WHO ARE WEDNESDAY‘S CHILDREN? S. Eugene Barnes, Ph.D. Stuart W. Fors, Ed.D. S Eugene Barnes, PhD., Associate Professor of Health, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg) Mississippi, and Stuart W Fors, EdD., Associate h f a s o r of Hmlth Sciences, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois. Leontine Young identified some of “Wednesday’s Children” in her study of child neglect and abuse.1 She presented shocking case histories of suffering children and set forth an excellent analysis of some of the causative influences which appear to lead individuals and families to the neglect and abuse of their children. The remainder of “Wednesday’s Children” may very well constitute the vast majority. They are students in the elementary and junior and senior high schools of the United States. They, like many of the children described by Young, suffer from untreated communicable diseases, malnutrition, and a host of other physical ills. They also suffer from feelings of doubt, fear, guilt, other anxieties, and even severe neuroses and psychoses. Their suicide rate is disturbingly high, and they are some of the principal characters of current epidemics.
PROFILE OF NEGLECT JoAnn was a n undeniably beautiful and bright young woman who appeared to achieve success in everything she did as a student. The curriculum of the school system from which she graduated was reported to be very comprehensive and very academically oriented. JoAnn spent 12 years in that school system, and immeasurable time, money, and effort were expended in her behalf. Soon after graduation, however, JoAnn took her life. An investigation of her 12 years of education revealed she was never even introduced to a study of coping skills, symptoms of mental illness, therapy for mental illness or any other area of mental hygiene. She had acquired a considerable amount of knowledge while in school; however, her efforts were largely wasted because she never learned how to deal with life’s frustrations. While in high school JoAnn had taken a course which was listed as health and physical education; however, so far as could later be recounted, her teachers rarely bothered to give her any specific instruction in health education. On occasions when it was inconvenient for her classes to participate in THE JOURNAL OF SCHOOL HEALTH
physical activity, she was ushered to gymnasium bleachers where she listened to recitations concerning the more prominent systems of the body. Her teachers erroneously referred to these lectures as health education, yet JoAnn graduated from high school never having been exposed to any of the maL health issues she would have to face and deal with in her life. JoAnnk death can, a t least to some extent, be attributed to professional neglect.
PROFILE OF ABUSE John was a brilliant youth who had planned for several years to become a nuclear physicist. His marks in school were nearly perfect. His popularity on campus was unequalled, and everyone seemed to expect a very successful future for him. However, John dropped out of school and is now admittedly a “speed freak.” Conversations with him indicated although he was enrolled in a health and physical education course in high school, he felt the health education part of the course was worthless. In addition to the health and physical education course, his school system had adopted hurriedly a new, untested drug education program in spite of the fact that by law his health education teacher was supposed to have been teaching about drugs previously. Ironically, it appears the new drug education program could have been very influential in arousing John’s curiosity about “speed” and even to some degree influential in educating him about techniques of getting the drug into his body. John’s condition can be attributed in part to professional neglect by an uninterested health teacher and, more importantly, to direct (albeit unintentional) abuse by an undertrained and undereducated drug education “specialist.”
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN? There are many reasons why students in the schools of the United States have been allowed to grow up in ignorance about their own health and well-being and, of consequence, to develop serious health problems. Some of the reasons are admittedly nebulous; however, one of the most ominous and indictable of all factors has been a tenacious guarding of and clinging to an out-dated philosophy that has a n extremely long history of 37
failure. According to this philosophy, health education and physical education are regarded as one and the same course, and, therefore, they are taught as a single subject area in many teachertraining institutions. This practice in turn practically guarantees they will be scheduled in the curriculum of the public schools as a single subject area. This philosophy also sanctions (and sometimes requires) the function of a physical educator as a health educator even though he may have taken only two or three health courses in teacher preparation and in spite of the fact that he may dislike the field of health education. Indeed, Gernant 3 found, in general, junior high school physical educators have negative attitudes toward teaching health. Her subjects felt health was an important subject area, but indicated they probably would not volunteer to teach health education if they had a choice. The “one-field” philosophy of health education and physical education is supported by several overused aphorisms. For example, “Health education and physical education should be combined because they both concern the student’s well-being.” This type of rationale will not bear the scrutiny of logic. It is difficult to perceive a very close relationship between teaching about tertiary syphilis in health education and teaching about the badminton clear in physical education. In fact, if a concern for a student’s welfare is the only criterion lor combining subject matter, programs might appropriately include health education, physical education, recreation, dance, athletics, home economics, nursing, medicine, psychology, Latin, industrial arts, and the school lunch program in a single curriculum. Obviously, a mere common concern for student welfare will not necessarily lead to sensibly integrated programs. Sliepcevich 9 noted the irrationality of identifying health education with physical education when she stated the assignment of physical educators to teach health education appeared to be based on convenience rather than logic.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE Means 4 has shown health education and physical education have been either equated or closely allied since the early 19th century. One would assume if a practice had any possibility of success, it would become apparent within 150 years. However, success of health education when combined with physical education has traditionally been the rare exception rather than the common rule. The School Health Education Study6 and status studies of health education in individual states have shown 38
