Popular Science Monthly/Volume 77/November 1910/Child Study


By Professor E. A. KIRKPATRICK


THE sciences concerned with man and the conditions most favorable to his physical, mental and moral development have received a great deal of attention during the last quarter of a century and the results are most striking. It is found that there is tremendous waste of adult human life in preventable deaths and injuries caused by disease and accidents, and immense waste of human energy in idleness and misapplied effort, while morality is shown to depend to a much greater extent than was formerly supposed upon proper housing, feeding and recreative and social opportunities.

It has been demonstrated that the death rate of infants may easily be decreased one half by supplying pure milk to mothers together with directions and the help of nurses in caring for babies. Children are not only dying in entirely unnecessary numbers, but a great many are born defective or caused to become so by improper treatment, so that they must be cared for by the state, at enormous expense. It has also been clearly demonstrated that there is an immense waste of time and energy in the public schools, and that the output of efficient individuals is far below what it should be; also, that because of early employment, lack of play grounds and other causes great numbers are shut up in reform schools and jails, instead of being prepared for performing the duties of citizens.

Although the government has, as yet, done almost nothing in the way of scientific research along these lines, as compared with that which it has done in agriculture, yet enough has already been established by the investigations of private individuals, societies and universities to prove clearly that a large part of this destructive waste and perversion of human life, energy and effort can be prevented by means now known to be efficient.

There is good ground also for the belief that still further enormous saving may be effected after the complex facts of child and social life have been more thoroughly investigated. While the government appropriates millions for researches in agriculture and the diffusion of the results among the people, it was a hard task to get an appropriation of forty-five thousand dollars for human education. In the last congress a bill appropriating fifteen hundred dollars for child study was defeated, and immediately afterward, fifteen thousand was appropriated for studying clams! Evidently, the public and congress need to be better informed regarding the science of human welfare, and the possibilities^ of its extension and of the practical applications that may be made of it.

It is certain that researches concerned with children must be of much greater importance for the future welfare of the nation, than those concerned with adults, because the children have a longer possibility of usefulness before them and they are, also, to be the parents and trainers of the next generation, while saving and lengthening the life of adults and enhancing their industrial, intellectual and moral efficiency, can continue for only a comparatively short time. Besides this the same amount of effort produces much greater results in plastic childhood.

At Clark University in Worcester, which, under the leadership of Dr. Hall has been the great center of child study in America, there was recently held a conference on child welfare, attended by representatives of no less than twenty-seven societies, whose work brought them in contact with child life. It was the consensus of opinion that there is great need for scientific knowledge of children and for the diffusion and popularization of what has already been discovered by scientific research and found useful in the practical efforts of child welfare societies of all kinds. A national society for furthering scientific research, dissemination of results and cooperation of all agencies concerned with child welfare was, therefore, formed, with Dr. Hall as president.

The departments of agriculture and the bureau of education are ready to do more than they have done along this line, but attempts are being made to have a special bureau formed. It is also thought that bureaus may be formed in the states and in the larger cities, which shall investigate local conditions affecting the welfare of children and the best means of helping them.

Children have been objects of interest and effort since the beginning of time, but the serious, systematic study of their real characteristics has been of very recent origin. They have been regarded as small, weak adults, who are to be brought to adult size and strength as quickly as possible. It is now proved, however, that a child is no more a small adult, than a stalk of corn just out of the ground is like the mature stalk with tassel and ear. If all parts of an infant should grow in the same proportion he would be a monstrosity, instead of a well-developed adult. As a matter of fact, while the body increases in height three times, the legs increase five times and the head only twice. Every organ and part of the body changes its size in proportion to the other parts in developing from infancy to manhood, while the rate of such physiological processes as respiration and circulation, changes to such an extent that diagnoses of health conditions are made on an entirely different basis for infants from that used with adults. Probably the failure to realize that the digestive processes of children are different from those of adults, has been the cause of more deaths of infants than any other one form of ignorance. Although long known scientifically, this fact is still unrecognized by a large proportion of mothers.

The differences in instinctive tendencies and in emotional and intellectual activities of children and adults are equally great, though less easily expressed in brief terms. It is with this problem of the difference between children and adults that the science of child study is especially concerned. It is because of the nature of these differences, also, that the impracticability of the application of adult methods to the securing of child welfare is evident.

