The Physiological Basis
Tri-State Medical Society, Springfield IL
Of all the daisies that have been turned down by Scotch plough-boys, only one has descended to us. Was it the brain or the eyes of Robert Burns that made him differ so much from the other plough-boys? We shall see.
Every observer is cognizant of the fact that the methods of education are in a transition state. The old is losing its hold — the new is getting a stronger grip. The leaven placed in the measure of meal by the gifted, but unfortunate Rosseau, is beginning to work, because the surrounding atmosphere of public opinion is growing congenial, for ideas are germ-like in their nature; they lie latent or dormant till awakened by a certain breath of life, warm and humid. It is just dawning upon the minds of educators that education should develop the person rather than increase his knowledge; and by the person we mean the body with all its organs and all their separate functions, what we call mind being one of those functions, which so far from being independent of the others, is the most dependent of them all. Here and there an individual has long since comprehended this great truth, but for it to become a working power it must permeate the minds and hearts of the people. They must not only know this truth abstractly, but feel it sympathetically. We shall see that to be sympathetically moved is not only philosophical but physiological-philosophical because it is physiological.
The receptivity of the human mind is its great danger as well as its great strength. If prejudice gets in first, truth is kept out. The mind often sits in darkness because of prejudice against the source of the light. The Jewish nation lost the great truths that Christ taught because they despised the Nazarene. Had he been one of their own kings — a veritable son of David, who spake as man never spake before, the nation would have received him. But the prejudice against its source for the time being nullified the power of the truth. So in a certain sense the prejudice against the source of the new education has prevented its adoption. Emile came forth from the pen of Rousseau, as a poetico-philosophic rather than a scientific treatise, but as is so frequently the case, the poet philosopher felt out (sympathetically if you please) what the scientific mind is just now making out by experiment. Physiology has had a smart chase after Pegasus in a good many directions, and each overtaking proves the real Pegasus to be the most natural instead of the most supernatural of animals, thoroughly physiological, even to his wings.
In human development there are two essentials, matter and method-anatomy and training. Rousseau’s system did not contemplate structure as developed by the recent anatomy and physiology of the nervous system, but by a kind of prophetic power his thought projected itself in lines parallel with these structural discoveries, and so the theory harmonizes with facts. The import of the word educate contradicts the method; what there is to “lead out” of the human being is nothing till the world has been led in. This is the way in which man conquers the world. One by one things external to himself approach for recognition and approbation, and even the power to recognize and appropriate is not such an inherent independent quality or property of the central nervous apparatus as is generally supposed, but is itself to a great degree a developed function, growing out of the exercise of peripheral functions, as is well demonstrated in the teaching of idiots. Where does the inherent power hide itself in the deaf and blind mute, and in the idiot? Not till the sense of touch comes to the rescue, and by constant use becomes the medium of entrance for all sensations, does the mind begin to manifest itself. Even though a child be deaf, blind and idiotic, it may still be taught. Given the medium for the entrance of one single sensation, and another and another sensation, ad infinitum, may enter, and each makes the way easier for the next. It is our purpose to analyze the order of the entrances and the routes taken. The first thing that approaches is the atmosphere. It imprints nature’s first kiss of welcome upon the lips of the infant stranger, and asks to be admitted-the first to come, the last to go-the tried and faithful life-long friend. How does it enter? Those who have never analyzed the process say it rushes in, forces its way through the mouth and nostrils into the lungs. Not at all; before the first breath is taken the pressure without the chest is exactly equal to that within, and not till that equilibrium is broken can there be motion. First, inequality of pressure, then motion in the direction of the least resistance-a simple principle in mechanics. The lung has no power of itself to expand; but the chest must expand and pull out the lung, which is ever and always, except in disease, closely applied to the inner surface of the chest. We are thus explicit because of the erroneous ideas in respect to the mechanism of respiration. Now let nature speak for herself. See how beautifully she does her work. The atmosphere, far gentler than the gentlest mother’s hand, softly wraps itself about the delicate surface of the body, and at once a thousand silvery nerve-strings which lie hidden beneath that velvet surface vibrate to that touch, a thousand silvery strings centering away in the medulla carry the message “a stranger waits outside,” and the cells, all a-quiver with long waiting for the precious oxygen, send back answer by another thousand silvery strings, “bid the stranger enter, we need him.” At once the tiny threads begin to pull at the gates, the flaccid muscles become tense and strong, the ribbed sides turn on their hinges, the diaphragmed floor descends, the chest expands, the lungs follow, eighteen hundred million cells are opened, the air enters, life begins!
