Wherever the Stars and Stripes fly over school buildings it is made compulsory to teach the evils of alcoholism. For nearly a generation the great majority of school children of the United States have been taught that alcohol, in however small quantities, is a poison and a menace to personal and national health and prosperity. Yet during this very period the per capita consumption of every kind of alcoholic beverage has increased. Whereas 16.49 gallons of spirituous liquors were consumed per capita of population in 1896, 22.27 gallons were used in 1906. Obviously the results of methods hitherto in vogue for combating alcoholism are disappointing.
Why this paradoxical relation of precept to practice? Why is this, the most hygiene-instructed country in the world, the Elysium of the patent-medicine and cocaine traffic? If we have only the expected divergence of achievement from ideal, then there is nothing for us to do but to congratulate ourselves and posterity upon the part played by compulsory legislation in committing all states and territories to hygiene instruction in all public schools. If, on the other hand, our disappointment is due to ineffective method, then the next step is to change our method.
The chief purpose of school hygiene has hitherto been not to promote personal and community health, but to lessen the use of alcohol and tobacco. Arguments were required against whisky, beer, cigars, and cigarettes. As the strongest arguments would probably make the most lasting impression upon the school child and the best profits for author and bookseller, writers vied with one another in the rhetoric and hyperbole of platform agitation. What effect would it have upon you if you were exhorted frequently during the next eight years to avoid tobacco because a mother once killed a child by washing its head in tobacco water? What is the effect on the mind of a boy or a girl who sees that the family doctor, the minister, the teacher, the judge, the governor, the President, and the philanthropist use tobacco and alcoholic beverages, when taught that "boys who use tobacco and alcoholic beverages will find closed in their faces the doors to strength, good health, skill in athletics, good scholarship, long life, best companions, many business positions, highest success"? It is probably true that "a boy once drank some whisky from a flask and died within a few hours." But that story is about as typical of boys and of whisky as that a boy once drank whisky from a flask and did not die for ninety years afterwards, or that George Washington drank whisky and became the Father of his Country.
How special pleading has dominated the teaching of school hygiene is illustrated by a recent book which, for the most part, successfully breaks away from the narrow point of view and the crude methods hitherto prevailing. It presents the following facts concerning New York City:
|Expense of police department||$10,199,206|
|Police courts, jails, workhouses, reformatories||1,310,411|
|Hospitals, asylums, and other charities||4,754,380|
It is fair to the author to state that she does not declare in so many words that the shutting up of the saloons would obviate all the arrests and all the hospital, jail, and charity bills. Instead of wipe out she says shrivel. No truth would have been lost by avoiding all misrepresentation.
The author probably felt as I did when I took my total abstainer's protest to a celebrated scientist who had exposed certain misstatements regarding the effect of small quantities of alcohol: "Is not the untruth of these exaggerated statements less dangerous than the untruth of dispassionate, scientific statement? So long as the child mind takes in only an impression, is it not better to write this impression indelibly?" He sadly but indulgently replied, "And in what other studies would you substitute exaggeration for truth?"
The reaction has already begun against exaggeration in hygiene text-books, against drawing lessons from accidental or exceptional cases of excessive use of alcohol, against classing moderate drinking and smoking with drunkenness as sins of equal magnitude, and against overlooking grave social and industrial evils that threaten children far earlier and more frequently than do tobacco and alcohol. Instead of adding an ell to the truth, text-book writers are now adding only an inch or two at a time. No longer do we favor highly colored charts that picture in purple, green, and black the effect of stimulants and narcotics upon the heart and brain, the stomach, the liver, the knee, and the eardrum, assuming that all resultant evils are concentrated in one organ. Menacing habits, such as overeating and indulgence in self-pity, are beginning to receive attention. It is also true that physiology and anatomy are progressively made more interesting. Publishers are looking for the utmost originality compatible with the purpose of the present laws and with the only effective public sentiment that has hitherto been interested in the interpretation of those laws.