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eyes and ears necessarily make school work difficult and disagree-
able. A child with defective eyes or ears misses a great many
things which the normal child can see clearly or hear distinctly.
The sad aspect of the matter is that a great many children have
sensory defects of which neither they themselves nor their parents
or teachers are aware. They assume that every one else sees or
hears just as they do and consequently their attention is not called
to it. These defects, however, often become serious and remain as
permanent hindrances throughout life. Many of them, if discovered
early, may either be kept from becoming aggravating or be reduced
very considerably. Furthermore, sensory defects, and in particular
visual defects, have far-reaching consequences upon a child's life
as a whole through the production of headaches, nervousness, and
dislike for school work. It is even claimed that truancy is in some
instances indirectly traceable to visual defects on account of the
dislike for school work produced by them. Dr. J. H. Cliborne has
given a retrospect of his own school days during which he suffered
from visual defects, as follows:

"I now know I have always carried about 1.50 diopters of hyper-
metropia; in my very early days, possibly more. Books and school were
to me a nightmare, a source of unutterable disgust. I drove myself to
my tasks with the scourge of duty; I never took one moment's joy or
pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge, unless it was the satisfaction
of a task accomplished or conquest gained. I have no memory of a sense
of pleasure connected with my studies at school or college. The only
pleasant memories I have are those connected with outdoor sports, or
facts gained through observation, or in the lecture-room through my


ears; and from my boyhood I could never understand why we were
forced to read from books all that we learned.

"Early in life I pondered over the easiness of the task of those who
never sat at the feet but who followed the tracks of the peripatetic philos-
ophers. Verily, my school and college days would have been a joy to me
had my ears and my distant vision been my means of acquiring knowl-
edge; and yet I never had a headache in my life at school nor in after
years untU after the commencement of presbyopia. I was nervous to
the point of madness at times, and the more nervous I was the more
dihgent I became, and the nearer I put my nose to my book. I have
frequently observed that my right eye was crossed after prolonged study,
or after a long written examination; this was also at times observed in
my case by a fellow-student. That the difficulty lay in my hypermetropia
I have no maimer of doubt. I had inherited a love of learning, I felt
sure, and I had a right to the assurance, and my hatred of close applica-
tion was a mystery to me. I created a frown by my accommodative
strain, which has ever been a part of me. Prolonged application to
books would be followed often by sleeplessness or violence in the field at
play. I learned for these reasons the art of complete concentration, but
at what an expense of nervous energy." (Swift '12, pp. 94-95.)

As concrete illustration of the manner in which undiscovered
visual defect may interfere with school work, we may cite the
following case from the psycholgical laboratory of the University
of Permsylvania:

"On a certain afternoon in March, 1896, Miss Margaret T. McGuire, a
grade-school teacher in the Philadelphia public schools, went to the
psychological laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, accompanied
by a lad of fourteen — a well mannered, intelligent lad, industrious in his
school work; one of the favorite pupils, in fact. Yet this lad was the
'bogy' of the teachers who for seven years had had him in their classes:
he was a chronic bad speller. This does not mean that he misspelled
some words sometimes. He misspelled every word always, and did it in
the same careful and serious manner with which he recited the history
lesson he loved. His reading was as bad as his spelling; he was absolutely
incapable of getting through a single sentence correctly, a, an, and, they
and a few three-letter words being the net result of his seven years*
schooling. He read saw for was, water for weather; wrote Mat for that,
soas, for soap, and other picturesque combinations of the sort in endless
variety. His case seemed hopeless. . . . Dr. Witmer made a long
examination, the result of which was the discovery that Charles Oilman
had an ocular defect never, in all these years, so much as suspected by
either his parents or his teachers: at the distance of about three feet the boy



sa^v everything double: 'he lacked the power to direct the two eyes co-
ordinately upon the same point in space, the left eye looking a little
higher than the right.' A page of ordinary print was thus a blur; when-
ever he attempted to write, the words doubled under his pen. Curiously
enough, he had never mentioned this pecuharity — he seemed to think it
the natural process of vision. And he had repeated three whole years of
school on this account alone. . . . He was fitted with glasses and later
operated upon; then for the first time in his life the printed page and the
words he was tracing with his pen were clear. But his reading and writing
and spelling were just as bad as ever! The oculist had removed the
defect — he had not removed the effect of the defect: that was in the boy's
mind. And it was here that the psychologist came to the rescue by show-
ing just what the effect was and how to remedy it.