As the air in contact with the surface stimulates myriads of nerve waves towards the center, so with every substance that touches the body. We say the pulsations move toward the center. This language is misleading. The molecular vibrations of the nerve-cords pass in both directions, but the receiving apparatus is at the center or at some ganglion of cells between. In this sense of touch, and its resultant motion-mental or muscular, central or peripheral — lies the very essence of education. As the air, so the light approaches; gently does it impinge upon the surface of the retina, whose rods and cones respond to the touch. The optic nerve is all a-quiver, but we have no proof that its first vibrations produce anything more than a general sensation of light. The child gives no sign that individual objects are distinguished; at first, there is only a fixed, vacant stare. We all remember the time when “the baby” first began to “take notice.” The impression of light, from being general and vague, comes to be particular and definite; and just so far as the impression at the center departs from the general, and becomes supremely special, does eyesight become an intellectual power, such as Agassiz and Humboldt possessed. Before the eye can be the window of the soul’s outlooking, it must first be the window of the soul’s incoming. Before a physician can pass judgment on a patient at a single glance, be sure he has used his eyes as Hippocrates used his before he painted the signs of death, in words which, to this day, have lost no shade of color, and as Harvey used his before he gave to physiology that wondrous poem on the rhythmic movements of the heart.
As with air and light, so with sound. As the lips of mother earth, before those of the earthly mother, imprint the first kiss, so do they whisper the first message. The auditory nerve answers to the first whisper, but the child does not listen. It was not something at the center that said “I am going forth to hear,” but something outside, that stole softly inward, said “I have something to tell you.” Over and over again did the voice whisper its message before its message was heard. How many times was the precious word “mother” repeated before its separate waves were identified! To hear, in a general way, is of no value to the hearer; it is the specialization of function that gives power to its possessor. Who better needs to know this truth than the physician? And where can he find a stronger accuser than his own uneducated ear, which fails to interpret the mystical rhythmic sounds of life?
The idea that the mind, fully fashioned, sits enthroned in the brain, waiting to be “drawn out,” can not be sustained by a single fact.
Mentality is a function that developes by the proper use of its organ, the nervous system; and there is no part of that system so remote but that its slightest vibration may be felt in every other part. Indeed, in the light of modern neurology one might find a physical basis for Swedenborgianism. If the nervous system is the organ of the soul or mind, then does the soul inhabit the body, for the body is literally filled with and encompassed by nerve cells and cords. Mind is evolved, mental nourishment or nerve stimulants enter by routes just as natural as those provided for food and air. In the study of mental evolution, nature must be our teacher. A careful analysis of the emergence of infancy into childhood, in a single instance, would serve as a type for all. But where is such analysis? Who has made even the attempt? In our estimates of the human race in this and that direction, or as a whole, what account is taken of infancy? But the physiological estimate must begin there. Some one has asked, “Who are the trees?” We would ask, “Who are the children?” The only thing we can positively predicate of infancy is contractility; contractility, too, in its crudest form; for example, compare the awkward motions of a baby with the graceful motions of a fish, compare the crude, slow, hesitating fingering of a baby’s hand with the finished, dexterous, definite lightning-like touches of Paganini’s left hand. Contractility is a form of response to one’s environment, which man possesses in common with all living matter; we call it responding to stimulation. Stimulation may be initiated at the peripheral, or at the central termination of the nerve-fibres. We may safely say that for a long time the stimulation comes from without, and there are those who affirm that what appear to be spontaneous stimulations at the centres, are only the reawakening of previous stimulations from the periphery; that the centers have this power of storing up such forces much as the plant stores up sunshine. It is by contact with something, somehow, somewhere, that nerve waves are set in motion, and the resultant of this motion is either mental or muscular action. How the world shall enter, depends upon