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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Imposition of Burthens

The Imposition of Burthens.

To return to the overworked pupils. From the fact that I have centred attention upon the evil of allowing boys and girls to neglect health and cram the memory until the rervous system breaks down in some direction (i.e., actually passes the breaking strain), and that I have given a outline of steps which should be adopted by the teacher for detecting the simpler evidences of distress, it might seem as if I were inconsistently giving countenano at one point to primary overloading, and suggesting that, by careful watching and timely removal of excessive burthens, one could prevent any serious consequence. The logical absurdity of such a position is obvious, since it would mean the loading up of the pupil to the breaking strain it order to arrive at his carrying capacity.

The first care of the schoolmaster should be to make sure that the routine loads imposed by his system at each stage will not involve a "working stress" at all near the "breaking strain" in any direction. In exceptional cases, owing to some special individual weakness, even such loads might prove excessive. It would be in these cases that the properly trained teacher, detecting at once the signs of distress, would intervene and prevent extensive breakdown. Under the present system of all-round overloading the calls on the teacher in this direction would undoubtedly be frequent and exacting, but under a rational system he would very rarely have to intervene.

Nothing can be more crude and unscientific than our present practice of habitually burthening the growing nervous system until some part of it shows signs of breakdown. The school, considered all round, should be the healthiest place in the world for a boy or girl, and it is only a perverse idea of the function of education that has brought us to regard the school as a place where it is perfectly natural that pupils should become jaded and out of sorts towards the end of each term. Stress, many degrees removed from what would ordinarily cause obvious evidences of harm at the" time, may greatly lesson the developmental capacity, and all future potertialities of the brain, limiting its clasticity and dwarfing the ultimate mental stature of the indiviual. Fatigue is cap- page 37 able of inducing structural changes in brain cells easily seen under the microscope, and when fatigue is prolonged the cells may undergo such extreme disintegration at the time that recovery afterwards is quite out of the question. But long before the production of gross degeneration much in-sensible dynamic injury may have been brought about.