By reducing the harm done by old buildings and by the traditions of curriculum and discipline, teachers can do a great deal. Perhaps they cannot move the windows or the desks, but they can move the children. If they cannot insure sanitary conditions for home study, they can cut down the home study. If the directors do not provide proper blackboards, they can do less blackboard work. They can make children as conscious, as afraid, and as resentful of dirty air as of dirty teeth. They can make janitors believe that "dry sweeping" or "feather dusting" may give them consumption, and leave most of the dirt in the room to make work for the next day; that adjustable desks are made to fit the child's legs and back, not the monkey wrench; that the thermometer in the schoolroom is a safer guide to heat needed than a boiler gauge in the basement; that fresh air heated by coal is cheaper for the school fund than stale air heated by bodies and by bad breath. Finally, they can make known to pupils, to parents, to principals and superintendents, to health officials and to the public, the extent to which school environment violates the precepts of school hygiene.
If the state requires the attendance of all children between the ages of five and fourteen at school for five hours a day, for five days in the week, for ten months in the year, then it should undertake to see that the machinery it provides for the education of those children for the greater part of the time for nine years of their lives—the formative years of their lives—is neither injuring their health nor retarding their full development.
If the amount of "close-range" work is rapidly manufacturing myopic eyes; if bad ventilation, whether due to faulty construction or to faulty management, is preparing soil for the tubercle bacillus; if children with contagious diseases are not found and segregated; if desks are so ill adapted to children's sizes and physical needs that they are forming crooked spines; if too many children are crowded into one room; if lack of air and light is producing strained eyes and malnutrition; if neither open air, space, nor time is provided for exercise, games, and physical training; if school discipline is adapted neither to the psychology nor the physiology of child or teacher, then the state is depriving the child of a greater right than the compulsory education law forces it to endure. Not only is the right to health sacrificed to the right to education, but education and health are both sacrificed.
In undertaking to enforce the compulsory education law, to put all truants and child laborers in school, the state should be very sure for its own sake that it is not depriving the child of the health on which depends his future usefulness to the state as well as to himself.
Increase in Chicago Attendance