Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/747

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723
BRAIN-FORCING IN CHILDHOOD.

more excitable and more impressionable in the child than in the adult. At the same time the structure is immature. What it possesses in size it lacks in organization; consequently it is not at its maximum for severe and long-continued exertion, and when subjected to a strain of this kind it is certain to suffer. We have, all of us, seen children become mentally fatigued from very slight causes, even when they have been at the same time greatly interested. How much more, therefore, "must their brains be tired when they have been forced to concentrate their attention upon subjects, the importance of which they do not appreciate!

The disadvantages to the child of overtasking its muscular system are well understood, and wise laws have been enacted by most civilized people protecting children from the greed of those who would, if left to their own devices, work them to excess. But there are no laws for the protection of their brains from the attacks of ignorant parents and guardians, the insidious warfare of the compilers of school-books who write treatises on physiology in rhyme for infants, and the ever-ready schoolmaster, who, with the child, a victim of a pernicious system, must carry out the behests of those set over him.

Every person who has tried both knows that an hour of intense mental exertion fatigues the whole system more than does a corresponding amount of the most severe physical work. The reason for this is very evident. The brain not only furnishes the force for thought and the other elements of the mind, but it keeps in action all the other organs of the body. If, therefore, the mind takes more than its share of this force, the heart, the stomach, the lungs, the muscles, suffer, and the feeling of weariness is experienced.

It must be borne in mind, also, that the brains of children are continually engaged in acquiring a knowledge of the objects and circumstances by which they are surrounded. An adult, for instance, goes into a room, and the things it contains scarcely attract his attention. He has already learned them. But with the child it is very different. He looks at every object with inquiring eyes; if possible he takes them into his hands so that he can get fuller ideas of them, and asks a hundred questions in regard to their qualities, uses, etc. From the very earliest period after birth the infant is in pursuit of knowledge. His open eyes stare with astonishment at the things within their range, and in a little while his other senses are brought into requisition to assist in adding to his acquirements. An infant two months old will stretch out his hands toward objects held near him, and will incline his whole body with arms extended toward those that he has already learned are too far off for him to grasp. Perhaps, as Plato says, all these manifestations are due to the wonder with which the child's mind is full, but they lead to knowledge whatever may be the exciting cause, and they result directly from the action of the brain.

Undoubtedly the first faculties of the child's mind to be brought