No one was clear as to how the problem was to be solved by small cities and rural districts, whose needy children are no less entitled to public aid simply because their numbers are smaller. Great as were the difficulties, however, the committee saw that difficulties are in themselves no reason for not doing the right thing. On the other hand, if doing things at school is wrong, if school meals fail to correct and remove physical defects, great social and educational wrong would result from New York's setting an example that would not only misdirect funds and attention in that city, but would undoubtedly lead other cities to move in the wrong direction. Right could be hastened, wrong could be prevented more effectually by facts than by any amount of theory. School meals had been made a political issue in England. The arguments supporting them were stronger than any possible arguments against them, except proof that they would be less effective in helping children than other means that might be proposed. If the American people must choose between sickly, unteachable, dull children without school meals, on the one hand, and bright, teachable, healthy children plus school meals, on the other hand, they will not hesitate because of expense or eighteenth-century objections to "socialism."
During one year of investigation and of getting things done the committee has prepared three studies for publication: (1) a report on the home conditions of fourteen hundred school children of different nationalities, found by school physicians to have defects of vision, breathing, hearing, teeth, and nourishment; (2) an examination of fifty schools—curriculum, buildings, home-study requirements, play space and playtime, physical culture—in an attempt to answer the question, How far does school environment directly cause or aggravate physical defects of school children; (3) a comparative study of methods now employed in a hundred cities to record, classify, and make public significant school facts.
The results of the first year's work prove conclusively that physical defects are not caused solely by the inability of parents to pay for proper food. Among the twenty significant facts reported by the committee are the following:
1. Physical defects found in public schools are, for the most part, such as frequently occur in wealthy families and do not of themselves presume as the cause insufficient income. Of 145 reported for malnutrition, 44 were from families having over $20 weekly.
2. Few of the defects can be corrected by nourishment alone; plenty of fresh air, outside nourishment at school, or extra nourishment at home will not entirely counteract the influences of bad ventilation and bad light in school buildings. Country children have adenoids, bad teeth, and malnutrition. Plenty of food will not prevent bad teeth and bad ventilation from causing adenoids, enlarged tonsils, and malnutrition.
3. Children whose parents have long lived in the United States need attention quite as much as the recent immigrant.
4. A large part of the defects reported could be produced by conditions due directly to neglect of teeth.