AMERICA’S pride is her common schools.
Decade vies with decade, State with State, in furnishing better means of education.
Edifices are erected which adorn the city, and afford comfort and pleasure to the pupil.
The committee on public property inspects the same, making sure of their safe structure, and that egress according to size is sufficient in case of fire.
The board of health condemns school-houses improperly ventilated, or otherwise in an unsanitary condition.
For so long a time have separate forms been provided, that we no longer call it a modern improvement, although that, perhaps, was the first great step toward a healthier condition for the children.
No longer could they so easily come in contact, or inhale each other’s breaths.
Every city and town has its laws in regard to the so-called contagious diseases, -variola, scarletina, diphtheria, etc.,-but, as if ignorant of the yet more dreaded contagious tuberculosis and syphilis-more dreaded because, in some cases, entailing a life of suffering, if not extending to more than one generation- no protection or attempt at protection has been made.
On the other hand, with an eye single to the idea of education, separating it entirely form the necessity of a healthy body, a system of supplies-books, slates, pencils, clay, and the various kinder-garten outfit, has been adopted by many cities and towns, whilst a dozen or more States have legislated to the same effect.
Very few of our public schools could boast that not a child attended capable of conveying disease to another, whilst many receive pupils loathsome to slight and smell.
Should the parents of carefully raised children but visit the schools, and see the filthy and unwholesome condition of many who use the supplies in common with the cleanly, they would shrink with horror from what their children become accustomed to.
An educator, of many years’ experience gave me us his opinion, that fully fifty per cent. of the children, in cities, attending school were too filthy to be allowed admission, and yet your children inhale the air of the school-room made foul by such pupils.
Cases of typhoid fever in children have been traced to this source of poisonous infection.
The child who, ate home, has his individual toilet outfit, an hour later, in school, is handling what filthy, diseased hands have often handled. The child who must have a clean glass to drink from at home, eagerly uses the common cup, which often is metal, and when cleaned-who can tell!.
Greater attention has been given to the prevention of small- pox than to any other disease, and yet it holds a comparatively low rank amongst diseases in its deadly influence.
Vaccination is compulsory, but there, all compulsion ends. To be sure, we have laws forbidding the school to children living in a house where there is illness from contagious diseases, but the experience of New England, during the past six months, has proven how powerless are such laws in controlling the epidemic of scarletina. Many cases have been of so light a character as to be unrecognized, and no physician was called, until some members of the family developed a more serious form of the malady; the children of such families, in the meantime, attended school, using the books, slates, pencils, clay, and other materials which, later on, will be given to other children.
Knowing the case with which the scarletina germ is carried from place to place, and its great vitality-lasting for months if not years -is it reasonable to expect that this disease will not again and again develop fro those very germs? True it is, that schools have been closed, all books, etc., burned, and the houses thoroughly disinfected wen the enemy has become recognized as sufficiently epidemic in a given school.
The other exanthemata are likewise spread in our public schools, but being considered so little harmful to child-life and health, the common rule of protection is sufficient.
Diphtheria is another disease recognized as fatally harmful, and therefore to be guarded against; and yet not until a case is reported to the authorities is any step considered necessary to protect the children.
The text-books in our public schools, furnished the pupils, are in use from four to six years,. These may be used one year at a time by the older, but much less time by the younger pupils, whilst in certain grades the readers are taken up daily or oftener and passed indiscriminately.
Hence, where greatest protection is needed, least is afforded.
It is in young life that the lymphatic system is most active; that the tissues are softest and most susceptible to infection.
How do children use books?.
They bury their faces in them; the child with festering eyes to day, your child to-morrow; the child with syphilitic discharges from the nose to-day, your child to-morrow.
They pillow their heads in them; the child with corruption pouring form its cars to day, your child to-morrow; the child with hair matted with fifth to-day, your child to-morrow.
They cough into them the catarrhal secretion preceding diphtheria; it may be, they sneeze into them, they breathe into them.
Can a child, with any abrasion upon its hands, come in contact with syphilitic, cancerous, or tuberculous discharges and be exempt any more than a surgeon? And yet many a child, with corruption breeding on its hands, uses the same clay to-day that your’s will use next week. Cold water poured through the clay is the cleansing process. When dried and ready for use again, who can tell what is in it?.
The disease above all to be most dreaded and guarded against, the disease which may be and often is hereditary, is probably the least recognized by teacher or pupil.