The problem to be solved is by no means an easy one. The characteristics of human beings are so infinite in number that the noting of differences between children and adults is an endless task. This expresses only a small part of the difficulty, however, for what the individual is, depends largely upon the way in which his many characteristics are combined and developed. Moreover, the changes in characteristics and their combination during development are not uniform as the child grows into the man. Not only are some of the changes greater than others and hence their relative proportions modified, but the changes are much more rapid at one time than at another. Again, one kind of change, as for example, growth in height, is taking place rapidly, while growth in diameter is nearly at a standstill. Later the reverse is true. Mentally, the same relation may be found between imagination and reasoning, or ambition and altruism.

Much has already been done in discovering the prominence of certain characteristics at different stages of development, but the details are yet to be worked out. It will never be possible to say for any individual, however, just when certain characteristics will be prominent. Even the most fundamental characteristics of physical development, such as the rapid growth in height that occurs near the beginning of the teens, come several years earlier in some individuals than in others. If the racial and family characteristics are known a closer approximation may be made. A child of the southern race and of a family maturing early, even for that race, will have his period of rapid growth much earlier than a child of the northern race, but in the same family individual differences will be found according to which line of ancestry is most prominent in the physical characteristics of the child.

In addition to these native differences, racial, family and individual, it is a well-established fact that in man, as in all other organisms, rate and amount of development are determined, not only by inner tendencies, but also by outer influences of climate, food and exercise and by special accidents or diseases. A child whose growth or development has been retarded may entirely make up for such retardation by a later period of rapid growth, but the conditions for the rapid development must not be supplied too late or the power to grow is likely to be lost. A period of rapid growth in height after eighteen and in intellectual ability after thirty is rare. Permanent retardation in physical development at an early age produces the dwarf and in mental development, the feeble-minded individual. Many feeble-minded are such simply because they retain the characteristics of childhood at a certain stage of development, instead of developing those of later stages.

The natural order of development in children is very difficult to determine because of countless individual peculiarities. Children of the same age sometimes differ as much in some particulars as one group of children differs from another several years older or younger. This makes it necessary in order to get reliable truths regarding changes with development, either to compare a large number of children of different ages or else to study the same child for many years. Both of these methods have been used and the results of detailed continuous study of individuals, confirm and supplement the results obtained from the study of a large number of children of different ages. In both forms of study care is needed to determine whether the changes that are found to have taken place are due to inner laws of development or are the result of special conditions affecting the development of the individual or the group. On the scientific side, it is important that the inner laws of development shall be determined, while on the practical side it is necessary, if the wisest course is to be pursued, to know what the natural tendencies of development are at each age and how children are modified by special surroundings and modes of treatment.

According to an old view of human nature all natural tendencies should be opposed, while according to another extreme view they should all be encouraged. The medium and common-sense view is that in this, as in other cases, we should know the nature of that with which we are dealing, in order that we may do what we wish with it, at least expense of time and effort.

It still remains to be determined, however, as to how quickly, and by what means, one should seek to bring about changes that are desired. Some, like the gardener, believe in making the conditions favorable for the development of the plant, while others try to force an early development and even pull open the buds before they are ready to blossom. There is a growing belief that nothing is gained by haste and that undesirable tendencies are usually best treated, not by direct opposition and attempts at uprooting, but by utilizing them in harmless ways for the development of opposing tendencies. One illustration will make clear this principle. Dr. C. F. Hodge, of Worcester, found a lot of toads that had been killed by school boys. Although indignant, he, after a little thought, instead of attempting to directly cure the boys of cruelty, offered a prize for the best essay on toads, containing an answer to the question, "What do toads eat?" The activity of the boys was turned in the direction of observing the actions of toads and for that reason they became interested in animals. This interest was increased as they discovered the great usefulness of toads in gardens. There was after that no need of police help, or "cruelty-to-animal-lectures," to prevent the stoning of toads in Worcester.

Although the science of child study has been developing so rapidly during the last quarter of a century it has, as yet, only begun to be organized into a definite system of knowledge. The demands for definite information from secular and religious teachers and from all sorts of child welfare societies, can be met only in part. Much that is already available, however, is still unknown to these workers and to the public generally, though all these agencies are now profiting, to some extent, by the results of child study and investigation.