structure, and any attempt on the part of the educator to bring things in through abnormal ways is sooner or later disastrous. The great fault of the old system of education is that it begins at the pinnacle instead of the corner-stone. It appeals to the judgment and reason, of which there are none, and neglects the feelings and sympathies, of which there are an abundance. Abstract ideas are fit only for mature minds. Yet an alphabet composed of twenty-six most absurdly abstract ideas is driven and pounded into the infant brain. The a b c and the multiplication table are a good introduction to abnormal stupidity or abnormal precocity. In the one case, the higher centers repel the stimulation; in the other case they respond, but at the expense of their own structure. In a large proportion of cases, the candidates for school examinations are candidates for meningitis or insanity. It is stated that the polytechnic school of Paris produces the best scholars and the greatest amount of insanity of any school in France. The individual child should be taught as the race has been taught. The first attempts to communicate ideas among primitive people were by picture writing, and so if an object is to gain admission to the child’s mind, if the thing itself cannot be brought in contact with the sight, hearing, touch or taste, let its picture enter. We often hear the statement made that it is impossible to overcome the impressions made upon the mind in childhood, but we have not so often heard the anatomical or physiological reason. These lasting impressions are made upon the sympathetic rather than the cerebro-spinal ganglia. The sympathetic system is the first developed; long before the cerebral cells have departed from their embryonic forms, and in animals that never develope a brain, the sympathetic is well at work presiding over the essential functions of life, establishing a garrison at every available outpost and making accessible roads between, till every part of the great economy is in communication with every other part, and by a gradual transfer, not by a sudden transition, should the purely sympathetic merge into the purely intellectual. The impressions made on the lower or sympathetic ganglia, are well nigh indelible. They may not remain in their entirety, but they can never be wholly effaced, while it seems to be possible for the impress on cerebral cells to become obliterated. Hence, the danger of a wrong first impress. We once wrote in a school-girl essay that human sympathy is something more than sentiment, or else sentiment has a far deeper meaning than we give it, but we did not then know the scientific import of the statement. We believe it is Dr. E. Seguin who so clearly differentiates these two routes to the mind.
He calls attention to the glow of warmth in the region of the solar plexus, the abdominal brain when ideas, or stimulators of ideas enter by the physiological route. Entering as emotions they are ready to become transformed into ideas by the time they reach the highest centers; thus no violence is done to the nervous system. Without seeking it at all, I had recently a most unique and impressive demonstration of this idea. A highly educated German physician, and a man of extraordinary natural powers as well, was describing to me the great difficulty he had experienced in learning English. After he had exhausted his vocabulary, he placed his hand not upon his heart, but upon his stomach, just over that bunch of nerves called the solar plexus, and said with an accent I can not imitate, “when I hear my mother tongue it makes me feel so warm, so good here, and then it streams up to my head, and I feel good all over; but the English, it does not make me glow; it comes here, placing his hand upon his head; it does not come up good and warm like the German.” If he had been appointed by Dr. Seguin himself to describe the sympathetic route to the mind, it could not have been more vividly portrayed. His mother tongue touched his feelings, while the English appealed only to his head.
In our system of teaching the natural “glow of warmth” in the abdominal brain is lifted up into the unnatural glow of warmth in the encephalon.
Only the other day we were asked why there were so many large headed, small bodied children in the schools? This answers it. The blood which should be in the abdominal brain supplying the organic functions — the building processes-is sent before its time to the head brain, because of the artificial stimulation excited there. There is, there can be, no better definition of the hydra-headed monster that people call “nervousness,” before which physicians seem to stand with helpless hands. And just here is where the physician owes a duty to the public. Some medium of communication between the profession and the public is needed, call it what you please-State hygiene, sanitary science, or what not-the need exists.