"Now, it is an obvious truism of daily life that in order to recognize a
thing when wc see it again, we must have seen it, at least once, clearly and
distinctly: a mental image of it must have been left in the mind. Read-
ing is simply a rapid-fire recognition process by means of the stored
mental images of words. Charles Oilman had no stores of images of
words, for he had never seen any — he had seen only blurs of words. He
was even worse oH than the child just groping its way through the primer,
for he had to unlearn the blurs he had patiently acquired through those
seven years when nobody knew what his trouble was; then word by word,
he had to restock his mind with the images of words shown him through
his glasses. . . . In spite of this handicap, the boy learned to read, write,
and spell, and was finally graduated from the grammar school only three
years later than he should have been; which was better than not being
graduated at all." (Carter '09.)

Types of Visual Defects. The most common forms of visual
defects are myopia, hypermetropia, astigmatism, strabismus, and

Myopia, or near-sightedness, is usually due to the fact that the
eyeball is too long and consequently the rays of light entering the
eye are focused at a point somewhere in front of the retina. As a
result the rays of light are again spread out when they reach the
retina and therefore do not form a distinct image.

Hypermetropia, or far-sightedness, is usually due to the fact
that the eyeball is too short and so the rays of light entering the
eye are not sufficiently refracted in order to form a clear image
when they impinge upon the retina. The image would be formed
at a point back of the retina if the rays of light were extended.
In some cases myopia and hypermetropia may be due to improper
refraction of light by the crystalline lense or the cornea. These
abnormal conditions cause a considerable strain upon the muscles


of the eye which attempt to accommodate the lens in order to
form as clear an image as possible.

Astigmatism is due to the fact that the curvature of the cornea
or of the lens, usually of the former, is not the same in all meridians.
The result is that if the lens is accommodated for rays of light from
some parts of the field of vision, it will not be accommodated for
rays of light from other parts of the field of vision, and consequently
a portion of the field of vision will be distinct and another portion
will be blurred. The curvature of the cornea or of the lens in the
case of astigmatism may be compared to that of an eggshell. It
is different in different directions whereas in the normal eye it is
similar in all directions like that of a sphere.

Strabismus refers to the lack of perfect balance in the external
muscles of the eyes, so that the two eyes do not focus upon the same
point at the same time. This difference in point of focus may, of
course, vary anywhere from perfect coincidence, as it should be in
the normal eye, to a very large deviation, commonly known as cross-
eyedness, which can be observed readily by looking at a person's
eyes. The history of Charles Oilman cited on preceding pages was
a case of strabismus.

Color-blindness consists in the confusion of certain colors, nearly
always red and green. Confusion of the other two fundamental
colors, yellow and blue, almost never occurs. The cause of it is
more or less speculative and may be due to the absence, or the im-
proper functioning, of the color elements in the retina. Color-
blindness is obviously a drawback in any type of school work in
which colors are concerned, such as drawing, map work, domestic
science and manual arts and all scientific studies in which color
discrimination is involved.

Causes of Visual Defects. Visual defects are due in general
to two causes, (i) heredity, and (2) the strained use of the eyes for
fine distinctions at close range, particularly under poor illumination.
Color-blindness and strabismus are probably inherited in nearly
every instance. The other types of defects which relate to the
formation of the image are proably due in part to hereditary con-
ditions in the sense organs and in part to overstrained use of the
eyes. Reading, which has been the great promoter of civilization,
has also been, in a certain sense, a deteriorator of the eyes through
the strain put upon them by the fine distinctions that must be
made at close range and at a tremendously rapid rate. Durr [as
reported by Whipple ('10, p. 139,)] has attempted to explain the



great prevalence of myopia in Germany as compared with other
countries by the excessive demands made by the German school
system. He has estimated the number of hours devoted to study
and to exercise by the typical boy during the years 10 to 19 in
different countries as follows:

Hours study Hours exercise

Germany 20,000 650

France 19,000 1,300

England 16,500 4,500

Most hygienists maintain that myopia is an acquired condition
whereas anatomists are more inclined to regard it as an inherited
condition. Cohn (Whipple '10, p. 139) reports that myopia oc-
curred in gymnasia in the following increasing percentages during
the six years of study: 12.5, 18.2, 23.7, 31.0. 41.3, 55.8.

