Nervousness of teacher and pupil deserves special mention. So universal is this physical defect that we take it for granted, especially for teachers. Teachers themselves feel that they need not even apologize for nervousness, in fact they too frequently use it as an excuse for impatience, ugly temper, discourtesy, and unfairness. Children, slates, papers, parents, blackboards "get on their nerves." Nervousness of teacher causes nervousness of pupils and adds to the evil results of mouth breathing, bad teeth, eye strain, and malnutrition. These conditions, added to bad ventilation, bad light, and an overcrowded schoolroom, render the atmosphere thoroughly charged with electricity—nerves—toward the end of the day. Lack of oxygen to breathe as well as inability to breathe it; lack of well-printed books and good light, as well as lack of the power to use them; toothache, earache, headache, deplete the vitality of both teacher and pupil.

Most of the disturbances at school are but outward signs of unwholesome physical conditions. If the teacher attempts to treat these causes by crushing the child, she makes confession of her own nervousness and inadequacy and visits her own suffering upon her pupils. A transfixing glance prolonged into an overbearing stare, a loud, sharp voice, a rough manner, are successful only so far as they work on the nervousness of her pupil. She finds that it is temporarily effective, and so by her example and practice sets the child an example in losing control of himself. The position often assumed by school children when before authority, of hands held stiffly at the side, head drooped, and roving eye, does not mean control: it means a crushed spirit, hypocrisy, or brooding anarchy. The mother or teacher who obtains obedience by clapping her hands, pointing her finger, distorting her face, is copying in her own home the attitudes of caste in India, of serfdom in Russia, the discipline of the prison the world over, a modern reminder of the power of life and death or of physical torture.

A young college girl unfamiliar with the ways of the public school was substituting in the highest grammar grade. The time for civics arrived. Here, she thought, is a subject in which I can interest them. The boys showed a vast amount of press information, as well as decided opinions on the politics of the day. The candidates which they elected for the position of ideal American patriot were Rockefeller, Lincoln, and Sharkey the prize fighter. During the ensuing debate, which gave back to Lincoln his proper rank, the boys in the back of the room had moved forward and were sharing seats with the boys in the front. Every boy was engrossed in the discussion. The room was in perfect order,—not, however, according to the ideas of the principal, who entered at that moment to see how the new substitute was managing the class, famed for its bad boys. With the stern look of a Simon Legree she demanded, "How dare you leave your seats!" When one child started to explain she shouted: "How dare you speak without permission! Don't you know your teacher never permits it? Every boy take his own seat at his own desk." This principal was far more to be pitied than the boys, for they had before them the prospect of "work papers" and a grind less monotonous and more productive than the principal's discipline. She was a victim of a nerve-racking system, more sinned against than sinning.

There is nothing in school life per se to cause nervousness. Given a well-aired, sunny room, where every child has enough fresh air to breathe, where he can see without strain, where he has a desk fitted to his body and work fitted to his maximum abilities, a teacher who is physically strong and mentally inspiring, and plenty of play space and play time, there will be no nervousness. One who visits vacation schools is struck with the difference in the atmosphere from that of the winter day schools. Here are the same rooms, the same children, and in many cases the same teachers, but different work. Each child is busy with a bright, interested, happy expression and easy attitude. Some are at nature study, some are weaving baskets, making dresses, trimming hats, knitting bright worsted sacks and mittens for the winter. Boys are at carpentering, raffia, or wrought-iron work. In none of the rooms is the absolute unity or the methodical order of the winter schoolroom, but rather the hum of the workroom and the order that comes from a roomful of children interested in the progress of their work. This condition only illustrates what a winter schoolroom might be were physical defects corrected or segregated, windows open, light good, and work adapted to the child.

Vacation School Interest: An Antidote To Nervousness

Nervousness is not a monopoly of city teachers and city pupils. In country schools that I have happened to know, nervous children were the chief problem. Nervousness led in scholarship, in disorder, in absences, in truancy, and in backwardness. After reading MacDonald's Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood, I became interested in one or two particularly nervous children, just to see if I could overcome my strong dislike for them. To one boy I gave permission to leave the room or to go to the library whenever he began to lose his self-control. My predecessors had not been able to control him by the rod. A few weeks after Willie's emancipation from rules, the county superintendent was astonished to see that the county terror led my school in history, reading, and geography.

Had I known what every teacher should be taught in preparation,—the relation of eye strain, bad teeth, adenoids, "overattention," and malnutrition to nervousness and bad behavior,—I could have restored many "incorrigibles" to nerve control. Had I been led at college to study child psychology and child physiology, I should not have expected a control that was possible only in a normal adult.[6] In its primary aspect the question of nervousness in the schoolroom is purely physiological, and the majority of principals and teachers are not trained by professional schools how to deal with it. Normal schools should teach the physical laws which govern the child's development; should show that the pupil's mental, moral, and physical nature are one and inseparable; that children cannot at one time be docile, sickly, and intelligent,—perfect mentally and imperfect physically. Until teachers are so taught, the condition cannot be changed that makes of our schools manufactories of nervous teachers and pupils.

[6] The Unconscious Mind by Schofield, The Study of Children and their School Training by Dr. Frances Warner, and The Development of the Child by Nathan Oppenheimer show clearly the physical and mental limitations and possibilities of children.