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JAMA 100 Years Ago
October 7, 1998

NERVE FATIGUE OF SCHOOL CHILDREN.

Author Affiliations
 

Edited by Brian P. Pace, MA, and Jennifer Reiling, Editorial Assistant.

JAMA. 1998;280(13):1134C. doi:10.1001/jama.280.13.1134

Dr. R. C. Scheidt, of the Franklin and Marshall College, presented a voluminous address (Public Health, July) on the hygiene of school-attendance, before the fifth annual meeting of the Associated Sanitary Authorities of Pennsylvania (vide Journal. June 18, 1898, p. 1469), in which he urged an ampler protection of the health of the overworked children of the public schools. He argues against the afternoon session as being unnecessary confinement, if the pupils have a long and properly arranged morning session. The following are some of his conclusions: 1. I am convinced that the esthesiometer is the proper instrument for the measurement of fatigue. 2. My tentative experiments with American boys prove a superior normal strength of their mental vigor under favorable conditions of the atmosphere. 3. Unfavorable conditions of the atmosphere show an unusually large percentage of abnormal fatigue of the nervous system. 4. I attribute this condition to the utter lack of systematic open-air exercises. 5. I advocate such exercises for children as a prime necessity, because the foundations of a healthy and useful life are laid between the seventh and fifteenth years, but never afterward. 6. Training of all the functions of the physical organism should precede instruction, because it will develop the necessary mental strength. 7. Children should be classified according to their individual characteristics, and stress should be laid upon the development of their weakest organs, in such a way, however, as to leave plenty of room for individualization. 8. Such exercise should take place every afternoon, and should be continued until the limit of normal fatigue is reached. 9. The exercises should be grouped into muscular, cutaneous and respiratory. 10. All these exercises should be essentially exercises of the nervous system, to lead to a proper development of character. . . . Pedagogics, as a science, should therefore no longer be based upon philosophy, but upon physiology and hygiene. The chief factor in every school board should be the well-trained physician, and the physician only. His investigations, carried on for a number of years, have led him to the firm conviction that the American boy is the superior of the boy of any other nation on the face of the globe; he is worthy of special considerations because his training will in the end produce the superior man, for only during the years of boyhood, from the seventh to the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth year, can training be made successful; if neglected then it will forever remain neglected. . . . Let us abolish afternoon instruction. No matter how vigorous the nervous system may be, the brain ought not to be taxed while in the process of growth, while digestion is going on. Under unfavorable external conditions, abnormal fatigue will prevail throughout the whole afternoon, and in the course of time the brain will become unfit for mental work. Afternoon instruction is therefore absolutely unhygienic. Teachers are unanimous in pronouncing afternoon mental work a failure in the majority of cases. One long morning session, with a number of recesses, ought to suffice. Let that instruction be rational, let it largely be object-teaching; do not overfeed children with grammar, which presupposes mastery of speech and the power of developed thought. The brain-cells required for such work are as yet but imperfectly developed, and the natural result is a mechanical memorizing resembling the training of a parrot. How different the effect of the introduction of the various mechanical arts. They appeal at once to the various organs of sense, and through them to the intellect. Large playgrounds should be provided in every city, and every school house should be joined by a large roof-covered area, equipped with the most important apparatus necessary for physical training, for both summer and winter. The authorities ought to see to it as much as possible that each child is given the opportunity to develop its individual inclinations, for in the nature of the case, and necessarily so, class-room work has a levelling tendency, its laws are those of a liberal sometimes even of an illiberal, despotism; a child becomes one of a dozen, and nothing more, and the only virtue practiced is that of obedience, which it should have acquired at home. On the play-ground the development of individuality ought to be given a chance, but always under the control of the wiser parent or teacher.

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