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(Paper read before the State Teachers' Association, Dec. 27, 1878, by Prof. GEO. BECK, of the
Platteville Normal School.]
Twenty thousand lives and two hundred millions of money are part of the estimated cost of entertaining yellow fever, three months last season, in the valley of the Lower Mississippi; and this, we are told on good authority, was largely or wholly preventable.
It is true that such terrible visitations are not without some good results, one of which is the development of that genuine sympathy which manifests itself in earnest and self-sacrificing efforts for the relief of those who suffer. Another is that spasm of inquiry which would know the cause, and perhaps lead to some attempts, more or less rational, to turn aside the impending evil.
In our own state, small pox, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and other contagious and epidemic diseases carry away every year a large number of our people, whose lives are almost entirely in their own power, or that of their neighbors; yet so careless are we in regard to our health, that we allow matters to take their uninterrupted course, till the twinges of pain admonish us personally, or the stalking pestilence alarms the community.
Of the value of health nothing needs to be said. Not only is its possession absolutely essential to that thorough enjoyment of living which all ought to feel, but it is equally necessary to the most economical performance of all life's work, of whatever kind. Ill health bears down upon us with terrible force, and with it we enter for life's race not only handicapped but hoppled. It is the unlubricated bearing, the slipping band, the broken cog, the missing wheel in
1- Vol. IX.- No. 2
life's machinery, which interferes so painfully with its efficient working. Yet how few do we see who are perfectly healthy.
Is this because health is really the privilege of the few, or is it within reach of the multitude? Health means soundness or wholeness, and includes everything, mental and physical, that enters into the life of a perfect human being. Public health is only the aggregate of individual health, that aggregate into which your health and mine enter, so that the conditions affecting the health of each individual are the conditions of public health.
I firmly believe that by a reasonable observance of hygienic laws, such as, in spite of many unfavorable conditions, might readily be practiced by most of our people, a large proportion of the ill health now prevalent would soon entirely disappear; while another portion, being a heritage from generations past, will be eradicated only by the intelligent efforts of generations to come.
It is estimated that there are in this country 80,000 physicians, pharmaceutists, and dealers in patent medicines, all of whom depend for support upon the maladies of their fellows. Every candid physician will readily admit that his praetice might easily be diminished at least one half, by intelligent modes of living on the part of his patients.
In view of these and many other correlative facts, it would appear that the schools are the source to which we may reasonably look for some relief. I am aware that it is the custom of every hobbyist to ride full tilt into the common school, and to demand there entertainment for man and beast.” I am sure, however, that no one will deny or doubt that there is a very intimate relation between schools and public health. A large portion of our people spend there a considerable part of their lives, and that at a period when the conditions affecting health, present and future, are peculiarly potent, so that this becomes an important and serious consideration.
It has been vigorously asserted that there exist in the school itself conditions which are making havoc with the health of our pupils, and these warnings come from so many and such respectable sources as to demand our thoughtful'attention. It would not be strange if some of these are false alarms, but an intelligent and candid investigation will, I think, convince any person that when all such are eliminated, there still reinains much that ought not to be true. If, during the years of school life, the foundations of sound health are securely laid, the chances are decidedly in favor of a stable superstructure.
On the other hand, it is in these years, and too often in the school room itself, that the seeds are sown and nourished to a vigorous growth, which make good health in later years a deplorable impossibility. We can nor would we, teach medicine in the common schools, but every teacher, before he is qualified to stand before his pupils in that capacity, should possess such a knowledge of hygienic principles and their practice and application, based upon an intelligent acquaintance with anatomy and physiology, as will enable him by precept and example to guide them toward correct modes of living. But says some one, “I would not teach a child to be always watching his symptoms." Nor would I, yet the remark is more pert than pat.
If I own a complicated and costly machine, and employ a person to operate it, I expect him to know how to keep it in the best working order, and to watch its symptoms so closely as to detect at once any defect in its working, and to direct or apply the proper remedy. And is the human body of less importance than any combination of wood and metals? Perhaps, I can best illustrate what I wish to present by specifying some of the definite knowledge that the teacher should know and teach.