the monolithic philosophy of health education and physical education is detrimental to health education. THE PROTECTORS A Major Obstacle to Improved Progmms
It is a bit difficult to accept Young’s evidence that individuals and families who directly neglect and abuse children engage in all-out efforts to protect the status quo so their neglect and abuse can continue. It is equally, difficult to believe a professional educator could be more committed to a traditional administrative philosophy that has allowed human suffering than to the health and well-being of students. The reality is, however, there are numerous professionals of this sort who have in the past and who continue in the present to obstruct the emergence of health education as a viable, autonomous, and worthy experience for youth. THE DILEMMA Children who are neglected and abused must be removed from their homes by the courts and placed under the care and supervision of adults who are interested in and dedicated to the children’s welfare. Similarly, when students in health education are neglected and abused, the instruction and direction of the programs must be removed from those who prove to be inadequate or disinterested. It is obvious that with increasing demand for quality health education from influential groups such as the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, program directors a t all levels must either accept change and immediately begin to work for improved efficiency or risk loosing the privilege of functioning in health education. Willgoose 7 indicated teachers of other disciplines are “waiting in the wings” to take over the health education function when its traditional custodians fail to develop it fully. One must admire those in other disciplines who have had the foresight to recognize human need and the fortitude to step in and initiate viable programs while the less interested sit idly by espousing worn out slogans of yesteryear. PREVENTING FURTHER NEGLECT AND ABUSE The neglect and abuse of students through ineffective health education must be stopped! Philosophies which have thwarted maximum health education efforts in the past also allow youth to become involved in epidemic after epidemic, and therefore, they must be abandoned in favor of philosophies which promote the very best health JANUARY 1976 VOLUME XLVl NO. 1
education possible. Continued support of a philosophy which promotes weak health education is unethical and certainly irresponsible to parents who expect and are entitled to the very best possible for their children. It seems clear that health education is most effective when it is administered as a single subject area and taught by highly motivated and qualified health educators. It is equally apparent that health education is least effective when administered in combination with physical education, recreation, athletics, dance, intramurals, or any other subject area. Everyone who considers the welfare of youth his greatest concern must provide support for the separation of health education from physical education and other subject areas. This implies administrators, physical educators, combination health educator-physical educators, recreation educators, and others must lend their complete support to this movement. T o do otherwise would only perpetuate widespread neglect and abuse of youth. Means 6 suggested in 1968 that the relationship between health education and physical education should be one of cooperation rather than one of marriage. Health educators have been among physical education’s most ardent supporters. It is now time for health education to receive a turn of support from physical educators and to be allowed to emerge as a n autonomous curriculum area. Some of the ideas which currently need everyone’s support in order to provide immediate improvement of conditions for “Wednesday’s Children” are: 1. Health education should be separated from physical education and other subject areas a t all levels from kindergarten through advanced graduate study. 2. There should be separate certification for teachers of health education and physical education. 3. Only health educators should be employed to teach health education a t all levels from junior high school through advanced graduate study. 4. Elementary school health education specialists should be employed by school districts to assist in the development and maintenance of viable, separate health education programs in elementary schools. 5. In-service education programs should be developed by u n i v e rsi t i e s a n d s t a t e departments of education to educate school
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administrators about what a quality health education curriculum consists of and the value of a viable health education curriculum. 6. A minimum of 18 to 24 semester hours of specified health education courses should be required for certification to teach. 7. A health education major (commensurate with faculty credentials) should be developed in teacher-training schools and the combined health education-physical education and health education-physical education-recreation degree should be eliminated. 8. Graduate degrees should be awarded only for study of a specialized area of either health education, physical education, recreation, dance, or another particular subject area, but never in the general combination of two or more of the subjects. These ideas are suggested in the interest of “Wednesday’s Children.” They also are suggested in the interest of achieving the fundamental ideals of education in the United States. They become possible only when educators begin to consider the welfare of children to be their greatest concern.
REFERENCES 1. Young L: Wednesday’s Children, A Study of Child Neglect and Abuse. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1964. 2. Gernant J, Fore S: How do physical educators in Illinois middle and junior highschoole feel about teaching? Illinois J HPEX 2~14-27,1976. 3. Sliepcevich E: The responsibility of the physical educator for health instruction. J Health, Phyaical Educ Recreation, January, 1961, p 32. p. 32. 4. Means R E A History of Health Education in the United Statas. Philadelphia, Lea and Febiger, 1962, pp 32-371. 6. School Health Education Study, A Summary Report: School Health Education Study, Waahhgton, D.C. 1964. 6. Young L: Op cit, pp 88-100. 7. Willgoose C: Saving the curriculum in health education. J Sch Health 3:189-191,1973. 8. Means RK: A position paper and a proposal. J Health, Physical Educ k e a t i o n , June, 1968,pp 6465.
The corresponding author for thie article is S Eugene Barnes, PhD.,Associate Pmfmor of Health, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburlg, M k k i p p i 39401.