What is commonly considered abnormal brightness in a school child is often a tendency to live an abnormal physical life. Being a child bookworm means that time is spent indoors that should be spent playing games with one's fellows. Excellence in the activities of children, not ability to imitate the activities of adults, should be the test of child brightness. To be able to hit a bull's-eye, to throw a ball accurately, to calculate the swing of a curve or the bound of a "grounder," these are tests of brightness quite as indicative of mental power as the ability to win highest marks in school, while less injurious to physical power. The child who is abnormally bright requires special treatment just as much as the child who is abnormally dull. The former as well as the latter must have his abnormal condition corrected if he is to grow into a normally bright man.
The college man who sacrifices health to "marks" is thus described by the director of physical training at Harvard University:
A drooping head, a pale face, dull, sunken eyes, flat chest and rounded shoulders, with emaciated limbs, soft flabby muscles, and general lack of good physical, mental, and moral tone.
For the protection of these physical defective grinds it is suggested to put a physical qualification upon the candidates of Phi Beta Kappa and their awards of scholarship. If scholarship men cannot be induced to take time to improve their physique for fear of lowering their college standing, then give them credit for standing in physical work.
The abnormally bright, at whatever age, is as much a subject for examination and treatment as the child with adenoids and pulmonary tuberculosis. Such attention will increase the percentage of abnormally bright schoolmates who figure in active business in later life. Moreover, it will decrease the number of high school superintendents who declare that their honor pupils are physical wrecks.
There are children who develop very rapidly, both physically and mentally, and whose mental superiority is not at the expense of their bodies. Protection of such children requires that their minds be permitted to progress as rapidly as bodily health justifies. It is as cruel to keep back a physically and mentally superior child, as to push the physically or mentally defective beyond his powers. Worry and fatigue can be produced by lack of interest as well as by overwork. "Normal" should not be confused with "average." To keep a bright child back with the average child—marking time till the dull ones catch up—is to make him abnormal. The tests that we have employed for grading pupils are either the tests of age in years or of mental capacity. The first takes no account of slowness or rapidity of physiological development,—of physiological age. The second encourages mental activity at the expense of physique. The entrance of a child into school, the promotion from one class to another, the entrance into college, are thus determined either by the purely artificial test of age or by the individual teacher's discretion. There is nothing to prevent the ambitious teacher or the ambitious parent from pushing a child into kindergarten at four, high school at twelve, college at fifteen. If this cannot be done at the public school, a private school is resorted to. A community of college professors once started a school for faculty children. A tremendous pressure was put upon these scions of intellectual aristocracy to enter the high school at twelve. No thought was given to the ventilation of the school. The windows were so arranged that they could not be opened without the air blowing on some child's back. "You could cut the air with a knife" was a description given by one sensible professor who had taken his sturdy girl of seven away from the school, because he feared that in this environment she would become like the other little puny, pale, undersized children of that school.
The University of Pennsylvania has instituted a psychological clinic. Parents and teachers are invited to bring any deviation from the usual or the expected to the attention of this clinic. Every month a bulletin is published called the Psychological Clinic, which will be found of great service in dealing with the abnormally bright as well as with the abnormally dull. Naturally the well-to-do and the rich are the first to take advantage of these special facilities for ascertaining just what work should be done by a precocious child or by the mentally and morally retarded.
Abnormal brightness means power to be happy and to be serviceable that is above the average. Every school can be a miniature psychological clinic. While every teacher cannot be an expert, national and state superintendents can constantly remind teachers that the abnormally bright are also abnormally apt to neglect physical welfare and to endanger future mental power.