We are to look upon the gang as an association essentially instinctive. The boy at a certain age joins a gang, the gang pursues a definite set of activities, from motives that are primarily irrational. The boy is simply made that way. His behavior has the same instinctive basis as the acts of any other wild creature.
It is, so the psychologists tell us, a peculiarity of instincts among the higher animals, and especially of the instincts of mankind, that they are essentially transitory. They arise at the proper period of existence, persist in some cases only until the acts which they inspire have time to become habits, and then fade away. The squirrel born in a cage tries to bury nuts in the tin bottom. He tries it once or twice, and fails. He does not try it again; and probably would not, even though95 he returned to the woods. The tame beaver which builds its dam of chairs and umbrellas across the parlor floor, does it only once. The hen which cackles distractedly when her first brood of ducklings takes to the water trots calmly off to the pond with her third or fourth. But the duckling, kept away from the water for the first weeks of its existence, fears it forever afterwards.
So it is with these human instincts. They arise at early adolescence; they die down with the passing of youth. Meanwhile, they tend to develop into persistent habits of mind. Whether they shall so develop, and which shall persist and which die away, depends on the boys’ surroundings and education.
Consider, for example, the special human instinct which we share with only a few of the brutes, the instinct of acquisitiveness. It is the basis of most of our adult frugality, and of the institution of private property. Too little of it makes us spendthrifts; too much makes us misers and kleptomaniacs; with just the right amount we become solid citizens and taxpayers.
96 Unquestionably, acquisitiveness is instinctive in boys; witness the contents of their pockets, and their collections of all sorts of useless truck. They steal things to eat and to provision their camps, with about as much attention to the morals of their acts as the squirrel who secretes nuts or the dog who buries his bone. They are continually appropriating articles which they cannot possibly use, merely for the sake of possessing them. It was a wise mother and a good psychologist who, when her cake became too dry to put upon the table, used to “hide it away for the children to steal.”
In the adolescent boy this entirely natural instinct usually shows itself as a desire to steal, which is normal but not proper. On the whole, the gang does encourage stealing; forty-nine of our sixty-six gangs report this form of predatory activity. We all did it as boys, and most of us have grown up to be fairly honest men.
For there seem to be inherent forces in the gang itself that tend to check stealing. For one thing, both example and emulation97 among the members of a gang reinforce the impulse to form collections of shells, postage stamps, butterflies or minerals, and these in a natural and wholesome fashion satisfy the acquisitive instinct and turn it away from theft. The common property of the gang, too, its wood hut or clubroom with their furnishings, the bats and balls and other common tools of the gang probably act in the same way. Doubtless, too, the boys’ grief when a hostile gang wrecks their property or runs off with their bats and balls reinforces powerfully the law of meum et tuum. Certain it is that experienced educators regard as vastly more serious the case of the lad who goes off to steal by himself for his own profit than that of the one who steals in company with his fellows and for the advantage of the gang.
The predatory activities of the gang do, then, in no small measure, tend to cure themselves. So far as they do not, they will naturally have to be put down by force in the interests of law and order. Yet even while we are curtailing these inconvenient98 activities, we ought never to forget that the stealing of boys is too natural and spontaneous to be, for them, a sin. Selfishness, disloyalty, cowardice, gluttony, are far more serious matters, for these are unnatural vices which grow worse with time. In putting down the anti-social gang activities, as of course we must, let us do it as psychologists, with an eye to the genesis and the nature of the disease which we combat. The impulse to steal is not primarily an instinct to take, but an instinct to acquire. What the boy desires is to secure property by some effort of his own. The raft and the hut which he builds, his collection of stamps and butterflies, the queer, useless treasures which he hoards, all these are the objects of his acquisitive instinct, quite as much as are the things that he steals.
The moral is clear. We may keep the boy from being a thief by making him a collector, and by making him an artisan. We help him to satisfy his natural desire for property in one way, and we check his tendency to satisfy it for himself in another. In the same99 way, so far as his thieving grows out of a love for excitement and adventure, as it undoubtedly does to a far greater extent than we commonly realize, the rational device for stopping it is to satisfy his desire for excitement and adventure in some other way. If, then, we encourage the boy to make collections of whatever he may be interested in, and give him some other experiences as delightful as “getting the chase,” we shall have removed two of the chief causes of his thieving at all.
