Wherever school children's eyes have been examined, from six to nine out of thirty are found to be nearsighted, farsighted, or otherwise in need of attention. A child is dismissed from school for obstinately declaring that the letter between c and t in "cat" is an o; "a pupil in her fourth school year was recently brought to me by her teacher with the statement that she did unreasonably poor work in reading for an intelligent and willing child;" a boy is punished for being backward. These three cases are typical. Examinations showed that the first child was astigmatic and not obstinate; the boy had run a pin into one eye ten years before and destroyed its sight; while the second girl was found to be afflicted with diplopia, and in a friendly chat told the following story: "I very often see two words where there is only one. When I was a very little girl I used to write every word twice. Then I was scolded for being careless. So I learned that I must not say two words even when I saw them." As Miss Alida S. Williams, principal of Public School 33 in New York City, has in many articles and addresses freely illustrated from school experience, the art of seeing is acquired, not congenital, and every human being who possesses it has learned it.
The large proportion of children suffering more or less seriously from eye trouble has led many persons to suggest physical deterioration as the cause. Eye specialists, however, assure us that eye troubles are probably as old as man. Our tardiness in learning the facts regarding these troubles is due in part to the lack, until recently, of instruments for examining the eye and for manufacturing glasses to correct eye defects; in part, also, to the tendency of the medical profession, which I shall repeatedly mention, to explain disorders by causes remote and hard to find rather than by those near at hand.
About 1870 Dr. S. Weir Mitchell's attention was called "to the marked relief of headache, insomnia, and other reflex symptoms following the correction of optical defects by glasses." In 1874 and 1876 he wrote two articles that "impressed upon the general profession the grave significance of eye strain." Since that time, "in Philadelphia at least, no study of the rebellious cause of headache or of the obscure nervous diseases has ever been considered complete until a careful examination of the eyes has included them as a possible cause of the disturbance."
The new fact, therefore, is not weak eyes or strained eyes, but rather (1) an increase in the regular misuse of eyes by school children, seamstresses, stenographers, lawyers, etc.; and (2) the incipient propaganda growing out of school tests that show the relation of eye strain to headache, nervous diseases, stomach disorder, truancy, backwardness.
Every school, private and parochial as well as public, should supply itself with the Snellen card for testing eyes. Employers would do well to have these cards in evidence also, for they may greatly increase profits by decreasing inefficiency and risks. If there is no expert optician near, apply for cards to your health board or school board; failing there, write to your state health and school boards. In many states rural teachers are already supplied with these cards by state boards. In October, 1907, the New York state board of health sent out cards, with instructions for their use, to 446 incorporated towns. The state commissioner of education also sent a letter giving school reasons for using the cards. Results from 415 schools having shown that nearly half the children had optical defects, it is proposed to secure state legislation that will make eye tests obligatory in all schools. Such a test in Massachusetts recently discovered twenty-two per cent of the school children with defective vision, and from forty to fifty thousand in need of immediate care by specialists.
Positions Often Suggest Eye Strain
Of course eye specialists,—oculists,—if skillful, know more about eyes and eye troubles than general medical practitioners or teachers. Preliminary eye tests, however, may be made by any accurate person who can read. The Massachusetts state board of health reports that tests made by teachers were "not less efficient" than tests made by specialists. In June, 1907, a group of eminent oculists recommended to the school board of New York City that teachers make this first test after being instructed by oculists. Persons interested in the schools nearest them can quickly interest teachers and pupils by starting tests with this card. In cities oculists can be found who will be glad to explain to teachers, individually or in groups, how the cards should be used and what dangers to avoid.