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THE STUDY OF HYGIENE IN SCHOOLS.
By Prof. A. B. ARNOLD, M. D.
The instinct of self-preservation is so immeasurably strong and imperative that the acts which carry out its promptings may be said to manifest an automatic character. A child will cry out and bury its head in the pillow at the sight of a strange face in apprehension of danger; in fact, the intensity of this intercourse never abates during the whole career of life. Like a faithful sentinel it never abandons its post, and gives the signal of warning on the slightest occasion. The correlative of this instinct-the desire of health-commands a far less emphatic response from the individual; there is none of that urgency exhibited in warding off injurious influences which marks the efforts to avert immediate peril to life. This difference is due to the tendency of human nature to dread a remote evil much less than a near one. To the same circumstance must be ascribed the frequency of the violation of the well-known laws of health, and also the long neglect of public hygiene and sanitation, which only in comparatively recent times began to challenge the attention of enlightened communities. It is true, there always existed in the popular mind a knowledge of the gross morbific influences that are preventible, but even this medium of information is overlaid and often made unavailable by a mass of false notions and prejudices. The physician who makes hygiene his special study is only called in for his advice and assistance when disease is already established, and not when it is in the making. It is to the lasting credit and honor of the medical profession that the diffusion of knowledge on the subjects of hygiene and sanitation was initiated and supported by its members, and the weight of their influence extended to those public.
spirited citizens who take an interest in these noble sciences and promote their practical application.
The efforts in the direction of public hygiene possess the one great advantage over what may be called private hygiene, that the former is a proper object of police regulations, while the latter is entirely a personal affair. Now it may be confidently maintained that no one of ordinary intelligence would knowingly and willingly violate the rules of bealth. It is, however, notorious how universally they are disobeyed and how indifferent the generality of mankind is to the penalties which are incurred by such neglect. Under these circumstances it would almost amount to a dereliction of duty to disregard the means which are at hand to impart and to diffuse a knowledge of the principles of hygiene in a most effectual way and in an unobtrusive manner. It will at once suggest itself that our public schools afford the desirable avenues of conveying such a knowledge.
In regard to the question of adding another item to the long list of studies in our schools, it may be safely asserted that the supreme importance of becoming familiar at an early period of life with the conditions that regulate the preservation of physical and mental health overrides all objections. If the numerous and often unsus pected causes that gradually but surely undermined the bodily constitution, and tend to plant the seeds of irremediable disorder, had been more widely known and considered, the acquirements of the science of hygiene would have long ago been placed in the front rank of elementary science. Geography and history, as these branches are taught in our schools, no doubt fulfill the intention of stocking the memory with useful facts and events without putting a strain on the discursive faculty. Hygiene, which simply embraces a body of physiological facts that stand in relation to the normal functions of the human organism, can be taught with equal facility as a discipline for the youthful mind, and certainly furnishes the memory with materials which, in regard to their uses, leave those of Geography and History far in the rear, It would, moreover, be as interesting to the budding mind of the young learner to have a peep at the anatomy and cunning devices of his system, as to pour over the map of Kamskatka in order to find the names of its rivers. The little pupil would, probably, be as eager to know something of the structure of the teeth which grinds. his food that keeps him alive, as to be told of the elephants' tusks and ostrich feathers which the natives on the coast of Africa sell to the traders. With all due deference to the profound interest which attaches to the history of the human family, and the record that informs us of the social and political tendencies that originated customs, laws and institutions, it must nevertheless be admitted that these recondite subjects of research and reflection escape the intellectual grasp of boys and girls. To remember the dates of battles and when they were fought, and to commit to memory the names of kings, emperors and generals, no doubt satisfies a natural curiosity and furnishes a certain sort of information. But be the list of these names ever so great, they do not constitute history; they are not even the landmarks of the historical development of our race, and not even sure as counters of its great epochs. Apart from the fascination which the marvellous structure and arrangements of
and the admiration which the foresight and wisdom displayed by the working of this wonderful piece of mechanism will inevitably evoke, there is the substantial and practical advantage connected with all this, that the knowledge of the inexorable laws of physiology will convince the young learner of the necessity to conform to the mandates of hygiene if he wishes to preserve life and health. An indirect moral influence cannot be denied to the teachings of hygiene.
It may be reasonably expected that some measure of restraint would result from an acquaintance with the effects inseperable from the violation of physiological laws, for hygiene teaches the capital fact that lasting deterioation of the general health follows in the wake of habits and indulgences that enfeeble and exhaust the nervous system. To gain some insight into the manner by which damage is done to the nervous apparatus alone, suffices to recommend a schooling of the way it can be kept intact. It is the nervous system which not only receives the first brunt of every onslaught that strikes at the integrity of the geneneral constitution, but also, apparently insignificant inroads, in consequence of their cumulative effects, prove disastrous to a delicate and finely adjusted apparatus. It is the nervous system which brings us in relation with the outer world and forms the center of our intellectual and emotional existence. It constantly acts upon all the other organs, and in turn is constantly acted upon by them. There is a sad significance in the consensus of the medical profession, that disorders of the nervous system among people in civilized countries are steadily on the increase, and that the most terrible of all of them, the dethronement of reason, shares in this augmented frequency of occurrence. Historians trace the degeneracy and effeminancy of the Romans, who lived towards the decline of their power in luxurious habits and profligate manners that enervated their wonted vigor and manliness. There are influences at work at present day which tend in an analogous manner to a like result. The wear and tear of body and mind in the hot pursuit of wealth and distinc. tion—the spirit of competition which strains every fibre to its utmost stretch-the heartburnings, the jealousy, the envy and the whole legion of depressing passions which our modern novelists depict with more or less skillful and faithful pens—all these etiological factors must necessarilly produce deleterious consequences. It is of course not the task of hygiene to cast about for prophylactic measures and remedial agencies that might prevent the jarrings of our complex social fabric. It can only note their existence and recognize their bearing on the individual well-being, But it will hardly be denied that our young ones
of the errorsing a habit
hol holds as by a scientific
would exceedingly profit by hygienic lessons inculcated on the strength of scientific proof and demonstration, that moderation and self-denial promote health and prolong life, and that the tendencies of vicious habits and corrupt manners lead to degredation and ruin.