The creation and possession of property of one’s own tend also to check the impulse to meddle with other people’s in yet another way. I recall the case of a little Greek boy who had been smuggled into this country as a slave at a bootblack stand, and almost immediately after committed to a State Reform School for stealing. The boys at this school have each a little garden spot of their own which they plant and weed and tend and watch, and finally produce, among other fruits of their labors, melons. This little Greek had one melon plant on100 which in due season appeared a single tiny green watermelon. Never did a mother care more tenderly for her babe than this boy for his watermelon plant, and its single melon grew responsively. One day in the fall the little farmer said to his instructor, “Shall I pick my melon to-day?”
“No,” was the reply, “you had better leave it one more week.”
The next week when the boys went out for their gardening that single melon had disappeared. The little owner, with difficulty keeping back his tears, went sadly back to the schoolroom and asked to be permitted to see the Master.
“Do you remember,” he said, “my watermelon?”
“Yes, indeed I do. What about it?”
“To-day when I went out to work in the garden, it was gone!”
“I am sorry. You have taken good care of that vine.”
“Yes,” returned the boy, “but I have learned a good lesson by it. I have learned never to steal any more.”
101 “How did you learn that?”
“I have found out how much people are hurt when they have their things stolen.”
The boy has, indeed, learned his lesson, for he has gone out from the Reform School to lead an honest life. All boys are fundamentally alike, and this same appeal to the sympathetic imagination must always remain our chief reliance in combating the predatory and destructive impulses of normal boyhood.
Let the boy, then, have property of his own which he has acquired by his own effort and you have taught him the great lesson of respect for the property of others. The boy who plants potatoes, hoes them, kills the potato bugs and harvests a bushel of potatoes, has gained a sufficiently correct sense of the value of potatoes so that he will not, as I have seen a gang do, dig up a poor man’s winter stock of food just to see who could throw a potato farthest. The boy who makes a tool chest or a table can estimate the value of manufactured articles, and generally has a deep respect for well made furniture. One of the essential and fundamental102 elements in training for honesty and respect for property has been sadly neglected in our schools. A new era of promise is fast approaching when all boys and girls will receive a thorough training in handicraft and the still more valuable moral training which goes with it. Fortunate, indeed, and in more ways than one, is the boy who has learned in his teens the value of common things by the actual production of them.
It is well, also, for a boy to have a carpenter’s room where he can use saws, hammers, and knives. If at Christmas time each year one good, useful tool is presented to a boy, by the time he reaches the gang age he has a useful kit in which he takes great pride. Then, too, this room often becomes a very good meeting-place of the gang, so that the boy’s companions also turn naturally to making for themselves some of the objects which they require for their collective activities. Thus the gang itself not only contributes to the boy’s manual education, but in a very real sense helps to tie the boy to his home.
It is especially important in dealing with103 these predatory and destructive instincts of the gang, to bear always in mind that they are thoroughly natural and inevitable. Every one of us men used to steal when we were boys; even Henry Ward Beecher confesses to having “swiped” sundry desirable objects “off” his Uncle Samuel from the Charlestown Navy Yard. “The man who says he never did it, does it now.” The object of our training should not be to root out the instinct, but only to prevent its developing into a habit before it has time to die down of itself.
I was much struck with the thoroughly unconscious nature of these anti-social impulses by the case of a boy under my charge, who came to me for permission to go off into the woods with his gang during school hours. He told me in the most matter-of-fact way that they had just discovered the meeting-place of another gang, and they wanted permission to go there while the other gang was at school, loot their property, and destroy their habitation. It struck these well brought up boys that this highly piratical expedition104 was the only possible reaction on that particular fragment of their environment. It had not occurred to one of them that it was possible to let the other gang’s property alone. The other gang, moreover, had carefully hidden their abiding place, taking it for granted that any other boys who discovered it would put it to sack.
Curiously too, the members of the two gangs were perfectly good friends, and neither looters nor looted would, apparently, have cherished the least grudge against the other. They were simply living up to their boy nature with no more thought of the reason for their acts than when, as children, they used to eat the paint off their Noah’s ark, or when later, as young men, they will dance attendance on the girls whom they now despise.
It is important, too, for the parent, and still more for the teacher and the social worker, not only to recall his own youth and to be as charitable as his station in life will allow, but to remember in addition that in one way the city boy’s environment is more against him to-day than ever before in105 history. The city boy takes fruit from a fruit stand, is arrested and given a record. In the eye of the law he is now a criminal, with an indelible smirch on his reputation.
If we elders had been treated after this fashion in our home towns and villages, who of us would lack a criminal record? We had a chance to steal fruit out of the orchards; and boylike, we preferred to steal sour apples from a mean neighbor rather than take sweet ones as a parental gift. The owner caught us, not the policeman; and after the dust had been thoroughly removed from the seats of our breeches, we were given a new start, none the worse. The consequences of the two sorts of theft are out of all proportion to their inherent sin.