Frequency of Visual Defects. Recent years have brought a
considerable number of investigations as to the percentage of
children with defective vision. Whipple made an examination of
the vision of 1,000 white and 100 colored children in Jefferson City,
Missouri, in which he found the following percentages of visual
defects :

TABLE : .. After Whipple

Visual defects among i 000 white and 100 colored children in Jefferson City,


White Colored

Defective vision (Snellen test) 36. 5% 19%

(one eye) 13.

(both eyes) 22 .

(first 3 grades, 147 pupils) 29 .

(high school, 116 pupils) 40.

Pain after using eyes in study 29 .

Probably needing glasses 41 .

Wearing glasses when examined 3.8 5

Cross-eyed 3.0 2

Taussig ('09) has summarized the percentages of visual defects
in various cities in different countries as follows:

' This percentage is probably too high since it was discovered that the colored chil-
dren took peculiar pride ia reporting headaches because they seemed to consider it a
sign of intellectual keenness.

8 17

7 12



5 34'




After Taussig ('09)

Heidelberg, Germany (1870) 35

Edinburgh, Scotland (1904) 43

Dunfermline, Scotland (1907) 17

Cleveland, well-to-do district (1907) 32

" congested district (1907) 71

Massachusetts, except Boston (1907) 19

Boston and environment (1907) 30

Boston (1908) 23

New York City (1906) 31

New York City, Borough of Manhattan 10

Chicago (1909) 19

Jefferson City, Mo., either e3'e (1908) 36

" " " both eyes (1908) 22

St. Louis County, Mo., either eye less than 20/20 30

" " " " both eyes less than 20/30 (1909) 14

" " " " both eyes less than 20/40 (1909) 2












Additional results from other cities as reported by Gulick and
Ayres ('o3, p. 83) are as follows:


Bayonne, N. J 7-7%

Camden, N. J. (1906) 27.7

Milwaukee (1907) 14- 7

Minneapolis (1908) 23 . 9

Pawtucket, R. I. (190:) 11

Utica, N. Y. (1897) 10

Worcester, Mass 19

The large variations in the percentages quoted for different
cities probably do not represent actual differences in the prevalence
of visual defects. They are probably due mainly to differences in
standards adopted by various examiners. Whether an eye is re-
ported as defective or not is, in the milder forms of defect, an
arbitrary matter. From the purely mechanical standpoint, an
absolutely perfect eye is undoubtedly very rare. Therefore the
matter resolves itself largely into the question as to whether the
deviation from perfection is sufficient to interfere appreciably
with normal distinct vision. As a general statement we may say,
according to the quoted tables, that approximately 25% to 33%
of the school children have visual defects sufficiently serious to
demand some attention. Color-blindness fortunately is relatively
rare. It is estimated that 4% or 5% of men and less than 1% of
women are color-blind.


Visual defects seem to increase measurably with successive
years in school. Thus in Whipple's table the percentage of de-
fect among high school pupils is 1 1% higher than that among pupils
^ in the first three grades. An extensive comparison was made by
' Gulick and Ayres ('oS) in New York City which showed the follow-
ing percentages grade by grade :


Grade Per Cent of Visual Defect

2 20.2

3 21.9

4 25.8

5 24.8

6 24. s

7 26.9

8 32-3

Remedial Measures for Avoiding Visual Defects. The first
and probably most important suggestion is the examination of
the eyes of pupils at least once in two years or preferably once a
year. This would serve as a means of discovering the visual de-
fects so that measures could then be adopted for the proper care
of those pupils suffering from them. Excellent results have been
shown in various cities in which general sensory examinations
have been introduced. Taussig reports that in Boston the per-
centage of visual defects dropped from 30.7% to 23% and in
New York City from 31.3% to 10.2% as a result of the introduc-
tion of visual examinations. The schools require compulsory
attendance, but they have not taken sufficient steps to make it
possible for the children to remain in school to their greatest profit.