The profession has been too exclusive of its learning, and the profession is reaping its reward, in every newspaper in the land filled with delusions for the sick, especially the nervous. The sad truth is, we have left the public to the charlatans. The time has gone by when the physician can sit upon a throne and dispense unquestioned prescriptions in Latin. The people demand to know, and we shall be obliged to come down to their wants, the plane of their necessities. The public is deluged with irresponsible knowledge, while the only body that can speak with authority in these matters holds its peace.
As contractility is the most of the child, it is the part of good sense to make the most of this contractility; that means to place it under the complete control of its possessor, just as the contractility of the vocal cords is under the control of the singer. There is a natural order to be followed; at first the muscles contract in groups. The child can use its fists before it can use its hands; it can use all its fingers before it can use two or three of them; and all of this before it can use one finger, just as it can see all light and hear all sound before it can see a special object, or hear a special tone. The process proceeds from the general to the special, from the group to the individual. It is the difference between spading up a garden and removing a cataract from the eye. We find muscle to be very teachable; that is to say when it has been caused to contract, the tendency is to repeat that contraction. Many physiologists, with great reason, too, maintain that this contractility is the inherent power of muscle, above and independent of any nerve power; but while this may be true, it is just as true that the ability to control this contractility belongs to the nervous system. It is only when we see the performances of the trained gymnast, that we begin to comprehend the possibilities of this power of contractility. It is not necessary, in order to do our work, and do it well, that every muscle in the body should be trained to its utmost. There are comparatively few who are called upon to perfectly control each muscle of the trunk and lower limbs; but when it comes to the human hand, there is not a human being born who does not need its complete mastery. Fully half the power of each generation is lost to the world, because the hand is uneducated. In the light of modern science, the ancient “laying on of hands” has great significance. The hand is an organ, not of touch alone, but of sight and hearing; one may even think with his fingers. There is no calling in the world in which this brain in the hand is so much needed, as in the practice of medicine, except it be in the profession of teaching. What impressions of momentous import are given and received, between physician and patient, teacher and pupil; and just here is where the teacher and physician should join hands to save the children. These messages of childhood need interpretation. Physicians and teachers alike should know the meaning of a quick and bounding, or a small and sluggish pulse. They should know the meaning of a hot, dry or cold, clammy touch; they should know the full import of a soft, flabby, or a round, hard muscle; of a shrinking, receding, or an approaching reciprocal response. Thus, the children who feign sickness might be detected, and the children who are sick might be protected. This physiological handling of children is no vagary of the brain, no “glittering generality,” without practical facts for a basis. The child’s temperature, pulse, and respiration, are all the facts needed, facts as capable of being estimated and measured, and just as sure as the turning of the earth on its axis. He would be thought a very ignorant school-boy, who did not know the freezing and the boiling points of water; but how many school-boys, how many teachers even, know what the temperature of the blood should be, or knowing, have ever made any practical use of their knowledge. There is scarcely a household so ignorant as not to know enough of the thermometer to keep the crockery and water pipes from bursting. They know how much tension clay and iron can bear, but they have probably never heard of the tension of flesh and blood. When we graduated we could name every branch of the Amazon, and mostly all the other rivers and creeks on the globe, and every town situated thereon, but we did not know there was such a thing as the aorta, to say nothing of its branches. Was this because anatomy was too difficult for young minds? We defy the anatomist to invent harder names than the geographers have invented, and as for the personal usefulness of the Amazon, compared with the aorta, it speaks for itself. We know of an eminent physician who allowed his own precious boy to burst the fine blood-vessels of the brain learning to conjugate Greek verbs. One test of that boy’s temperature would have told the father that the child needed rest, but the temperature was taken too late. “The silver cords were loosed, the golden bowl broken.” The physicians and the physiologists have done this much for humanity; they have discovered the economical basis of life, and