( Originally Published 1899 )
IT is through the senses that the child wakes to conscious life, through them that he becomes acquainted with the outer world, which he is to know and of which he is to become a counterpart. Without them the child lies dormant in his cradle, sleeping away his days, not even knowing of an outer world, nor dreaming of his own mighty possibilities. With his senses he explores the universe round about him and eventually becomes its master. Upon their sensitiveness and perfection his progress depends. No greater joy comes to a new mother than the assurance that the child has a perfect body and perfect eyes and ears, but it is seldom that she recognizes the full significance of such a boon. Those eyes and ears are not only to enable him to place himself in space and communicate with his fellows, but to furnish him the materials, the food upon which his mind is to feed and grow. They are not only to give him a knowledge of the sensuous world round about him, but also of those higher relations and harmonies that knit soul with soul and with the Infinite.
It is important that mother and teacher know at once the tremendous significance of any physical defect, particularly as it may in any way pertain to the nervous system of the child. What-ever disturbs or obstructs, however slightly, the natural and spontaneous movement of the sensor or motor activities may have a vast influence in shaping the intellectual life and the moral character of the child. Two seemingly parallel straight lines may be but an inch apart at their origin and yet be ten feet apart at the end of a mile. Intellectual dullness and moral obliquity are usually due to some physical deformity, though often so insignificant as to escape notice.
Some time since, twenty bad boys in a certain city were chosen for the sense test, and it was discovered that every one of them was defective in vision or hearing, or both. Twenty good children were selected, and it happened that all were perfect in both senses. It would be dangerous to generalize from this that all physical defectives are morally defective, or that all perfect nervous systems are morally without reproach, but that the tendency of each is here emphasized there can be no question. A sound mind in a sound body means more than that the body should be healthy; it means that every part of the physical organ-ism should be continuously and efficiently performing its proper function. There are notable cases of individuals, physically defective from birth, attaining to great mental power and spiritual excellence, but at what cost few people can imagine.
Though derangement may not clearly manifest itself in the young child, its presence may often be detected by an expert and corrected by judicious treatment. Many an eye that was weak at birth has been put out by ignorant or careless nurses; many an ear that scarce had taken form has been ruined by those who loved the child best. Many a child has lost one sense or both through the neglect of ignorance or caprice. On the other hand, physicians tell us that one half of the children with defective hearing can easily be cured, if taken in time; the same is true of those defective in eyesight. Is this, then, a light theme to which we are giving attention?
It does not seem wise to spend much time in discussing the lower senses, for they give us little knowledge, comparatively speaking. And yet they are of the highest importance. All those sensations which may be embraced under the one term, organic, such as the feelings arising from the general state of the body or of the vital and vegetative organs, make up the tone of the body as a whole and give it that peculiar physical character which manifests itself in what is known as the temperament of the individual. The general disposition of the child is so largely determined by the degree of perfection with which the digestive, assimilative, circulatory, respiratory, and lymphatic functions are performed, that no student of the child can afford to overlook them. The old notion that the bile exercises a controlling influence over the disposition of the individual is simply expanded in these days to embrace all the forces named above. That a child whose stomach is souring and effervescing half the day should be amiable and attentive to his work, can not be expected; that one whose circulation is heavy and sluggish should naturally be apt and quick in perception and response, is out of harmony with all experience; that one whose physical condition is never animated nor buoyant, can without effort be cheerful and aggressive, is one of the things few thoughtful people believe. And yet, in spite of all this, we are almost continually overlooking the physical cause of children's temperaments and dispositions, and seeking to correct them by scolding, punishing, and other traditional and irrational remedies. Often a child has been whipped for failing to complete work assigned in an allotted time, when the effort required would have completely prostrated him; he has been boxed for restlessness, when one good, wholesome meal would have appeased a hunger that would not let him be still; he has been ridiculed for melancholy that diet and exercise only could drive away; he has been degraded for failing to prepare a lesson, when headache or indigestion was wholly responsible. Fretfulness, restlessness, ennui, indifference, stupidity, willfulness, timidity, nervousness, impulsiveness, and many kindred mental maladies in children that perplex and annoy and defeat the teacher and parent are the natural products of disorders in digestion, circulation, or some other purely physiological function. It is nothing less than a crime for any one to ignore the real cause of such manifestations in the child and to attempt to correct them by reproof and punishment. Such treatment only aggravates the trouble, soon making it chronic, whereas a rational treatment would generally give permanent physical relief and then the mental distemper would easily yield, often even disappearing of its own accord. There are few full-grown men and women of such equable temperaments that they are not more or less disturbed by similar causes. If this be the case with those whose wills have been trained through a course of years, how much more it must be true of children whose every action is dictated so largely by physical impulses.
These facts need neither elaboration nor illustration; but they do need repetition and emphasis. Many a child has been roughly shaken for crying, when a pin was later discovered to be the cause of the trouble. Others have been dosed and drugged for peevishness that was caused by thirst only. Others, again, have been jolted on a friendly but a villainously mistaken knee for screaming, when every jolt but intensified the awful pain with which colic was already stabbing the child. Thus blindly do we attempt to relieve and correct the physical and mental ills of the babe. Do we approach it with more wisdom when it is five years of age? If the healthy action of these various organic functions is so important in the formation of the child's temperament and disposition, then a thorough theoretical and practical knowledge of food principles, of hygiene, of symptoms and remedies, of the structure, development, and function of every organ of the body, as well as of the relations of all these to the psychical activities, is little enough to demand of every mother. That such knowledge is uncommon makes the need of it the more common..