Alcohol And The Child
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN my work as a teacher and as a sociological student, I have found no class of people so responsive to the call of justice as are our young people. A young man just entering college, had promised his mother years ago not to smoke or take the social glass until he left home. Then he thought he would be old enough to decide for himself. The promise had satisfied her, she fondly hoped he would always be in the home. But college aspirations came with the winning of a scholarship, and so at eighteen he was ready to leave. He heard a lecture which pleaded for justice to the children of the next generation; for the giving up of habits which would make the next generation less able to successfully fight life's battles; for the laying of a foundation upon which two souls, equally pure, might build the character of other souls which they might bring into existence. That man frankly told the writer that he had hitherto looked upon these habits as personal and temporal, but he was now convinced that they were national and eternal in their effects. This is but one example of thousands of boys and girls, young men and young women, who, for the sanctity of the future home, the character of future children have builded in their youth.
Dr. Franz Schonenberger, of Bremen, Germany, said in an educational paper: "Science has established that alcohol destroys first and most those parts which are most delicate and latest developed. These are those wonderfully delicate brain cells upon whose proper formation the difference between men and beasts depends." Professor Victor Horsley, University College, London, England, says that the "contention so often made that small doses of alcohol, such as people take at meals, have practically no deleterious effect, cannot be maintained," and in discussing this subject, Dr. H. F. Hewes, of the department of Physiological Chemistry in Harvard Medical School, in the "Boston Medical and Surgical Journal," said that "the sum total of all the results of alcohol upon the body metabolism certainly inclines the unprejudiced student to agree with Horsley that total abstinence has a scientific basis."
Science has thus shown that in whatever form or quantity alcohol may be taken, it attacks, first, the higher powers of the mind: reason, self-control, altruism, etc., and that children born of users of alcohol have missed a portion of their birth-right, both by heredity and by the "atmosphere" of the home life, however outwardly it may bear the semblance of refinement and luxury.
On the other hand, we find homes in which the teachings of modern science have been practised, and alcohol banished even as a medicine. These homes bear the hall-mark of happiness, whether rich or poor in this world's goods. Some of these homes are inclined to think and say that, having brought their children up with good habits, they have per-formed their full duty to children and to society, forgetting that many other children have been denied pure environment through ignorance or vice of parents, and must be protected by laws and customs made by the enlightened part of the community. Such self-righteous parents, usually sincere to the core, have also not had the arrest of thought which makes one realize that as long as love between man and maid rules, as long as boys must have "chums," and girls their "bosom friends," no home is really safe until all homes are so.
Alcohol touches the home in still another way. Many people have been deceived by the brewers' advertisement that beer makes brawn, gives strength and efficiency to the working man. Dr. Sims Woodhead, Professor of Pathology in Cambridge University, England, says that "no amount of alcohol, however given, can increase the amount of work done in a given period without giving rise to very serious disturbances in some part or other of the body; indeed, the amount of work is never increased, as any temporary excitement is invariably followed by depression of such nature that the in-crease of work supposed to be done during the period of excitation is far more than that counterbalanced by the diminution in the amount of work done during the period of depression."
Thus we see that alcohol affects the working capacity of the father; working capacity determines his wage-value from the unskilled workman to the skilled mechanic, and from these earnings must also be taken a certain amount spent for liquor, so that the net amount of money left for the purchase of the necessities of his family often leaves nothing for the making of a right environment in which his children may grow up, with good books, good music, and a place to which they may bring their friends instead of meeting them on the streets. They are denied the advantages of education, lack inspiration which comes with it, and early in life enter the line of juvenile wage-earners, oftentimes with but a dull outlook upon life, and in turn become the fathers and mothers of another generation of malformed or degenerate children. So that the so-called personal or individual habit becomes national in its ultimate result.
Statistics of institutions for feeble-minded children, idiot and lunatic asylums, and of all penal institutions and courts, show that this so-called personal habit is responsible for the largest per cent. in the numbers committed to their respective keeping. If one claims the right to drink, let us answer that his wife and children have still greater rights upon a well-rounded manhood in husband and father, as well as enough earnings to make the home something more than four walls, food and clothing. Society at large, and his country have also rights upon every citizen.
In a report given by a well-known inspector of schools in a metropolitan city, the statement was made that the number of contagious diseases had so alarmingly increased that he was considering the idea of segregating such pupils in school buildings to be erected for that purpose. Tuberculosis was one of the diseases especially mentioned, and he said that this and other dread diseases found fertile soil in persons suffering from malnutrition, the lack of nourishing food in sufficient quantity. Who that has looked at the drink-habit in but a casual way has not found that glance sufficient to answer the question why so many wives and children go without nourishing food in sufficient quantity; why it is that children from such homes, even though they survive to maturity, often find in some unexpected hour that the ill-nourished body of youth had carried through the years the germ of weakness which made it the prey of certain conditions ? Does not alcohol vitally touch the interests of the home?
Then, in the school-room, children have been found to be dull in their studies and difficult to discipline. Reports sent home arouse the pride of parents, who, not understanding the real situation, blame the school and whip the child, feeling that by this means everything has been adjusted.
At the First International Congress of School Hygiene, held a few years ago at a famous European capital, one whole section was devoted to the question of alcohol and the problem not only of how to reach the children under their immediate instruction, but how to bring the teachings of modern science, relative to the nature and effect of alcohol, to the home, to the fathers and mothers and older members of the homes represented by the pupils in the schools. This was indeed patriotism of the right sort, where the helping hand of the educated classes was held out to relieve the ignorance of the homes of the land.
The United States has set a noteworthy example to the other nations of the world, for every State legislature, as well as Congress for the District of Columbia, has placed upon the statute books a law whereby from twenty to thirty lessons per year will be given the children, teaching them, in connection with the various phases of physiology and hygiene, the nature and effect of alcohol upon the human system. No other agency for good, save the public school, comes into direct contact with practically all the individuals forming the masses of this country. Here, then, must we help teachers sympathetically and intelligently to carry out the provisions of the law, remembering that not only the millions of school children to-day will be personally benefited, but that we are in this way helping them to lay strong and clean foundations for future homes, for future children.
Here we find the home calling out to the school to come to its rescue in this fight for the highest good of its children. The home is in need of other help in this fight, for one of the liquor dealers has said: "The success of our business is de-pendent largely upon the creation of appetite for drink. The open field for the creation of appetite is among the boys. After men have grown and their habits are formed they rarely ever change in this regard."
The home looks to the men and women of every community to make for the passage of little feet, of curious eyes and of adolescent unrest, a safe path to school and to church, and on "little errands for mother." "The creation of appetite among the boys" is easily possible where the open saloon and the gambling dens are sanctioned by the people to whom the children have been directed as "our best citizens."
These problems may seem overwhelming in their scope, yet that very fact means that each must lend her talent that the mighty chain of righteousness may be forged to protect the home. You may say that your talent is so small it surely will not help. "The farmer who drops the seed and covers it over has done a little, yet a future harvest hangs upon it. It is a small thing to take a plant from a dark corner and set it in the light, but think what it means to the plant."