have placed within the reach of every parent, every teacher, the positive signs of danger. Health depends upon a perfect equilibrium between nutrition and destruction. When this balance is disturbed, the disturbance manifests itself by some variation in pulse, temperature or respiration. These outposts of nature are so accessible that the most stupid can find them, and learn the signals of danger. The ingenuity of nan does not leave a steam-boiler unprotected that the engineer may know when the pressure is getting greater than the cohesive power of the metal; but what does the same man know of the cohesive power of his own flesh, or the governor which nature has placed within his own veins? Ninety-eight degrees F. — thus far shalt thou go and no farther; go beyond this at thy peril; what could be more definite? The family clock has long been exalted — far be it from us to drag it down from its old place on the wall — monitor of birth and death, and all the days between; but just as easy to understand, not so expensive, not so troublesome to keep in order, and of far more vital importance, is the family thermometer. It says to the mother, to the teacher, here is the standard of human life; it marks the moment that life’s forces begin to waste. What is standard time compared to such a standard? The child’s education, then, must begin at the beginning the contractility of his muscles. At first the movements are involuntary, aimless, in response to whatever stimulant is applied. The steps from these automatic motions to those that are made in response to the reason and will are slow and gradual, a methodical preparing of the way from the periphery to the center, a utilizing of the natural channels, by which the world enters and becomes the property of the individual. It is the upper and inner part of the nervous system, taking possession of the lower and outer. That formidable disease, a lack of control and co-ordination of muscular contractility, known by the people as St. Vitus’ dance, yields to the physiological training of the muscles. Farini, the greatest muscle-trainer in Europe, could do more for such diseases than Charcot or Brown-Sequard, the greatest healers of nerves in Europe. But we must bear in mind that unscientific gymnastics are even worse than unscientific medicine. The system may eliminate a poisonous drug, but an overstrained muscle or nerve is slow to recover its tonicity. So, beware of the charlatan who advertises to knead you and electrify you. We know how much strain a vegetable fibre can bear, and how long it takes to recover its contractility after it has been exhausted, but we do not know thus accurately the power of the muscular fibre; we can only approximate the standard.
To the mind of many there is an incompatibility between muscularity and mentality; nothing is further from the truth; without a good muscular development there is an everlasting antagonism between the vascular and the nervous supply. Muscular development maintains the equilibrium, and gives stability to the nervous system. If there is any difference in the mental power of man and woman, undeveloped muscles are responsible. We find that the muscles of the body have what is known as bilateral symmetry, similarly disposed on either side of the body. Bichat was the first to observe that all the organs of animal life, the brain, the cord, the senses, the organs of prehension and locomotion, all have this bilateral development. This is common to all the higher animals, and yet man is the only one of these animals that neglects the use of one-half of these perfectly symmetrical muscles. Let us see if the reason for this be one of structure or education, or both. The organ we are considering is muscle; its function is to contract. The control of that contraction lies largely in the cerebral cells; the integrity of the cells depends upon their nutrition, or blood supply. The more immediate the connection of the cells with the heart the better their activity. The more remote the part the greater the deterioration in the quality and quantity of the blood. The nervous system demands not only a certain amount and quantity of nutrition, but a certain force or tension of that nutrition. Hence, as a rule, other things being equal, short-necked people are more cheerful and can do more consecutive work than long-necked people. It follows that the side of the brain that is in more immediate connection with the heart gets the best supply; consequently can do the best work. This brings us to consider the channels of the blood as it leaves the heart. (In order to make this part of the subject clearer we refer to the drawings made by Armand de Fleury, illustrating the various types of branching of the aorta.) We wish to call attention to the fact, that the type of cerebral circulation defines the type of the disposition. When the cephalic or brain arteries are symmetrical branches of one single trunk given off from the aorta, we get swift, harmonious motion, with scarcely any of the fighting propensity, as in the horse. The mole, instead of a single ascending trunk, from the arch of the aorta, has two, but the branching of these two is