Although hereditary syphilis often ends in early life before the child attends school, yet it is a fact that for years it may again and again make its appearance.
How can this disease be guarded against?.
Every child must furnish a certificate of vaccination. Why not, in case of eruptions, a certificate declaring contagion or non-contagion?.
Cannot the public mind be made to understand the importance of preserving and promoting health? A few careful, thoughtful parents purchase new books, etc., and substitute for those publicly supplied. They also provide their children with drinking-cups. Were the danger lurking in these sources appreciated, more would do so.
Massachusetts, in 1882, took the lead amongst States in providing school supplies.
She has ever proved herself a leader in good works. One step father in this direction will crown the deed as good.
Let her supply each pupil, or at most each family, with books, etc., unused by others.
But what shall be done to prevent contagion from other sources?.
Every home provided for destitute children that deserves the name has those suffering form specific disease isolated, or else the other children guarded from contact.
Why should children in our public schools have less careful attention?.
Is it necessary that disease should be disseminated with education?.
Is it considered democratic to allow every child the freedom of fifth and contagion, whether to keep it or impart it, as a part of his inalienable rights?.
However much it might savour of class distinction to have baths and clean clothing provided for those who need them, would it not be an elevating influence? Would not the children learn a self-respect, in their clean school apparel, that would lead them to wish and do their part for better home surroundings?.
If cleanliness is next to godliness, where and how can the truth be better taught?.
Some will cry out against inspectors, baths and clean apparel.
They will have such sympathy for the injured feelings of the unfortunate class.
Have such visited the homes from which these children come? I will not describe them. Every city has its slums.
We are here witnessing the great progress the world is making in science, art, industry, medicine and surgery. Is is not an appropriate time to arouse the public mind to a still more important matter?.
So thoroughly has it been demonstrated that an educated mind can excel the uncultivated, that unconsciously, as it were, the foundation of all education, cultivation and refinement has been made to take a secondary place.
It has almost been lost sight of that a healthy body is indispensable to a sound mind.
Of all progressive movements, what will compare with the preservation and improvements, what will compare with the preservation and improvement of our children’s health?.
What of so great importance as shutting the gates shall sap the health of not only the rising generation but of generations yet unborn?.
Teach the children hygiene in a broader sense. Call diseases by their names. Teach your children to loathe and shun those who are accursed, and no longer consider your child tenderly reared because kept in ignorance of unpleasant, painful, disgusting facts.
It has been my purpose to speak but a word for child life; to give but a glimpse at the dark cloud hovering about school days.
Let us, as physicians, sound the note of alarm until the school world is awakened to the real though subtle danger.
GEORGE B. PECK, M.D.: It has been my privilege to serve as member if a school board toward fifteen years, and to graduate from the public schools, but I have never seen a counterpart of the scene portrayed by the essayist. So far as my native city is concerned, and of that only can I speak definitely, the picture is entirely overdrawn. Children loathsome to sight and smell are not found in the public schools of Providence. Should they apply for admission they would promptly be directed to return home and wash. Where that educator live who finds 50 per cent of the pupils too filthy to United States; certainly is beyond the limits of New England.
The dangers of modelling in clay are obviated in my schools by excusing children with sore or cracked hands from the exercise. Those of syphilis by sending those with noticeable symptoms to myself or to the superintendent of health for examination. Those of tuberculosis are practically nil. Children do not get books as described. If typhoid fever has been proven to result from the inhalation of air befouled by the breaths of dirty children, alas for the stability of bacteriology and the germ theory.
The essayist declares that “where the greatest protection is needed the least is afforded.” That statement I deny. I never have seen any statistics that afford the slightest foundation for the popular idea that children are more susceptible to certain disorders than adults, though I have searched long and widely. I should like to find a single iota of evidence that the seclusion of a child from scarletina germs until ten, or even fifteen years of age, will diminish in the least his liability to contract the disorder upon the first exposure.
On the contrary, I believe that the children of the common people, those who cannot attend school beyond the age of fourteen years at the farthest, are cruelly robbed of a very considerable portion of their educational opportunities by unnecessarily rigid sanitary regulations. In the average family of four, unless it should chance that all are sick simultaneously or during vacation, each one is unjustly and to a great degree needlessly deprived of at least one-seventh of its school advantages, crippling to that extent its ability to fight life’s battle, darkening to that extent its life’s prospects. That is a point never considered by rabid sanitarians.