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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/401

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CHILDREN LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE.

whole range of natural history which science will ever have to attempt, it is not difficult to understand that scientific knowledge of it with its pedagogical implications has not belonged, at any rate, to the past. It will belong to the future, having, perhaps, its beginnings in the present. An educational system which has not reckoned with an accurate knowledge of the brain of the child may by accident be a correct one, but until such reckoning is made we can not be sure.

Our increasing knowledge of the child's mind, his muscular and nervous system, and his special senses, points indubitably to the conclusion that reading and writing are subjects which do not belong to the early years of school life, but to a later period, and that other subjects now studied later are better adapted to this early stage of development. What is thus indicated of reading and writing may be affirmed also of drawing and arithmetic. The reasons leading to this conclusion can be only very briefly summarized here.

As regards reading, writing, and drawing, they involve, in the first place, a high degree of motor specialization, which is not only unnatural but dangerous for young children. Studies in motor ability have shown that the order of muscular development is from the larger and coarser to the finer and more delicate muscles. The movements of the child are the large, free movements of the body, legs, and arms, such as he exhibits in spontaneous play. The movements requiring fine co-ordination, such as those of the fingers and the eyes, are the movements of maturer life. If we reverse this order and compel the child to hold his body, legs, and arms still, while he engages the delicate muscles of the eyes and fingers with minute written or printed symbols, we induce a nervous overtension, and incur the evils incident to all violation of natural order. The increasing frequency of nervous disorders among school children, particularly in the older countries, is probably due in part to these circumstances. If we consider the brain of the child of seven or eight years, our conclusions are strengthened that he should not be engaged in reading and writing. At this age the brain has attained almost its full weight, and is therefore large in proportion to the body. Its development is, however, very incomplete, particularly as regards its associative elements—that is, the so-called association fibers and apperception centers. Such a brain constantly produces and must expend a large amount of nervous energy, which can not be used centrally—that is, psychologically speaking—in comparison, analysis, thought, reflection. It must flow out through the motor channels, becoming muscular movement. The healthy child is therefore incessantly active in waking hours, the action being of the vigorous kind involving the larger members. Hence we can understand that, of all the ways in