In the next place, the proper lighting of schoolrooms is highly
important. This matter is being taken care of, however, at the
present time by school architects in a much more thoroughgoing
manner than was formerly the case. Many of the older buildings
are poorly arranged and wretchedly lighted. The amount of win-
dow area to floor area usually recommended as satisfactory, is
approximately one to five or six. As typical of the inadequacy
of the lighting in older school buildings we may note that in a
test of the amount of light at different desks in one of the old school
buildings in Madison, made by Cohn's light tester, showed that in a
room of five rows of seats the two rows next to the inside wall
showed a decided insufficiency in illumination.


Numerous other precautions may readily be exercised by the
school to avoid the aggravation of existing visual defects. Such
measures are the breaking up of the school program to spread the
severe use of the eyes, reduction of close work in the early years of
a child's life, prohibition of work in poor artificial light, adjust-
ment of the size of the desk to the size of the pupil, the instilling
of the habit of resting the eyes even for the short interval of a few
minutes in the midst of eye-straining work. The proper printing
of books and the use of appropriate paper is being looked after
by publishers much more carefully to-day than formerly.

Frequency of Auditory Defects. The presence of a greater
or less amount of deafness in one or both ears often interferes very
considerably with normal school work. Whipple has reported for
the i,ooo white and loo colored children in Jefferson City, Missouri,
auditory defects as follows:

White Colored

Defective hearing (whisper test) 7 . 7% 7 0%

" " (one ear) 6.4 4.0

" " (both ears) 11.3 17.

Taussig ('09) has reported the following percentages of de-
fective hearing in various cities:


Edinburgh, Scotland (1904) 12 . 2%

Dunfermline, Scotland (1907) 4.0

Cleveland, well-to-do district (1907) 5.2

" congested district (1907) 1.8

Massachusetts, except Boston (1907) 5.8

Boston and environment (1907) 7-7

Boston (1908) 7-6

New York City (1906) 2.0

New York City, Borough of Manhattan i .0

Chicago (1909) 2.7

St. Louis County, Mo., either ear defective (1909) 7.3

" " " " both ears seriously defective (1909) 2.2


Additional results reported by Gulick and Ayres ('08) are as



Bayonne, N. J 2.5%

Camden, N. J. (1906) 4.1

Minneapolis (1908 7.7

Pawtucket (1901) 4-3

Utica, N. Y. (1897) 6.6

Worcester, Mass 6.6



As a general statement we may say that approximately 5% to
10% of pupils suffer from defective hearing of a sufficiently serious
character to interfere with their school work and to require medical

Effects of Sensory Defects upon School Work. A number of
inquiries have been made to determine the amount of hindrance
which sensory defects have upon the proper performance of school
work. Dr. Cornell has reported the following results for three
schools in Philadelphia showing the average school marks of normal
and defective pupils:

TABLE 36. After Cornell

Allison School — 219 children, both sexes, 6 to 12 years old


Normal child 75

Average child 74

General defectives 72.6

Adenoids and enlarged tonsils 72

Deaf 67.2

Ninth Street Primary School — 84 children, both sexes, 6-10 yrs. old.

Language Arithmetic Spelling Average

64 cases normal children 72.9 75.5 75.4 74.6

84 cases average children 70.5 74 72. 8 724

21 cases general defectives 63.3 70 64.8 66

8 cases adenoids 60 . o 66 . 7 65 63 . g

No cases deaf.

Claghorn School — 252 children, both sexes, 12 to 15 years old.

Language Arithmetic History Average

179 cases normal children 74.4 72 76 -6 74.3

252 cases average children 72.7 70 76.5 73.1

73 cases general defectives 71.4 '65.1 76.2 70.8

Whipple in his study in Jefferson City found that among pupils
of good vision, 26% did unsatisfactory work and among pupils
with defective vision 38% did unsatisfactory work. Smedley
reported that in Chicago there were 18% with auditory defects
among pupils above grade, and 25% among pupils below grade.
It is difficult to say how much of the scholastic inferiority of those
having sensory defects is due to these defects and how much is


due to inferior native ability. It has been shown by Pintner and
Paterson ('16) that deaf children are fully three years behind
normal children in learning the digit-symbol test which, as given
by them, does not depend upon the use of language. Goddard ('14)
in an intensive investigation found blindness perceptibly asso-
ciated with feeble-mindedness, and deafness with neuropathic

