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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/402

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

which a young child may receive instruction, the method through the printed book is pre-eminently the one ill fitted to him.

The evil of this method is aggravated by the fact that, before the child can receive instruction through the book, a long time—several years, in fact—is spent in the confining task of learning to read. It comes about, therefore, that the child, at the very age when he should be leading a free and expansive life, is obliged to fix his eyes upon the narrow page of a book and decipher small printed symbols, in themselves devoid of life and interest. With respect to writing and learning to write the case is worse. A considerable amount of motor specialization is involved in forming letters upon the blackboard, but when the pencil and pen are used it becomes of an extreme kind. In the whole life history of the man there are no movements requiring finer co-ordination than those of writing with pencil or pen, yet our school system requires these of the child of six or seven years, makes them, indeed, a prominent part of elementary school life. In addition to the motor specialization of reading and writing is the physical confinement in the narrow seat and desk which is necessarily connected with them. The child of six or seven has not reached the age when such confinement is natural or safe.

The injuries which I have mentioned relate to the nervous system as a whole. There are other injuries resulting from the reading habit in young children which concern the eyes directly. So much has been said and written lately about the increase of myopia and other defects of the eye among school children, that I shall merely refer to this subject here. Upon entering school, children are practically free from these defects. Upon leaving school, a strikingly large percentage are suffering from them, more, however, as yet, in European countries than in America. The causes are many, but it is scarcely doubted that the chief cause is found in bending over finely printed books and maps, and fine writing, pencil work, and drawing. If pencils, pens, paper, and books could be kept away from children until they are at least ten years of age, and their instruction come directly from objects and from the voice of the teacher, this evil could be greatly lessened.

If the above reasons for not teaching reading and writing to young children were the only ones, the objections could to a certain extent be overcome. Writing might, for instance, be practiced only on the blackboard with large free-hand movements, and letters could be taught from large forms upon charts. But we have to consider the questions whether reading and writing are in themselves branches of instruction which belong to the early years of school life, whether they may not be acquired at a great disadvantage at this period, and whether more time is not spent upon them than is necessary. It is a