He should know and teach that confined air is vitiated by respiration and other exhalations, so that, unless constantly and rapidly changed, it becomes a means of blood poisoning, by which disease is introduced, vitality diminished, and the whole system rendered less able to resist attacks from other sources. He should know the best means at his command for securing proper ventilation, and these will too often prove entirely inadequate. Except under specially unfavorable circumstances, those in open air find no difficulty in this direction, but the moment we enter our houses, we are environed by entirely different conditions, and in most instances a full supply of pure air, at all times, is almost or quite an impossibility, whether in shop, store, factory, church, prison, hospital, school, or dwelling. It can not be secured without special means for regulating temperature as well as supply, and I am exceedingly doubtful whether any efficient house ventilation has yet been devised which does not include both of these.
Yet I would not, on this account, discourage in the least the faithful use of the imperfect means at hand, for this may at almost any time produce a vast improvement upon existing atmospheric conditions. It seems reasonable that of all buildings for human occu
pancy, those intended for the education of the coming citizenship of the State, should provide for the most thorough and efficient ventilation. Yet how rare a thing is a perfectly ventilated school room.
The teacher should know and teach that pure water is as necessary as pure air, and as liable to contamination; that bad water is probably a direct cause of more sickness than almost any other agent. He should be able to give directions for the detection and prevention of contamination, and should enforce the importance of thorough drainage, by which the substances poisoning both air and water are rendered harmless, and even beneficial as fertilizers.
He should know and teach the proper purposes and qualities of clothing, so that it may secure at once health, comfort, and convenience. He should know and teach the conditions that produce and foster contagious and epidemic diseases, and the precautions to be used for their prevention and eradication. He should know enough of the nutritive system and its functions to give practical directions in regard to food. He should know and teach that starving the stomach does not nourish the brain, and that good digestion is essential to perfect cerebration; that mental health depends upon physiological conditions, and though the body is to be kept in subjection, it is not to be constantly crucified.
He should know that bad habits of position, and improper arrangement of light, result in crooked spines and defective eyesight; that loss of sleep is a severe drain upon vital force, and that late hours and habits of dissipation, leading to this, are incompatible with the best results, physical or mental. He should know, and teach by example and precept, that alcohol and tobacco are injurious to the immature constitution in its normal condition, and that their habitual use should always be avoided. He should know and teach that physical and moral cleanliness is not next to godliness, but is godliness.
He should know and teach that undue mental work detracts from bodily growth, and that mind and body should develop together. He should know and teach that severe study or other mental work does not kill, provided it be not continued to exhaustion, or imposed upon abnormal physical conditions. He should know that for school children eight to twelve hours each day of mental application involves far too great a strain, and he must not be surprised if under it the constitution should snap.
He should know that constant excitement or worry on the part of the teacher or pupils is dangerous. He should know that severe and
long continued physical exercise, added to the weariness of mental exertion, is exhausting and not invigorating.
He should know that many diseases are to be avoided, and even inherited tendencies may, by proper hygienic observance, be overcome.
He should know and teach that the lower passions and appetites are to be held in strict subordination to the higher moral and intellectual faculties.
He should know, and in all his work should teach, that the mental and physical power of this age is a legacy bequeathed to coming generations; that the future of the nation depends greatly upon the health of the people, and to this the public school must contribute.
"THE RELATION OF SCHOOLS TO PUBLIC HEALTH."
The able paper, with the above title, read at the Madison meeting, set me to thinking of the condition of my own school. In the High School department, fully thirty per cent. of the pupils are nearsighted. Of the graduating class of last year and that of this year, fifteen in all, six, that is forty per cent., have been interrupted in their course by some optic disease. I think I am safe in saying that forty per cent. of the pupils, on proper examination, would be found with some defect of vision. This condition, so unusual in my observation, inust arise from the physical conditions of the vicinity, the peculiar habits of the pupils, or the arrangement and finish of the school buildings. To determine the causes producing this result, some expert occulist should examine the pupils and their surroundings. The effects should be followed to their causes, and the causes removed.
Who so fit to do this thoroughly, as the State Board of Health? They have done good work in tracing disease to impure water. They have aroused public attention to an evil, lurking about our very doors. Why should they not try what they can do for our public schools? There is reason why our pupils so often graduate with ruined health; why so many have to stay away from school to recuperate; why our teachers grow nervous and old before their time. Let us have this subject worked up, that the children may not be weakened when they should grow strong.
I. N. S. Berlin.