likewise symmetrical, so that there are equal-sided, harmonious movements. But when we come to the lion, the bear and the dog, and, with a shade of difference, the wild boar, we find two ascending branches from the aorta, a right and left, the right having three divisions, two going to the brain, the other to the right arm, while the other arm or forelimb is supplied by the small left branch of the arch. Here we get a very uneven distribution of blood to the two sides of the animal, and so do we get bounding motion and ferocity of disposition. We might carry this analysis farther, were it necessary, but as far as the comparative anatomy of the brain circulation has been studied it seems to prove that the type of that circulation defines the motions and manners of the animal in question. In man the aorta has three upward branches, but the two carotids do not rise precisely alike. The right carotid, like the right subclavian, is a branch, not of the aorta, but a short trunk called the innominata, while the left carotid and subclavian arise directly from the aorta itself, the innominata on the right, the carotid and subclavian on the left, making three aortic branches. The human type is thus a cross between the symmetry of the horse and the asymmetry of the lion and tiger, and we find in man just what we should expect, a mixture of evenness and peacefulness with nervousness and snarling, to call it by no harsher name. Now, if to this structural inequality we add one-sided education, it is no wonder we get one-sidedness of character. It is no wonder we have so many hemorrhages and tumors of the left side of the brain, and so many paralyses of the right side of the body. The physiologists having discovered and interpreted this untoward fact of non-symmetrical blood supply, have followed it up with the consoling fact that the vascular system is exceedingly modifiable, and that if a demand be created by exercising the other side of the body the supply will be forthcoming. That the one-sided action comes more from education than structure is proved by the fact that the beaver and chimpanzee, with precisely the same channeling of the blood, are ambidextrous. They seem to experience no difficulty in controlling the muscles of both sides equally. They have never heard of the awkwardness or disgrace of being left-handed, and have never been to school. If nature has ordained that the left hand should be an idler, what a mistake the violinists are making. The farther we investigate the better we shall learn that the mistake is not made by nature, but by the mothers and nurses, and that nature, like the Bible, is often obscured by the big shadow of somebody’s little idea. Even the tendency of the young child to lie on the right side is less natural than artificial.
Charles Reade, who has taken pains to thoroughly investigate this subject, says the greatest authorities, from Farini on muscle to Brown-Sequard on brain, are unanimous in the opinion that both sides of the body should be equally trained. Think of the immense gain in all kinds of manual work, if the left hand could relieve the right. This is a physiological cure for, or rather a prevention of, writers’, seamstresses’ and telegraphers’ “cramp,” while the effect upon society of an even instead of a lop-sided brain, can scarcely be conjectured. The left carotid has been making human history long enough; we should like the right carotid to have a chance. Decidedly one-sided have been the world’s doings, yet, who ever thought of finding a remedy in physiology? If education has thus taken from the race fully half its power, what may it not give back to the race? We thus see that, of all the animals of his class, man is the most helpless, both mentally and physically, when life begins. Indeed, an intelligent infant is a monstrosity, and insanity or dullness is the usual condition of his adult life. It is proverbial that many intellectual giants have been everything but “smart” children. But if we could analyze the methods we should find the physiological paths to such brains all open with elements of ideas. The intellects that prove strong and stable through all the years never begin with ideas. So great an authority as Dr. E. Seguin, of New York, affirms that “the cause of almost all insanities is the discordance, nay, antagonism, raised by education, scholastic, religious and social, between the cephalic and the central parts of the nervous circuit. This is supported by the evidence that in true savage life, where the whole nervous system is evenly left alone to the drifts of instinct, insanity is unknown, but where the strain on the mind is excessive, and the sympathetic wants are ignored or subdued, insanity is rife.” The education of the so-called mind, then, is reflex, not direct; the only direct training the children can receive is of the senses themselves. If approached in the natural method, the brain accomplishes a peaceful mastery, otherwise there is constant strife throughout the realm. The vascular and nervous supplies are continually at war. Again, in our great eagerness to educate the intellect, we have ignored the child’s morals as well as his muscles.
