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The Need of such an Improvement.
the most economical, the most healthful, and the most useful?
In regard to the question, Should the writing desk be level or inclined, much may be said. We prefer the level desk. We do so because, if low enough, we find it quite as easy and convenient as if it were sloping, and because few persons in the hurry and business of life will be sure to find sloping writing desks, on all occasions ; but if trained to their exclusive use, they will experience some difficulty in accommodating themselves to any other. We have heard of several foreign writing masters who preferred to have the desk slope in the opposite direction from what it usually does; that is, to have the part nearest the body highest; but the reasons assigned for this position seem to us fanciful.
The question, ' Are the writing desks in our common schools in this country what they ought to be;' will, we believe, admit cf but one reply. Nowhere are they adapted, at all, to the ever varying size, or height rather, of the pupils. In a school where twenty or thirty children write, there are seldom half a dozen who require a desk of exactly the same height. And yet it is usually the same for all. Occasionally there is a little difference in the height of the seats; that is, the seat for those who constitute the first class is a little lower than that which is intended for the second and third classes-the height of the desks themselves remaining the same, and being uniform. In this case, a whole class or · bench' must have the height of both the seats and the desk the same, however great the diversity of their size ; nor is there usually any difference in favor of different classes.
Now this is all wrong; and it is highly desirable that there should be a reform. It is no small matter to have fifteen pupils in every twenty-usually a much larger proportion-sit at writing desks, several hours a day, which are either too high for them, absolutely, or at least too far from their seats. The error of having them too low is, happily, not so injurious; but it is not very common. Desks are almost always too high. The arm and shoulder are placed in an unnatural, constrained position. The spine is twisted and distorted. The function of respiration is impeded, and sometimes that of digestion. Nay more, and worse if possible than all this, the compression on the spine, along with the pressure of the chest and its effects, injure the brain and nervous system, in the end, and perhaps at the moment. We are not sure that ouch of the iæ which we find in our school rooms—the indisposition to think-is not owing to the cause we have been mentioning. Be this as it may, however,
Points of Improvement Needed. there can be but little doubt that these unnatural positions of the body at school, and especially while writing, besides being irksome and painful, lay the foundation of numerous diseases, some of them diseases of no ordinary severity. The punishment of our physical transgressions does not always follow immediately upon the heels of the transgression, especially when it is committed early. Children are exceedingly tenacious of life; and it not unfrequently happens that diseases, whose seeds are early sown, do not spring up till many years afterward. They injure the system, indeed, or parts of the system'; but, belabored as it is, life urges on the machine till other causes come in. Then, when at last there is so much derangement as to cause what we commonly call disease, all other causes produced by early errors unite with them to aggravate the disease, and often to overthrow health entirely and destroy life. Many a time have consumption, scrofula, dyspepsia, hypochondria, mania, epilepsy, and numerous other diseases of middle or advanced life, been rendered more severe, if not absolutely incurable, by the errors of infancy, childhood, or youth.
Could parents who are truly conscientious, for once understand enough of anatomy, physiology and pathology, to see this matter, just as it is, there would be hope of reformation. Some, indeed, might desert the schools entirely; and resolve to depend solely on what their time and means could do for their instruction in the family. The greater part, however, it is believed and hoped, would suffer their love for their neighbors to come so nearly up with their love for themselves, as not to withdraw their influence, and thus leave the children of their neighbors in a more perilous condition than before ; but, on the contrary, would labor to make things better. The advantages of common school instruction over all other instruction beyond the family circle—at least were the common school what it ought to be-should lead every thinking person to hesitate, at the least, before he ventures to take a single step, however advantageous it may seem to him, for the time, which shall render the school, in the district where he belongs, less efficient or less useful than it would be without his aid.
One important means, as we have already seen, of rendering the common school what it should be, is, to improve, if possible, the writing desks; and one of the great desiderata in this matter has long been, the adaptation of the seats and desks of the pupils to their varying height. The legs of the pupils should not hang pendulous; nor should they, on the contrary, be too much cramped. And the writing desks, as we have already
What Mr Luther has done.
said, should be adapted, in like manner, to their every varying height.
T'he first of these objects remains to be accomplished; and can only be done when each pupil has his separate seat, and when each seat is so constructed as to be raised or lowered at pleasure, either by means of screws, or something equivalent thereto. There is no difficulty of having chairs or seats of this description. Had they been needed in the family, as they are in the school, human ingenuity would have long ago devised and introduced them, and it would long since have been deemed as much a matter of courtesy to adapt the height of a visiter's chair to his comfort and happiness, by elevating or depressing the seat, as it now is to see that the room is of a proper temperature, or to see that he has a seat at all; or, above all, a cushion. But it happens, however, that we grown people do not confine ourselves or our visiters to their seats as closely as if they were statues, for two or three hours together; and hence it is, that even luxury herself seems not to have thought of elevating or depressing our seats. And how could it be expected that we should think more of the comfort of our children than of our own comfort ? Who does not know that any thing will do for children,' if it is not quite so comfortable or healthful, especially when they are very small, or at school ?