Nevertheless, when all is said, stealing is a pretty serious matter, and it may help in handling the practical problem to follow out a little further the study of an earlier chapter, as to the reasons for theft. It appears from the boys’ own reports, as well as from their chance remarks, that probably nine tenths of the objects stolen by youths before the age106 of sixteen are things to eat. The desire for food, therefore, is one of the most powerful contributory forces toward the formation of thieving habits. One obvious method, then, is to satisfy the hunger and thirst demands of boys. Well-fed boys from good homes do steal, but, other things being equal, the chances are vastly against the underfed. This aspect of the matter, unfortunately, takes us off into questions of economics and social science which, although important, have no place here.
Next to food in importance comes money, and objects such as lead, coal, wood, junk, and the like, which may be converted into money. Here again the remedy is obvious. Spending money for his reasonable desires, or a chance to earn it, should protect the boy from the second of the great temptations to theft. The parent who treats his boy to ice-cream or the circus, while he gratifies a natural desire, removes also a natural temptation.
Third in importance as causes of thievery come things to use,—saws, knives, hammers,107 and other tools, balls, bats, gloves, and the other implements of sport. In a sense the boy has a right to these things, as he has a right to textbooks and the other apparatus of the schoolroom. They are the instruments of his education, a part of his reasonable claim on society.
Last of our groups of things stolen come pets. All boys love a good dog; most boys like to house, feed and care for pigeons, rabbits, cavies, mice, almost any sort of pet. They steal food to eat, tools to use and money to spend; but they steal pets to take home and love. Here, surely, is a demand of boy nature that every parent ought to manage to satisfy.
In brief, then, we have in the three most conspicuous anti-social impulses of the gang—stealing, fighting and plaguing people—three independent elements of boy psychology, each with a separate genesis, and each requiring a different treatment for its suppression or cure. Plaguing people is a survival from the past, which was presumably useful once but certainly is so no longer. The impulse108 must be put down by force or removed by education before it fixes itself as a habit. The fighting impulse is also a survival, highly useful once and of great pedagogic value now. Too much belligerency needs to be curtailed; too little needs to be increased; the plain boy has just about the right amount, and needs a good deal of letting alone. After all, the warfare-varied-with-armed-neutrality of boyhood is nature’s own great training-school for certain of the finest of the egoistic virtues.
Stealing is in still a different category. It arises from an instinct, useful in the past and still more useful now. The problem is to suppress the inconvenient manifestation without impairing the basal impulse. Seldom, therefore, is it sufficient merely to know that a boy is a thief. One must know why he stole, and why he stole this particular object rather than some other. Only then shall we lead him still to desire, while he ceases to covet.
We have dealt thus far more particularly with the anti-social and predatory impulses of the gang, with the stealing and teasing and fighting, which, while we cannot call them wholly evil, are nevertheless to be rather checked than encouraged. With all their incidental elements of good, they must be essentially transitory. The boy may be allowed to steal and tease and fight; the man may not. The problem is to suppress the undesirable activity with as little damage as possible.
Now we pass to gang impulses which are inherently good. They may need guidance and occasional pruning; but even if left alone, they are likely, on the whole, to contribute both to the efficiency and the happiness of life. Such evils as they bring are incidental; they largely disappear when home life and110 gang life are perfectly adjusted to one another.
For there must be a pretty accurate balance between the life of the home and the life of the gang, if the boy is to get the best training out of both. If the boy stays at home too much, he is likely to become sissy. If he spends too much time with his gang, the wild and savage impulses of boyhood receive too much exercise, and he becomes wolfish. The boy must, for the most part, make his social adjustments for himself, and the safest time for doing it is while he is still in the home. Boys who have been kept too close, up to the time when they go away to make life for themselves, too often afford most striking lessons in how not to do it. In college and in business, under their unaccustomed liberty, they go all to pieces for lack of the education which they should have had as boys in the gang.
The problem of controlling the instinctive gang activities, therefore, resolves itself into a question of not too much. The home will best influence the gang by aiding its111 more wholesome interests, while to a considerable extent it shuts its eyes to the rest. Each man does, in his social development, pass through various stages of savagery, and instead of trying to crush out even the most objectionable of the tribal instincts of the growing boy, we ought rather to seek to satisfy them in such wise that he may pass through the lower stages into the higher as safely and as quickly as possible. As Froebel has well said, “The vigorous and complete development of each successive stage depends upon the vigorous and characteristic development of all preceding stages of life.”
