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• General Department. Wear and Tear........
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Educational Journal of Virginia.
Richmond, Va., April, 1885.
Wear and Tear. A year or more ago, in a series of articles in this JOURNAL [December, 1883, and January and February, 1884,) under the title "Our Children's Bodies," I attempted to show what harm was being done the minds and bodies of many of our children by the high pressure system of education of the present day, and to suggest some means by which the harm might be lessened. Having put in my plea for the children, I wish now to put in, not less emphatically, a plea for the teachers themselves. It may be said that no plea is necessary, and that the law of self-preservation will make the teachers take care of themselves. Doubtless the veterans do learn. Necessity and experience have been their best schoolmistresses, and taught them the limits which circumscribe their powers. It may also be said that the same laws of hygiene are to be observed in the case of the teacher as in the pupil. That is true. But it may not require half the expenditure of vital force for a pupil to attend to his lesson, any given length of time, as will be required on the part of a teacher to obtain and retain the attention of forty or more pupils to the work of the hour.
The pleasure to be derived from any new acquisition may make the work of the pupil as positive a pleasure as is that of the teacher in imparting information to eager pupils. But the poor teacher is turning the same old grindstone, while one boy is grinding his new ax, and another presenting the hammer end of his, and bad metal at that. Besides, while all work or no play makes Jatk a dull boy, all work and poor pay makes the schoolmistress still duller. I say schoolmistress, not because we schoolmasters do not get dull as the dullest, but because it is the glory of this Republic to have more female teachers than any other nation, an army more than one hundred thousand strong. It is an army, however, in which there is little glory, and for which there are no pensions and no soldiers'
homes. It is absolutely necessary for each one to economize all expenditure of physical and mental force. Especially is this true of the younger or less experienced teachers who may be inconsciously doing themselves great harm, and in that act doing corresponding injustice to their pupils, who have a right to their best powers.
So intimate is the connexion between mind and body, and so great the mutual action and reaction of one upon the other, that it is impossible for wear to occur in one without producing corresponding effects on the other. The effects of bodily changes on mental states, and of mental changes on bodily states, are constantly and readily recognized by the teacher.
“As to the influence of bodily changes on mental states we have such facts as the dependence of our feelings and moods upon hunger, repletion, fatigue and rest, pure and impure air, cold and warmth, stimulants and drugs. These influences extend not merely to the grosser modes of feeling but also to the highest emotions of the mind - love, anger, æsthetic feeling and moral sensibility. 'Health keeps an atheist in the dark.' Bodily affliction is often the cause of a total change in the moral nature. The bodily routine of our daily life is the counterpart of the mental routine. * * . * The influence of mental changes upon the body is supported by an equal force of testimony. Sudden outbursts of emotion derange the bodily functions. Fear paralyzes the digestion. Great mental depression enfeebles all the organs. Protracted and severe mental labour brings on disease of the bodily organs. On the other hand happy outward circumstances are favorable to health and longevity." (Bain, “ Mind and Body." Chap. III.)
The foregoing statement by Bain of general truths of common recognition is almost sufficient of itself to indicate exactly what are the dangers to be avoided by the careful school-teacher. In truth, when the belief in the physical basis of mind is once arrived at, not a word more is needed to keep ever before one the fact that the sound mind can only exist in the sound body. The outburst of anger brings on its corresponding fit of indigestion, and the dyspepsia of to-day is followed by the mental depression of to-morrow. This reacts upon the pupils and even those children who come to school ready for work, finding no hearty co-operation, but constant fault-finding instead, will close, with feelings of indifference, a day begun with an earnest purpose. The rest, seeing that there will be a day of quarrel and, consequently, a day of punishment or keeping-in, make up their minds to worry to the extent of their abilities. The average bad boy will take two or three whippings or a detention of hours after school for a half-hour's fun in worrying a nervous or dyspeptic teacher.
The prevention of this bodily and mental state is surely a very simple one and lies solely in the determined avoidance of angry outbursts. It is not the momentary fit of irritability followed the next minute, perhaps, by a smile that does the harm, but the outburst that leaves its traces throughout the day, the wrath that is nursed to keep it warm, that is absolutely unnecessary for the government of any set of human beings or of any kind of animal. Children expect positive reproof for misdoing and have the greatest respect and affection for those who maintain a strict even-handed discipline and keep them to their work. But the sharp reproof and the order issued in the tone of command that brings instant obedience may be uttered without the slightest anger. Temper is necessary to enable one to maintain himself and show that he will not be trifled with, but temper and temperance are words of like derivation, as mad man and madman are of like signification. Have your programme of recitations so arranged that the last hour of the school session shall be spent in matters requiring simply mechanical work, penmanship, map-drawing, &c., or if that be not possible let the last recitation of the day be that of the best class. You will then come to dinner with a happy mind and your meat will not be turned to gall. This recipe has been tried and has cured where the doctor's remedies had failed. So much for sudden outbursts of emotion. Fortunately the severe mental labor of teaching is not protracted. A proper use of Saturday and Sunday in either making them rest-days, or, better still, in occupying the mind on those days with subjects far removed from teaching, will sufficiently renew the overtaxed powers of mind and body. Except in sleep the mind must be occupied (there is no dreaming in perfect sleep), and diversity of occupation gives it rest. This great variety of occupation and frequent transition from one subject to another is what gives the modern school its great power and attractiveness, and makes possible to pupil and teacher what would otherwise be impossible. Add to the rest of Saturday and Sunday the long vacation and the schoolmaster has less than any other professional man to fear from protracted labor. Would that our labors were more protracted and remuneration correspondingly increased! It isn't the wear half as much as the worry that does harm. One of the pleasures connected with teaching idiots is that there is no worry. You do not fix for yourself, or have fixed for you, any arbitrary standard of what has to be ac