11 MAY 1929, Page 8

Mothercraft in Elementary Education

rpRE General Election of 1929 has an obvious signifi- 1 cane for infant welfare workers. The time will come when the problems of infant nurture will be investi- gated by first-class brains working on a scale appropriate to the importance of the subject. A School of Infant Hygiene in the University of London would have the prestige of, say, the National Physical Laboratory, it would have scope to co-ordinate the work done throughout the country, it would systematize the teaching, and it would have unlimited material and adequate apparatus (hospitals, &c.) for research. But all this is in the future.

In the meantime enough is known about infant hygiene to save thousands of lives every year, if only the mothers were possessed of a little of that knowledge. The great lesson to be learnt from the reduction of the infant mortality rate is that there is no reason why it should not be much further reduced. The problem is not like cancer, where the best brains of the country are practically helpless ; it is not like tuberculosis, where the mortality rate will remain where it is so long as the slums remain what they are. Anyone who enters day by day into the home life of both rich and poor must be struck by the fact that the infant mortality rate is not essentially a problem of poverty, slums, or heredity. Every hygienic :Time committed by the poor is committed just as often by the rich ; the sunlight cut off by smoke in the slums is shutout by bricks in the country. Babies who live in the corner of a dark kitchen, babies who eat pickles, babies sweating in nineteen garments, these are not a henomenon of the slums, nor are they by any meting all the children of the poor. And this sort of thing causes hundreds of deaths every year.

• It is not a question of poverty, it is a question of educa- tion, and it is not that the women are uneducated because they are poor, it is not as though they were ignorant of 'Greek, or lacked a Paris finish. What they lack is educa7 tion in. the rudiments of infant hygiene. A widespread knowledge of mothercraft would not make the slums harmless to infant lifeslums will always cause a heavy mortality—but it would save many lives that are now lost. The immediate problem is to eliminate from the Statistics the deaths that are due to nothing but ignorance. If this is done it will bring about a substantial 'fall in the infant mortality rate. .

If a widespread knowledge of mothercraft is to be . . • . - achieved the time has come to break new ground. The . . 'Welfare Centres are doing magnificent work ; they are a great success in that they are doing great good, but they are a failure in that they are not doing the work for which they were intended ; the demand for treatment is so strong that inevitably the Centres become clinics for ailing children, instead of schools for teaching mother- craft. The fact is that the mothers are far :too busy to go to the Welfare Centres unless they are forced to do so by . And the young women without children, married or single, are at work, and are quite . unaware of any reason for going to the Centres before they have babies. So that nearly all the young women are out of reach. And those that do go have been brought up in the tradition that granny is the authority on babies.

The time to learn anything is in childhood, and the time to forma tradition, whether of cleanliness or of sport, is in childhood. There are things which are done, and things which are simply not done, and these things are either learnt at school, or are never learnt at all.

The need for this tradition of hygiene is recognized in the Handbook of Suggestions on Health Education issued by the-Board of Education. What is not appreciated is the bearing of a tradition of 'mothercraft on the infant mortality . rate. The ,Board offer no suggestions for teaching mothereraft, although the gain to the next generation of babies is not the only benefit to be derived from such teaching. There is the benefit, not only to the present generation of babies—for it should be borne in mind that the schoolgirls are often in sole charge of the baby at home—but to the schoolgirls themselves. The danger of introducing morbid ideas to the mind of. the child is indicated by the Board, but it is not made clear that anything which might encourage a girl to take an jnterest in her own health must be avoided. Such an interest is very apt to develop into a hobby, and, in any case, self-interest is not one of the aims of education. But if the interest of the girls is directed to the welfare of the infants, these dangers are avoided. In learning to take care of the babies the girls will learn to take care of themselves. So that there is a threefold plea for mother- craft training in schools. The girls would form the hygienic habits which the Board of Education is anxious to foster, they would acquire an unselfish outlook, and they would learn how to take care of babies. In the tradition of mothercraft established at school the girls would follow on to the Welfare Centres.

R. L. KITC11149.