The way, then, to deal with the gang instincts is to gratify them. We have already seen that approximately three quarters of our gangs are wont to indulge in hunting, fishing, boating, building camps, going into the woods or to ponds, playing Indians, and the like. This is especially remarkable, as nearly all the gangs of our study come from the cities. In country gangs, these forms of activity are always present. With both city and country boys, they might be made112 of far greater service than they commonly are.
All persons who have camped with boys know that their interest in the outdoor world does not have to be kindled, but rather restrained and guided. There is never any difficulty about filling in the idle time of the gang with these tribal activities, while there is no doubt that the rugged experiences of tramping, mountain climbing, and camp life, of hunting, fishing, and boating, with the almost infinite forms of manual training involved, wherever the boys do their own cooking and camp work, and care for their own rods, guns, and kits, afford one of the best, as it is one of the most natural, forms of manual education. There is, besides, for the city boy, a training in resourcefulness and gumption which he can hardly get elsewhere. Moreover, under the proper sort of men leaders, this rough outdoor life furnishes the very best conditions for instruction in physical and moral hygiene.
Somewhat paradoxically, therefore, much of this gang play trains a boy to work. Play113 is work that one likes. But it is work, and it cultivates the same concentration and persistence as work, and often the same constructive imagination. Boys, moreover, often work hard getting ready to play; and by a little tactful guidance from their elders, they can be led through these play activities to the enjoyment of work, and into sound developmental occupations. Notice how in the Tennis Club, the boys, under the inspiration of Mr. M., the father of one of them, went camping on a lake, and for the sake of going fishing, built themselves their own boat. What better education in skill of hand than that boat-building could be found for a crowd of boys on a summer vacation; what better introduction to the joy of labor!
The life of the woods has, moreover, yet another important function in the development of a boy’s inner life. I have often, in taking cross country walks with boys, attempted to switch out from among the trees into open meadow or pasture land to save distance. Over and over again, however, have the boys protested. “No, don’t. Let’s114 stay in the woods,” they have entreated. I am inclined to believe that the religious life in boys has its natural birthplace in the forests, in the temple not made with hands, where their fathers have been worshiping these ten thousand years. If this be true, the Sunday School teacher might well, at times, exchange the benches of an uninteresting room for the spots where our race, from the beginnings of its existence, has been learning its lessons of piety and reverence.
Sunday is, in fact, the great day of the week, for or against the home. It is, as appears from the boys’ reports of their activities, characteristically Nature Day; and there is a well-marked practice among boys, no matter what they may do through the week, to go off in groups into the country on Sunday. Parents who wish to keep control of their boys should recognize this natural impulse, and be their companions on their Sunday excursions. Family migrations, on the one day of the week when the father is free to go with his boys, would115 be an efficient means of keeping the home influence around the boy. Surely there can in this be nothing irreligious.
Such a practice would, moreover, powerfully aid the parent in controlling one of the most troublesome of gang instincts, the Wanderlust. The roving impulse takes a sudden rise at the dawn of adolescence, and then gradually subsides. Most red-blooded young men hear the call of the red gods in the spring; not a few remain vagabonds all their lives.
Certain it is that this strange Wanderlust of man has been a tremendous force in history. It drove the Angles and Saxons into Britain, the English into North America, and the New Englanders into the great West. The traditional Westerner is planning to sell out and move farther on. The mere sight of the horizon is a challenge; and the boy longs to repeat the ancestral experience.
In the normal boy, the migratory instinct is at times the most imperious of his impulses. Many boys are driven by it to run116 away from home; few, indeed, are there of us who have not made our plans to go—and then changed our minds. It commonly takes the combined influence of good parents, good teachers and good playmates to cool us down; and where the neighborhood spirit is lost, as it often is in city life to-day, or the home is broken by death or desertion, or made inefficient by drunkenness, ignorance, or poverty, there is little to check the boy’s response to the old fret. Off, therefore, the boy goes, first by day, then by night. How far this running-away instinct contributes to delinquency, it is difficult to estimate, but certainly it is one of the greatest factors. About one boy out of every five in most of our large cities is arrested before the age of twenty-one; and in a considerable proportion of cases the beginnings of wrongdoing can be traced to early wanderings.
On the other hand, running away from home does not always result in permanent moral harm; while even at the worst, the boy gains a self-reliance which nothing else can teach. Often, too, the impulse, instead117 of growing with what it feeds on, tends to disappear with its gratification. There is something to be said also for giving the boy his fill of one sort of adventure before he is old enough for another.