Musical Discrimination. Besides the various degrees of deaf-
ness, the sense of hearing is of direct interest to the school from
the standpoint of musical instruction. The ability to sing, and
to some extent, to appreciate , music, depends in part upon the
accuracy of the discrimination of pitch. This ability varies widely
among people, and considerable inaccuracy in musical discrimina-
tion is a distinct difficulty in learning music. The results of recent
experiments seem to mdicate rather definitely that accuracy in
pitch discrimination can probably not be improved by practice
or by teaching. The voice in singing and the hand in playing the
violin, are guided by the accuracy of the ear. If the ear is not
accurate the individual is unable to guide his voice or his fingers
with a precision necessary for the production of music.

Seashore ('01), who has studied this problem carefully, has
suggested that pupils whose discrimination is two vibrations or
less have a sufficiently fine ear to become musicians; pupils whose
discrimination lies between 3 and 8 vibrations, which includes the
large majority of people, have a sufficiently accurate discrimination
for ordinary musical instruction and enjoyment; pupils whose
discrimination Hes between 9 and 17 vibrations should have musi-
cal instruction only if they have special inclination or desire for it
and singing in school should be optional for them; and finally,
pupils whose discrimination lies at 18 or above, should prob-
ably not be required to study music or to attempt to produce

Physical Defects. Beside the sensory defects there are several
types of physical defects whose frequency is high and whose inter-
ference with school work is serious. The prevalence of these de-
fects is indicated in the following table, adapted from Gulick and
Ayres ('13, p. 38):



Percentages of children having defects of

Teeth Throat Nose Glands Others

Boston (191 2). 40.S 22.6 8.2 12.4 17.7

Chicago (1910) 36.5 20.2 S.I 13. S 8.9

Cleveland (1910-11) 32.4 15.3 11. 6 9.8 7.5

Newark, N. J. (1910-11) 29.3 18.9 12.3 17. i 13.7

New York (1911) 59.0 15.0 ir.9 .... 4.6

Oakland, Cal. (1910-1 1 ) 48.1 35.8 18. i 8.9 3.0

Pasadena, Cal. (1909-10) 30.5 5.0 5.0 .... 6.0

Rochester, N. Y. (1910) 44.8 29.4 17.4 8.5 17.0

St. Louis (1910-11) 52.0 17.7 4.8 .... 1.2

Average 41.5 20.1 10.8 11. 8



Problems. Next to the normal operation of the sense organs
come the actual perception and observation of stimuli as pre-
sented to the sense organs. What material you learn and how
you learn it depends upon what and how you perceive or observe.
Obviously what you perceive or observe -depends upon the normal
operation of the sense organs. That has long been recognized.
But it has not been so fully recognized that it depends also upon
the mental apprehension of the sensory stimuli. Perception and
observation do not depend alone on what is presented to the sense
organ, but also upon how the stimuli are taken into the mind.
The specific problems involved in it are:

(i) How accurate is the tbservation of stimuli?

(2) How large is the range of stimuli observed at a given time?

(3) How may the accuracy and range of observation be im-

(4) How are the stimuli interpreted? l

Accuracy of Observation. Much of the difficulty in learning
a given material is due to inaccuracy and error in the observation
of the material. The word to be spelled, the letter to be written,
the plant to be described, the experiment to be reported, the map
to be drawn, may all be done and learned incorrectly in part be-
cause they are perceived and observed inaccurately and in-

'. Recent experiments on the "fidelity of report" have called at-
tention to the prevalence and nature of inaccuracies in observation.
The observations are not made with sufficient care and attention
to impress a faithful image of the object upon the mind. Inac-
curacy in perception and infidelity in report have hardly been
known to exist and therefore have not been sufficiently guarded
against because, under ordinary conditions of learning in school
as well as under ordinary conditions in life, there is seldom an op-






portunity for comparing directly the observations as received in
the mind with the original stimuli as actually presented to the
sense organs.

Online LibraryDaniel StarchEducational psychology → online text (page 10 of 41)