Although as a science, child study seeks to discover the common characteristics of all children at each stage of development, yet the first results of child study have been increased emphasis upon the great differences between individual children and the need of recognizing those differences.

Psychologists and educators are now seeking to determine just how far individual treatment is necessary or most effective. It has been shown that from fifteen to thirty per cent, of children in any grade can not be seated properly in standard non-adjustable seats and now all progressive schools supply every pupil with adjustable seats, although if the same care were used in seating the children, this is probably not a more effective means of meeting the situation than would be the use of fifteen to thirty per cent, adjustable seats and the rest non-adjustable.

Recent studies of retardation show that from five to thirty per cent, of children in school are "repeaters," or in other words, that the standard courses of study do not fit that proportion of individuals, who are below the average. How many whose needs are not met for the opposite reason, that they could just as well go faster, is not known. It is certain at any rate that whatever general plan of grading is adopted in schools a large number of children can not have their needs properly met.

On account of this truth it has been held that all children should be taught individually and this has been attempted in a few places, notably at Pueblo, Colo., by Superintendent Search, who found that the best pupils did four times as much work as the poorest, in the same time. He claimed that, on the whole, better results were also obtained than by class instruction. The first fact has been confirmed by other experiments, the last is still disputed. Another method is to teach only the exceptional children individually, while the others are taught as before in classes. Still another plan that is now being adopted extensively in large cities, is that of having special schools or classes for each type of exceptional child, the deaf, the blind, the lame, the epileptic, the incorrigible, etc. In Chicago, such children are carefully examined and tested by the experts in the child study department maintained by the board of education, before being assigned to the school that it is thought will best fit the individual. Medical inspection and regular examination of eyes and ears of school children have made very clear the necessity of such special provision for exceptional children.

A large proportion of these will have their needs met in classes and ungraded rooms in the public schools, and others in special institutions, especially those for the feeble minded, but a few need still more individual and expert treatment, such as is given in the school for atypical children at Plainfield, N. J., presided over by Dr. Groszmann and in the psychological clinic and school established by Dr. Witmer, of the University of Pennsylvania. In such schools children who are so different from normal children that under ordinary circumstances or even in special classes they would become a burden upon society may, by individual treatment directed by experts, be developed into happy, intelligent human beings and useful citizens.

Although the first and most evident value of child study has been in the treatment of exceptional children, a marked change has also been brought about both in the popular mind and in the minds of educators, whereby children as children, and not merely as the material out of which men and women are to be made, have now become objects of popular and literary interest. This is strikingly illustrated by current literature. A quarter of a century ago if children appeared in literature it was only incidentally or as foils to adults, but now nearly every issue of popular magazines contains stories or sketches, in which portrayal of child character is the prominent feature. The literary needs of children are also being administered to as never before by writers, librarians and teachers, all of whom are giving careful study to the questions of child nature and the literature that best appeals to it. Children are now recognized as a part of the public with distinct needs that must be cared for.

In our schools, although courses of study are not completely made over so as to fit the needs of children in each stage of development, as they may be some day, yet they have been greatly modified by this new interest in children and by the more complete knowledge of their characteristics at each stage of development. The aim is now, not merely to directly prepare for adult life, but to have them live completely, each stage of development, while making some preparation for the future.

There have been still greater changes in the methods of accomplishing results than in the ideal of what education should do. Even when children are being educated chiefly with reference to adult life, it is known that methods suited to adults are far less efficient than those that recognize the peculiarities of child nature. It is now found that the old, analytic, logical methods are not only not the best for young children, but they are the worst possible—far worse than haphazard teaching which leaves the child's mind free to work and develop in its own natural way.

Details can not be given in the space of a single article, but those who know best, believe that if a Utopian social life is ever to be developed it will be largely through the application of the results of researches into child nature. Such research is being carried on in many places and all up-to-date departments of education, normal schools and universities include some instruction regarding the results of such research, while enlightened parents and all progressive workers in institutions dealing with the welfare of children are seeking and using such information. It is to be hoped that the time is not far distant when public appropriations and private benevolence will provide for more extensive prosecutions of research in this difficult, complex And most important of all sciences.