As the migratory impulse is far too deep-seated and powerful to be altogether restrained, the only method is to indulge it under supervision and educatively. The boy should be taken on any sort of interesting trip. If the expedition involves some bodily hardship, so much the better. The son of a good home is usually made too comfortable, and unconsciously he feels the need of some more invigorating substitute for warm room and soft bed. When, therefore, nothing better offers itself, it often does a boy good to sleep out in his own back yard, with a dismantled revolver in his belt, and a lasso hung beside him on the clothes pole. He will probably not get much sleep, and he may catch cold; but the experience will be a powerful stimulus to his imagination, and at the same time will help, at small risk, to gratify a wholesome instinct.
118 The wise parent will take every opportunity to go on trips with his sons to city or country; the gymnastic instructor will arrange cross-country runs for his boys in spring and fall; and the school-teacher will plan nature-study walks, trips to historic spots, or visits to industrial plants, where, under a well-informed guide, the class will learn about manufacturing processes from the raw material to the finished product. All these persons are killing two birds with one stone. They are satisfying the runaway instinct, while at the same time they furnish the best sort of education.
In all sections of our land there are sacred historic spots, buildings, graveyards, battle-grounds, which help to keep alive the memory of noble men and women. There is a period in boy life when these have an intense interest; when the boy, eager for any form of experience or adventure, has his imagination powerfully stirred by whatever he associates with the adventures and experience of other human beings. I have often visited historic Concord with groups of school-boys,119 and though they were of all nationalities, I have yet to find one who could not be deeply impressed at the sight of Concord Bridge and the statue of the Minute Man. Teachers who were present, and told their pupils the story of what had happened on that ground, reported after their return the extraordinary interest of the boys’ essays on their pilgrimage. The boys had seen with their eyes and the past had become real. Could there be any more effective method of teaching history, quite aside from the incidental satisfaction of a deep instinctive need?
If, in addition to such informative trips, the parent or teacher can go camping or tramping with his boys, then the climax is reached. Some pond should be selected with good boating, fishing, and swimming, and there ought to be a mountain near by which the boys can climb, camp on its sides overnight, and go to the top for sunrise. Such an experience will never be forgotten. Not only will it tend to kindle a lifelong interest in hills and mountains; in addition and more120 important still, the companionship in adventure gives the man a hold over his boys that nothing else can bestow. In the woods, on the mountain top and around the camp fire at night, come feelings of mystery, of awe, and of friendliness, to which the boy is at other times a stranger. Here is the opportunity for genuine moral and religious instruction. Better one straight talk under these conditions, than a whole year of lessons forced upon boys. Genuine morality and genuine religion are such deep and sacred and natural things that a little real inspiration lasts forever.
Probably, however, the most obvious and the most annoying aspect of the Wanderlust is truancy. It takes a shrewd teacher who knows boys, backed by a good home, to hold a boy in the schoolroom in the warm days of spring when the baseball fever is at its height. Most boys become thoroughly tired of the inactivity, restraint and monotony of the schoolroom; while the matter is by no means simplified by the fact that the teacher herself commonly belongs to the sex to which121 certain aspects of boy nature must be forever a closed book. Granted that truancy is not to be tolerated, we must never, in dealing with any actual truant, lose sight of the fact that truancy is not a sin. It arises from two coöperating forces,—the lack of adaptation of the schools to the needs of growing boys, and the determination of the boys to be true to their own nature. For one of these factors we elders are responsible; the boy is responsible for neither.
This is the day of athletics. The adult world has learned thoroughly the lesson that there can be no perfect physical development without the training which comes from the competitive and group games. Hardly less important, of late years, has been the emphasis of those who know boys best on the social and moral aspects of athletic training. The best boys’ schools to-day provide for outdoor and indoor sports as carefully as for any other branch of education.
This lesson, I say, we have at last pretty well learned. We have not yet discovered, however, that the native impulses which lead122 a boy to baseball and hockey are only part of his equipment of gang instincts. The desire for athletic exercise which, at least for the favored few, is now being gratified at so great an expense, is no older and no more deep-seated than the desire for these activities which we have called, for lack of a better name, tribal and migratory. The boy needs diamond and gymnasium and running track. But quite as much he needs mountain and lake and river and forests. He takes a step toward manhood when he stands by his fellows through a hard-fought match. He also takes a step toward manhood when he sleeps alone under the stars.
