table), and if this be secured leaves the decision
between the * modern face ' and * old face ' to
individual judgment helped by the criteria provided
in various paragraphs of this report.

Italics, being less easy to read than ordinary
type of the same size, should be used sparingly.

8. The size of type-faces and their vertical and
horizontal separation. The size of the type-face is

C 2


the most important factor in the influence of
books upon vision. Legibility depends mainly on
the height and breadth of the short letters, for the
larger the type the further from the eyes can it be
read with ease, and it is of the first importance to
induce the young reader to keep a sufficient
distance between eyes and book. Children under
seven years old should be able to lean back in
their seats and read from the book propped up on
the far side of the desk. (As a rule books should
not be too large or heavy to be held in the hand.)


Online LibraryBritish Association for the Advancement of ScienceReport on the influence of school-books upon eyesight → online text (page 1 of 2)