This brings me to speak of the source of a widely-spread evil and the cause of untold wretchedness and misery, namely, the excessive use of alcoholic beverages. Concerning the stand taken, or the methods adopted by the advocates of the temperance movement, I am not inclined to touch upon, but it appears to me proper to consider the influence, which an early familiarity with the chemistry of life would exercise in discouraging a habit fraught with dire consequences. Some of the errors of teetotalism will be disclosed by a scientific treatment of the position which alcohol holds as food, and the relation this agent bears to the category of absolute poisons. But it will form a part of hygenie teachings to make it clear that there is never any need of alcohol in the state of health, and that its soothing and exbilira ting effects, when habitually sought for, cannot atone for the mischief which they lay in store. Alcohol in disease often supplies a force which is far less rapidly and efficiently obtained by any other therapeutical means for sustaining the vital energy. The pupil will never learn from Lieby that “it can be proved with mathematical certainty, that as much flour or meal as can be laid on the point of a tableknife is more nutritious than ten quarts of beer.” And after all, the real curze residing in alcohol is its fatal gift of fascination and potency of effect. These are the causes which justify the ba i reputation of alcohol. Were it less alluring it would not lure to excess, and were it less potent it w uld not be so destructive. Let the teacher of hygenie make his commentaries on this physiological facts and then uncover the hideousness of the charmer.
About ten years ago Prof. E. H. Clark, of Boston, sounded the note of alarm in a little book which he publishel, that “the delicate, early but rapidly fading beautv, and singular palor of American girls and women have almost pas ed into a proverb." He heard Lady Amberly say, when she visited the public schools of Boston, that she never before saw so many pretty girls together, and then added, “they all look sick.” Mrs. Beecher Stowe writes: 6. The race of strong, hardy, cheerful girls that used to grow up in the country places and make bright, neat New England kiichens; the girls that could wash, iron, brew, bake, embroider, draw, paint and read innumerable books, the race of woman, pride of olden times, is daily lessening, and, in their stead, come the frag le, easy-fatigued, languied girls of a modern age, drilled in book learning, ignorant of common things." Dr. Wm. Mitchell, of Philadelphia, an eminent observer,, writes in a similar strain, He says : “ To-day the American wovan is, to speak plainly, unfit for the duties as woman, and is perhaps, of all civilized females, the least qualified to undertake the task which tax so heavily the
nervous system of man." Dr. Toner, of Washington, states: - The proportion between the number of American children under fifteen and fifty is steadily declining.” In reference to the cause or causes that are said to have brought about this sad state of affairs, there is far less unanimity of agreement, I am inclined to believe that the picture of physical deterioration of American girls and women is much overdrawn. Here, in Baltimore, and I think throughout the State of Maryland, one does not meet with an unusual number of haggard girls and invalid women, though their number would be less if more regard were paid to the avoidance of certain morbid influences that cause nervous ex. haustion and impoverish the blood, not the least among the causes which tend to such a depravation of health is the precociousness of the American female. But, independent of this, wise mothers will surely approve of a course of instruction which includes lessons in hygiene.
There was a time when it was universaily declared and carried out by the governing and influential classes that the education of the masses should be restricted to reading, writing, cyphering and catechism. We even now occasionally hear them echo this miserable plea for popular ignorance, either for sinister purposes or on grounds absurdly false. I say it advisedly, and with much pride, that there is no civilized country, with the exception of Switzerland, whose public school system can compare in efficiency with those now established in our country. The important ques. tion: “ What is most worth knowing ?" is the problem that the organizers of our popular schools have practically solved, in accordance with the best information they could gather. Im. provements in relation to the selection of subjects, and methods of teaching, are adopted when they are recommended for satisfactory reasons. It thus happened that the science of hygiene is now taught in the public schools of some of our sister States. The objections that are raised against the introduction of certain branches of study do not hold in reterence to hygiene. The acquirement of the science of hygiene does not imply the acquirement of an accomplishment of no practical value. It is not an instruction for the purpose of a special avocation or pro. fession. On the contrary, no stronger motive can be presented for the acquisition of any piece of knowledge than its intrinsic value and the universal benefit it confers, and this can justly be claimed for that of hygiene. All the possessions and enjoyments that man can righfully seek after; all the noble aims and pursuits that dignify human nature; the very toil and endurance which the necessities of life impose upon him depend on the conditions of his health. The power of that knowledge which enables him in a great measure to guard against bodily and mental disabili. ties, is a blessing that cannot be despised.