In one respect, moreover, the boy who plays ball is at no small disadvantage in after life as compared with the boy who plays Indian. The athlete will play his favorite game while he is at school. He will get a thorough and wholesome physical training, and possibly some not especially wholesome notoriety. If his parents can afford to keep him four years in college, he plays there. Afterwards, unless he is especially fortunate,123 he does not play at all; and all his carefully acquired skill goes for nothing.
But the boy who has indulged wisely his tribal and migratory instincts has for the rest of his life a never-failing source of happiness. He has learned to love nature, and to delight in his own handiwork. To walk in the woods, to climb mountains, to own the little camp which succeeds to the place in his affections once occupied by the rude, gang-built hut, to travel,—these are among the permanent satisfactions of life. If we except the group of instincts which lead the young man to found a family of his own, and to which, at the gang age, the boy should be a complete stranger, the tribal instincts of boyhood, wisely gratified and trained, are probably the greatest single factor in a happy life.
The boy, we believe, likes to play ball, to run, to dodge, to throw accurately and hard, to hit any quick-moving object with a club, because for untold ages his ancestors have been getting their food and guarding their lives by swift running and quick dodging, by accurate throwing and deft hitting of moving objects with clubs. These are the natural activities of growing boys; incidentally they train the boy for the chief employments of savagery, and for some of the most valuable recreations of civilization.
All this, however, is more or less by the way. The great value of athletic games is the education they give toward essential qualities in our modern, civilized and work-a-day world. A judicious blending of work and gymnastics would probably bring about as125 high a physical development as would the same training supplemented by games; but it would stop there. Only sports, one may say only competitive sports, can bring about the perfect adjustment of hand and eye, the sense of “time,” the quickness of resource, the steadiness under excitement, which mark the successful athlete. Games are the easiest, the most natural, the pleasantest means of acquiring certain highly valuable qualities; they are, in addition, almost the only means of acquiring certain others.
For we make a mistake when we think of athletic games as contributors only, or even chiefly, to muscular development and to soundness of body. Their most important function is to train the nervous system, the intelligence, and the will. As has often been pointed out, the successful athlete is not necessarily an especially strong man. He is a man who has learned to use his strength, whose nervous adjustment is precise, whose body responds perfectly to the demands of his will. The baseball field, in short, is one of the easiest roads to self-command.
126 But the playing-field has also an important social function. Games are really the great social events of boyhood; in them he learns the great art of getting on with his fellows. It is a curious sight to watch a group of little boys when they first begin to play ball together. Such wrangling and disputings as there are, such refusals to play unless each can have completely his own way, such protracted controversy over each least difference of opinion! Shortly, to begin with, each little boy takes his bat or his ball, and departs for home and sand pile. The next day they will play together a little longer. They are beginning to learn one of the great lessons of life, and by the time these boys have “made” their college team, their nice adjustment of nerve and muscle will be hardly more manifest than their utter conformity of intelligence and will. The erstwhile discordant group will have become a single instrument. The separate individuals will have been trained to coöperation.
Thus the playing-field confers both a muscular and a social education. While it127 is training the muscular sense, it is cultivating also the sense of human brotherhood, and the knack of getting on with other people. “Activities calling for coöperation and self-sacrifice,” says Luther Gulick, “form the natural basis upon which a life of service can be built…. This life for others is far more probable, natural, and tangible, when it comes as the natural unfolding or development of that instinct which has its first great impulse of growth in the games of adolescence.”
The wise parent, therefore, will look well to his sons’ games for reasons which do not lie wholly on the surface. The money that he spends on bats and balls and mits is going toward their education, and in no other way will he get more education for his money. It will be recalled that one of the past members of the Tennis Club believed if he had remained in the gang, it would have saved him from the Reform School. This was an especially fine gang, and its goodness was in no small measure due to the same Mr. M. who took the boys camping.128 He saw to it that the boys had a place to play and apparatus to play with, and he used the gang in dealing with boys, as he probably used club and lodge and union in dealing with men, “for all there was in it.”
The place to play is too often the point at which the boy’s education breaks down. Consider the conditions in almost any house-bordered street in the more thickly settled parts of any large city. It is the breathing-space, nursery, thoroughfare, market, and playground for crowded tenements. Here the boys congregate and play, and come daily into conflict with the officers of the law,—the very worst possible education that can be given to a boy. This conflict causes enmity to spring up between the boys’ gang and the organized government, where there should be coöperation and good will. The mischief-making tendencies which spring from this enmity land many a boy in the delinquent class.