The second object has now been accomplished—or at least the way has been opened for its accomplishment-by an invention of Mr Seth Luther. We just adverted to the subject in our last number. He has invented and patented, what he calls an Alleviating Writing Desk ;' and what we believe will be found, on examination, to answer to the indications of the name. The principle of its construction is simple ; and one of its chief excellences consists in the fact, that it may be adapted to the family, the school house, or the counting room.
We have examined a model of Mr Luther's desk, and would gladly describe it; but a want of familiarity with the terms of mechanical philosophy, renders us unable to do so, at least without the aid of engravings. The latter, Mr Luther has partly promised us, on some future occasion. For the present, we can only say, that the leading advantage of the desk consists in the readiness with which it can be adapted to all positions of the body, whether sitting or standing. When made of the common, or counting room size, there will be thirtytwo different points of height at which it may stand. The highest is three feet, ten inches and a half from the ficor ; which is as high as any man, not of extraordinary height, would require. The next is half an inch lower, and so on. The lowest is two feet, six inches and half
Advantages of his Desk.
from the floor. This last may be a little too high for a few of the smallest pupils who write; but it would not be so high as. those at which they are now usually required to sit ; besides which, they might stand and sit alternately; as the elevation or depression of the desk is simple, and is but the work of a moment. More than this even; in adapting the desk to the school room, the lower part of it might be a little shortened, so that the lower point might be two feet, instead of two feet, six inches and a half; and the higher point only three feet, four and a half.
Some may question, whether a desk which is thus moveable, will stand firmly enough for the school room. We have not forgotten to look minutely into this matter ; and so far as we are able to judge, the desk will be strong and firm, and not liable to get out of repair. Of course, however, like all things else, much of its strength and firmness will depend on the faithfulness and fidelity of the builder, as well as the excellence of the materials with which it is constructed. To secure its attachment to a particular part of the school room, as well as to make it stand more firmly, it might be screwed to the floor.
The favorable impressions we had received on examining the Alleviating Writing Desk were somewhat confirmed, subsequently, by the following recommendation from Mr B. F. Foster, one of the most popular and successful teachers of penınanship in our country:
In schools, academies and colleges this invention is calculated to afford many advantages; as desks thus constructed, by being easily adapted to the relative height of each pupil, will not only facilitate the acquisition of fine penmanship, but prevent the evils constantly resulting from the awkward and ungraceful position too frequently contracted by those who are daily confined to study.'
These desks may be made single or double* , but for common schools would probably be preferred single. They may also be made, even when single, so as to accommodate one, two, three, or even more pupils. If made, however, to accommodate more than two, they will not be found so convenient of transportation as they now are. Of the size which Mr Luther contemplates the whole of the frame work of the desk, except the desk itself, may be packed into a box a foot square ; so at least we understood him.
The only solid objection to the universal application of these
By the term double is here meant the common counting house mode of construction; in which there is a desk on each side of a form; and the occupants on the two sides, sit facing each other.
Its Expense not an Objection.
desks to all our schools, from the common school to the university, will be, as we apprehend, the expense. What this is likely to be for each desk, we are uncertain. Much will depend on the expensiveness of the material, as well as the elegance and finish of the workmanship. The expense will be an important point, and when we can ascertain what this is likely to be, we will communicate it.
Meanwhile, we beg parents and teachers to consider the usefulness of these desks. They need not remain permanently in the school room.
A family, owning a certain number of desks, say two, may consider them as a part of the household furniture; and take them to the school room, or withhold them when they please. If there were likely to be difficulty in this way, however-if it were found inconvenient to have them owned by individuals—the whole might be purchased by the district, and used exclusively at the school room.
Let them consider not only the expense of the desks, but also the expense of doing without them. To us it is more than probable, that the loss of time while lingering under painful diseases, induced or aggravated by the present bad postures of school rooms, to say nothing of the inconvenience of enduring the pain itself, and the money paid to nurses, apothecaries, and physicians, would, at a low estimate, more than outweigh the expense of procuring a set of these desks. The desks are used on the principle of prevention; and will it not be forever true, that prevention is not only better, but cheaper than cure? Must it not be so in the very nature of things ? How then, is it possible for desks, such as we have been speaking of, not to be truly economical ?
But suppose they were not so. Suppose they were to cost ten dollars, or even twenty dollars more to each family in a school district, than the value of the time lost by disease resulting from the want of them, and the expense of combating it. Do we not pay our tens, yea, our twenties of dollars for articles of comfort, and even of luxury in our families, without uttering a word of complaint? Shall we expend largely on the furniture of our houses-our chairs, our sofas, our timepieces, our carpets, our centre tables, our extra dresses, book bindings, &c. -and shall we do nothing for our school rooms ? Must these be cheerless and comfortless, like so many barns or prisons ?
We cannot—we will not-refrain from pleading the cause of common schools.
We must insist on good houses, good rooms, good, comfortable, healthful, and, withal, beautiful furniture; good, agreeable, and healthful books ; good, agreeable, and healthful teachers, male and female. We insist on all these