Men are not hanged, thrown into prison, or upon beds of sickness because they cannot demonstrate a theorem or write a treatise. There is no such penalty attached to the violation of a law of orthography or logic as to the violation of a law of health or morals. Schools there are a plenty that teach dead languages, but none that teach living justice. There are schools even that teach how to die, but we know of none that teach how to live. Medical schools do not; only the fittest could possibly survive the vile hygiene of a medical college. We hope and believe that the moral atmosphere is purer than the physical. The disastrous experiences of the American people within the last twenty years has proved to us that our popular education is a dangerous power. It is educating the people to despise labor, and there is nothing in it to make men honest, truthful and just. Man is the only animal of his class that starves to death in the midst of plenty. He may be able to calculate eclipses, and speak in divers tongues, and yet die for want of sense. The power we speak of is well christened common sense” — a taking in of the things necessary to life through the open doors provided by nature. Trained intellects, or the intellects that are worth training, are few and far between; but trained senses and morals might, and should be, the common heritage of all. This is all that ordinary human life demands. And if an individual is freighted with more than he can find use for, all the worse for the individual; he is incapacitated. This is largely the kind of work the public schools are doing-incapacitating the masses, by working at the intellect exclusively; not teaching them how to use what they get, and not stopping when they have gotten all they can use. If we wanted to improve upon a polyp, even, we should begin by training his tentacles, but the masses of people are worse off than the untrained polyp; their tentacles are paralyzed by a sort of intellectual curare, known as “getting an education.” The young man or woman who has a good moral character, and knows how to do some useful thing well, is well prepared for life. Again, our greatest scientists have expressed the opinion that the Bible should have a place in the schools, because it is the best book of morals in the world. We are glad to know that a woman has tried to establish a department of morals in the schools of our land. Matilda Fletcher and Gen. Burnside began a good work in a good place-teaching morals in the District of Columbia.
The most that the physiologists are able to do is to bring these scientific truths to the teachers, who must invent their own methods. Many steps have already been taken in this direction. The kindergarten, in its original conception, is right in its method, but the kindergarten, as practiced, for the most part simply makes a transfer from books to objects, the aim being the same, viz: crowding the child’s mind with knowledge instead of developing its functions. The essence of the error is just the same, whether it be made with blocks or books. Knowledge may come; it surely will come; but it never should be made the aim of education. Education means the utmost of every organ, every function. Its work is to prepare the way and make straight the paths, viz: the five senses. The peripheral nerves, including the nerves of special sense, may be likened to so many absorbents, waiting with eager, open mouths for things fit to receive, which, when received, are transformed into mental or muscular results, as food is transformed into tissue, the transforming power in either case being something above and beyond the tissues themselves. The introduction of the world to the mind presupposes a certain receptivity — first, of the ganglionic cells near the surfaces, and last, of the brain cells themselves; and, it would seem, were this receptivity of the brain cells entirely wanting, any attempt at education would be hopeless; but the schools for the feeble-minded and idiots prove that the embryonic tissue cell of the idiot brain can by use be transformed into the real nerve cell. If they have subserved no other purpose, these schools show the almost infinite possibility of the natural method of education, the sending of some thing into the brain for it to take hold of and act upon. Given one single pathway to the mind, let all the others be irrevocably closed, still the world may enter and become transformed into ideas. And when the true and kindly earth is thus led in, a truer, kinder heaven will come out of humanity. We leave it with you to answer whether it was the brain or the eyes of Robert Burns that made him differ so much from the other plough-boys.
Source: The Physiology of Woman, Embracing Girlhood, Maternity and Mature Age, by Sarah Hackett Stevenson (Chicago: Fairbanks, Palmer & Co.,) 1883, pp. 171-195.