Too often in our cities and villages the park is found near the centre, while the playgrounds are pushed to the outskirts,129 and relegated to vacant lots of good-natured or absent owners. Boys love best to play close to their homes, at the centres of interest, where they can be watched at their games. Experience shows that the boy will not commonly travel more than a short distance to his playground, even though he will go miles to a swimming-hole. Somehow the distant field is the enemy’s country, and he has the vague ancestral dread of stranger’s territory.
Wise, then, is the village or city that provides frequent small open spaces for neighborhood playgrounds. It helps to develop the neighborhood spirit which is so sadly lacking in a modern city, and it helps to meet a normal demand of boy life. Such an arrangement is also a far-sighted economy, since, to quote Lee, “the boy without a playground is father to the man without a job.”
We ought not to forget that, from time immemorial, the education of boys has been almost entirely by spontaneous imitation of their elders, and by free play. The formal130 and compulsory portion of their education has, for the most part, been limited to various initiation ceremonies at puberty. Aside from these, boys have largely educated themselves.
The English public schools have for some years been organizing the boys’ free play, and using it as an instrument to a definite educational end. An English school will run fifteen simultaneous cricket matches of an afternoon, each with only a handful of spectators. We in this country have hardly begun this method of education; and have not thus far advanced beyond the stage where a team of nine or eleven specialists play the game, and a hundred or two more spectators “support the team.” The best schoolmasters to-day are using the group games as a valuable educational instrument and the tendency each year is to use them more and more.
But the schools which are doing this are few. At best they can hardly touch the tenth part of the boys who are now growing up, while even this tenth is precisely the portion131 which needs the training least. If the group games are to be made an efficient tool for the physical and moral training of our boys, it will have to be done by the municipalities,—and still more by the parents. Sooner or later, the time must come when an honest and enthusiastic game of ball will be recognized as an important factor, not only in the physical training of every boy, but in his intellectual, moral and even his religious training.
In addition, however, to these coöperating group games, the basis of which is, at least in part, the inherent instincts of boyhood, there still remain to be considered certain other gang activities, the instinctive basis of which is much less specific, activities which arise from the general impulse to do something interesting, and to do it in conjunction with one’s fellows. These are gang activities, but only in the sense that the ordinary boy actually does take part in them as a member of the group, and while he might do the same things in solitude, actually seldom does do so.
132 First of these comes swimming. Swimming is perhaps the most popular of all sports during the summer season. The adolescent boy has a craving for the water, and, if not checked, will remain in it for half a day at a time. It is probably, on the whole, the safest way for most boys to get their necessary exercise in very hot weather, while at any time of the year it is, by general consent, the best all-round exercise there is. Moreover, except for the chance of drowning, it is the safest of athletic sports. Neither falls nor sprains nor broken bones nor any of the common accidents of ball field and gymnasium are possible to the swimmer. He cannot so much as strain a muscle against the yielding element.
For these reasons and because, of all interesting sports, swimming contributes most to the symmetrical muscular development of growing children, every community ought to provide some sort of convenient swimming place for its boys and girls. If it can manage to give them, in addition, a daily half-hour throughout the year, so much the better.133 Even an artificial swimming-tank is not especially expensive, when one considers to what large use it may be put. It would certainly be a great improvement if there could be in every public playground a children’s swimming-pool, two or two and one half feet deep, in place of the dirty and useless wading-pool one so often sees.
Natural pool or artificial tank, however, every swimming-place ought to be under the supervision of the right kind of man. He ought to be a teacher, for the modern swimming-strokes are by no means easy to get exactly right, and boys seldom pick them up correctly for themselves. His chief function, however, should be to keep the moral atmosphere of the swimming-place clean and pure, for here if anywhere the tone of the company is likely to drop. Boys in their games keep pretty closely to associates of their own age and station in life, but the swimming-hole takes in all ages, and its society is apt to be somewhat too democratic.
While, however, the careful parent will take all reasonable pains to avoid any moral134 contamination at the swimming-hole, he ought never to allow his boy to fall into the other extreme of prudery. For healthy-minded men and boys the bathing-suit is at best a necessary evil, and trunks an utter absurdity. The last thing to be desired for a boy is anything resembling the modesty of a girl.
Of skating there is little that need be said. As simple skating or as ice hockey, it is, for three months in the year, the most valuable of winter sports in our Northern States, and one of the least expensive. It is a short-sighted community that does not keep cleaned and ready for daily use a safe, central skating-field. An active boy during the winter is often hard-pressed to find wholesome outlets for his energy, and the ice is often the only efficient rival of poolroom and saloon.
