The Health Index Of Children, by Ernest Bryant Hoag
The most fascinating aspect of this book is the wide gulf between how impartial and quantifiable and scientific the author thinks that his discussion is and the way that his discussion actually is to any contemporary reader of this book who will find in the author’s speculations and prejudices something that is almost medieval in thinking. It is useful in reading a book like this to take note of the way that we feel ourselves and our knowledge to be vastly superior to that of the author, even though this book was only published 110 years ago. The author was, at the time this book was written, a cutting edge lecturer in public health who was a medical director for Berkeley schools in California. Nowadays, of course, the author’s view of his medical experience would be viewed as the most ridiculous sort of quackery, and some of the author’s statements about diseases like epilepsy might wind in him being sued and losing his position and a fair amount of money by equating those who suffer from seizures with deadly criminals who black out because of drug and alcohol use. In reflecting on our own superiority to the author’s view of the health of children, it is important to note that our contemporary science will look just as ridiculous to future generations.
This book is divided into two parts and is about 150 pages or so in length. The first part of the book is divided into eight chapters. After beginning with an introduction by the superintendent of the Berkeley school district (the boss of the author), the first part of the book discusses the health index of children, mainly by showing a diagnostic table with ambiguous symptoms and then chapters about various sorts of health problems that children suffer from, including diseases of the nose, throat and ear (1), bad vision (2), poor teeth (3), contagious diseases that spread because of problems in school sanitation (4), nervous disorders in children (5), some general disorders that children face (6), defects of the feet (7), and bad posture (8). Even as an adult these are problems I am not unfamiliar with. The second part of the book consists of discussions about what factors could improve the health of children (II), with chapters on the importance of good nutrition (9), the relationship between family health and the home life of children and the health of children at school (10), the importance of maintaining the health of the teacher (11), bureaucracies of school health departments (12), a plan for health supervision in schools to increase surveillance (13), some details of health examinations (14), and calls for interagency cooperation among various bureaucracies (15), after which the book ends with a bibliography.
Even if the author is awfully conceited about his expertise in knowing about the health of children, this is a book that is still worth reading and reflecting on and occasionally has sound advice about the importance of dental health for the well-being of children and the way that many different aspects of health are interrelated to each other. Most of this book consists of the author’s rather strongly-worded discussions about various problems that children suffer from in their health (which is honestly the better part of the book) and then his suggestions on how the health of children could be made better. The fact that this book was written 110 years ago and none of the problems that the author talks about have been remotely resolved or even improved to any great extent suggest that his solutions are not really working or possibly not even achievable. If one looks at the medical advice of our own age as it relates to schools, not much has changed. It is somewhat depressing to see that while the understanding of health problems is different, the solutions that are proposed remain evergreen and constant.