The popular arguments for free meals, free relief, free medical treatment at school, are based upon the assumption that there are but two ways to travel, one leading to a physically sound, moral, teachable child, the other to an undernourished, subnormal, backward child. They tell us we must choose either school meals or malnutrition, school eyeglasses or defective vision, free coal or freezing poor, free rent or people sleeping on the streets, free dental clinics at school or indigestion and undernourishment, free operation at school for adenoids or backward, discouraged pupils. If there is no other alternative than neglect of the child, if we must either waste fifty dollars in giving a child education that he is physically unable to take, or pay two, three, four, or even fifty dollars to fit him for that education, the American people will not hesitate. Whether there are other roads to healthy children, whether it is cheaper and better for the school to see that outside agencies prepare the child for education rather than itself to take the place of those outside agencies, is a question of fact, not of theory.
Facts prove, as we have seen, that there is more than one way to prevent malnutrition. Parents can be taught to attend to their children; hospitals and dispensaries will furnish eyeglasses where parents are unable to pay for them; charitable societies will go back of the need for eyeglasses to the conditions that produce that need and will do vastly more for the child than can eyeglasses alone. If parents, hospitals, dispensaries, and charitable societies will attend to children's needs, then relief at school is unnecessary, even though it may seem desirable.
The objection to school surgery should be clearly before us, so that we can judge of the two methods that are open to us,—treatment at school vs. treatment away from school.
Society is so organized that the treatment of serious physical defects and social needs at school would upset the machinery a very great deal. For the school to do for its children whatever they may need during their school years will require the setting up of a miniature society in every school building or under every school board. Unless schools are to equip themselves to take the place of all existing facilities for relief and surgery, children would not be so well taken care of as at present. It should not be forgotten that the physical welfare of the school child is the most accurate index to the physical needs of the community. After all, the child lives for six important years before coming to the school and leaves at the early age of fourteen or fifteen; even while attending school it sleeps at home and is influenced more by home and street standards of ventilation, cleanliness, and morality than by conditions at school. It would seem, therefore, the wider use of the school's influence to use the child's appeal to strengthen every agency having to do with community health, rather than to concentrate upon the child himself. If babies were properly cared for up to the sixth year, the protection of the school child's health would be infinitely easier. To take our eyes from the child not yet in school and from the child just out of school is to make the mistake that so many advocates of the child labor movement have made of going whither and only so far as our interest leads us and of not continuing until our work is accomplished.
"Doing Things" Through Model Tenements