The skating-field is, besides, one of the natural places for the boy toward the end of the gang period to graduate into a new social life. The fresh, wholesome air, the brisk exercise, the sharp cold act together135 to discourage dalliance. Outside a better equipped home than one half of our boys and girls come from, there is no more wholesome place for them to meet one another than on the ice.
This last advantage, though at a long interval, skating shares with dancing; that is to say, if the dancing is properly conducted. A badly conducted dance comes near to being the worst environment in which a boy is ever likely to find himself. Boys at the gang age, however, except toward the end of the period, seldom care spontaneously for dancing at all. On the whole, probably, the wisest plan is to respect the natural impulses of the average boy and to discourage much departure from the type. The boy’s manners will probably suffer, but the boy who is a perfect gentleman at fourteen usually has something permanently the matter with him.
As for theatres, circuses, and shows, for which boys have commonly a raging passion, it all depends on the show. All penny arcades and peep-shows are pretty certainly136 bad. Better keep the boy away. All performances attended predominantly by men are also bad, except athletic exhibitions and horse-races. The general run of vaudeville shows, with singing, dancing, and the like, are probably harmless enough in themselves, but they are commonly pretty inane, while the slight demand which they make on the voluntary attention cultivates a distinct trashiness of mind. Ordinary stage dancing, by women who are in no sense artists, is degrading both to performer and spectator, though, fortunately, to this influence the boy at the gang age, unless precociously educated, is nearly immune. At best, however, the vaudeville show, except its athletic turns and its exhibitions of trained animals, is a good deal foreign to the interests of boyhood; so that for various reasons, a taste for this sort of entertainment is something whose cultivation may well be postponed until extreme old age.
Circuses and other performances of like types are in a different category. Their feats of skill and strength and daring are a revelation137 to the boy, and a stimulus to emulation. The cowboys and Indians appeal strongly to his imagination, and help him to visualize the people whom he reads about in books. In many ways, these exhibitions are educative and valuable; such evil features as they sometimes have slip off the boy’s mind like water from a duck. At the gang age, he is quite impervious to them.
Much the same is true of the moving-picture show, which seems to offer, just now, the pressing moral problem of the city parent. Where these are good,—and it is always the simplest matter in the world to find out whether they are or not,—they are likely to be very good indeed. They give the boy at second-hand all sorts of delightful experiences of travel and adventure. Where the films present scenes of industrial activity, historic settings, important contemporary events, interesting places, customs, or scenery, their educational value is often high. Like the circuses and “Wild West” shows, they help to gratify the migratory instinct, and to satisfy the boy’s native curiosity138 and his desire to go out into the world and see things. I doubt whether we half realize how much the moving-picture show might be made to do for a boy if some one would show him what to look for, and tell him what it is all about.
On the other hand, the general drift of the moving-picture shows during the last few years has been in the direction of “playlets” of a rather stupid type, together with criminal and vicious suggestion for its own sake. This last is highly dangerous and ought to be controlled by strict censorship. Even here, however, we need to beware of attributing to the boy the standards and sensibilities of mature men and women.
As for the old-fashioned theatre, no one who studies the question without the old inherited church prejudices can think that the melodrama is dangerous. On the contrary, it furnishes, for the most part, a decidedly wholesome type of amusement. The usual form, in which the villain elaborates a mean, underhanded plot, only to be outwitted and defeated by the hero in the last139 act, produces a distinctly beneficial effect on the unsophisticated listener. It furnishes a vent for bad emotions, and at the same time gives a tonic shock to the rest. It does the boy good to see the paragon of all masculine virtues fight against all odds for the sake of the paragon of all feminine ones. The part that moves us elders to derision is precisely the part that has the most moral value for the inexperienced boy. What to us hints of evil, he simply does not see.
It is a suggestive fact that of the long list of plays which boys have told me they especially like to see, the great majority are good, with plenty of the fightings and shootings, villains and heroes and dogs, which boys like, and humor of a clean, if not especially subtle sort. To see such a play once a week will not hurt any boy. He will go home and reproduce it, as he reproduces the feats of the circus. And this reproduction is itself a promising activity of which much more use might be made in the boy’s education.
In many ways, therefore, it is distinctly140 a social misfortune that vaudeville show and motion picture film have pretty much driven out the old-fashioned melodrama. Even at its worst, it had a coherent plot that enforced some sort of demand on the young hearers’ attention, so that intellectually as well as morally it was superior to the types of entertainment which have supplanted it. All this, however, is from the point of view of the member of the gang. The effect of theatre going on older boys is a much more complicated matter.
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