Allan Hoben.

The Minister and the Boy A Handbook for Churchmen Engaged in Boys' Work online

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superficial values in a succession of new fields?



If the minister is to do intelligent work with boys he must have some
knowledge of the ground plan of boyhood and he must believe that the boy
both demands and merits actual study. Specific acquaintance with each
one severally, alert recognition of individuality, variety, and even
sport, and an ample allowance for exceptions to every rule will greatly
aid in giving fitness to one's endeavor; but beneath all of these
architectural peculiarities lies the common biological foundation. To
know the human organism genetically, to have some knowledge of the
processes by which it reaches its normal organization, to appreciate the
crude and elemental struggle that has left its history in man's bodily
structure, to think in large biological terms that include, besides "the
physics and chemistry of living matter," considerations ethnological,
hereditary, and psychological, is to make fundamental preparation for
the understanding of boyhood.

For the family to which the boy belongs is the human family. His parents
alone and their characteristics do not explain him, nor does
contemporary environment, important as that is. His ancestry is the
human race, his history is their history, his impulses and his bodily
equipment from which they spring are the result of eons of strife,
survival, and habit. Four generations back he has not two but sixteen
parents. Thus he comes to us out of the great physical democracy of
mankind and doubtless with a tendency to re-live its ancient and
deep-seated experiences.

This theory of race recapitulation as applied to the succeeding stages
of boyhood may be somewhat more poetic than scientific. Genetically he
does those things for which at the time he has the requisite muscular
and nervous equipment, but the growth of this equipment gives him a
series of interests and expressions that run in striking parallel to
primitive life. If the enveloping society is highly civilized and
artificial, much of his primitive desire may be cruelly smothered or too
hastily refined or forced into a criminal course. But memory,
experience, observation, and experiment force one to note that the
parallel does exist and that it is vigorously and copiously attested by
the boy's likes and deeds. At the same time the theory is to be used
suggestively rather than dogmatically, and the leader of boys will not
imagine that to reproduce the primitive life is the goal of his
endeavor. It is by the recognition of primitive traits and by connecting
with them as they emerge that the guide of boyhood may secure an
intelligent and well-supported advance.

Such an approach favors a sympathetic understanding of the boy. To
behold in him a rough summary of the past, and to be able to capitalize
for good the successive instincts as they appear, is to accomplish a
fine piece of missionary work without leaving home. Africa and Borneo
and Alaska come to you. The fire-worshiper of ancient times, the fierce
tribesman, the savage hunter and fisher, the religion-making nomad, the
daring pirate, the bedecked barbarian, the elemental fighter with nature
and fellow and rival of every kind, the master of the world in
making - comes before you in dramatic and often pathetic array in the
unfolding life of the ordinary boy.

Our topmost civilization, although sustained and repleted by this
original stuff, takes all too little account of these elemental traits.
In the growing boy the ascending races are piled one on top of another.
In him you get a longitudinal section of human nature since its
beginning. He is an abridged volume on ethnology; and because he is on
the way up and elected to rule, it is more of a mistake to neglect him
than it is to neglect any of those races that have suffered a
long-continued arrest at some point along the way. Of course anyone
expecting to note by day and hour the initial emergence of this or that
particular trait of primitive man will be disappointed. The thing for
the friend of the boy to know is that in him the deep-set habits which
made the human body the instrument it is, the old propensities of savage
life are voices of the past, muffled, perhaps, but very deep and
insistent, calling him to do the things which for ages were done and to
make full trial of the physique which modern civilization threatens with
disuse or perversion.

[Illustration: MIGHTY HUNTERS]

[Illustration: THE LURE OF THE WATER]

Let a number of the common traits of boyhood testify. There is the gang
instinct which is noticeably dominant during the years from twelve to
fifteen. Probably 80 per cent of all boys of this age belong to some
group answering dimly to ancient tribal association and forming the
first social circle outside the home. A canvass of the conditions of boy
life in the Hyde Park district of Chicago revealed the existence of such
gangs on an average of one to every two blocks, and the situation is not
materially different in other parts of the city or in the smaller towns.
The gang is thus the initial civic experiment for better or for worse,
the outreach after government, co-operative power, and the larger self
which can be found only in association. During this age and within his
group the boy does not act as one possessing clear and independent moral
responsibility. He acts as part of the gang, subject to its ideals, and
practically helpless against its codes of conduct and its standards of

One hot afternoon I ran across a group "in swimming" at a forbidden spot
on the shore of Lake Michigan. As we talked and tended the fire, which
their sun-blistered bodies did not need, one of the lads suddenly fired
at me point-blank the all-important question, "What do you belong to?"
Being unable to give an answer immediately favorable to our growing
friendship, I countered with "What do _you_ belong to?" "Oh," said he,
"I belong to de gang." "What gang?" "De gang on de corner of Fitty Fit
and Cottage Grove." "And what do you do?" "Ah, in de ev'nin' we go out
and ketch guys and tie 'em up." Allowing for nickel-show and Wild-West
suggestions, there remains a touch of a somewhat primitive exploit.

Another interesting gang was found occupying a cave in the saloon
district of Lake Avenue. The cave takes precedence over the shack as a
rendezvous because it demands no building material and affords more
secrecy. Beneath the cave was a carefully concealed seven-foot
sub-cellar which they had also excavated. This served as a guardhouse
for unruly members and as a hiding-place for loot. When in conclave,
each boy occupied his space on a bench built against the sides of the
cave, his place being indicated by his particular number on the mud
wall. This gang had forty-eight members and was led by a dissolute
fellow somewhat older than the others, one of those dangerous boys
beyond the age of compulsory education and unfitted for regular work.
They played cards, "rushed the can," and all hands smoked cigarettes.
_Facilis descensus Averno._ The love of adventure and hunting was
illustrated in the case of two other boys of this neighborhood who were
but ten and eleven years of age. Having stolen eleven dollars and a
useless revolver, they ran away to Milwaukee. When taken in hand by the
police of that city they solemnly declared that they had "come to
Wisconsin to shoot Injuns."

Much could be said of the love of fire which has not yet surrendered all
of its charm for even the most unromantic adult. The mystic thrill that
went through the unspoiled nerves of pre-historic man and filled his
mind with awe is with us still. The boy above all others yields to its
spell. Further, by means of a fire he becomes, almost without effort, a
wonderworking cause, a manipulator of nature, a miracle worker. Hence
the vacant lots are often lighted up; barrels, boxes, and fences
disappear; and one almost believes that part of the charm of smoking is
in the very making of the smoke and seeing it unwind into greater
mystery as did incense from thousands of altars in the long-ago.

This elemental desire to be a cause and to advertise by visible,
audible, and often painful proofs the fact of one's presence in the
world is also basal. It is the compliment which noisy childhood and
industrious boyhood insistently demand from the world about. Even the
infant revels in this testimony, preferring crude and noisy playthings
of proportion to the innocent nerve-sparing devices which the adult
tries to foist upon him. The coal scuttle is made to proclaim causal
relation between the self in effort and the not-self in response more
satisfactorily than the rag doll; and the manifest glee over the
contortions of the playful father whose hand is slapped is not innate
cruelty but the delight of successful experiment in causation.

So of the noise and bluster, the building and destruction, the teasing
and torture so often perpetrated by the boy. He is saying that he is
here and must be reckoned with, and he wishes to make his presence as
significant as possible. If home, school, and community conditions are
such as to give healthful direction to both his constructive and
destructive experimentation, all is well, but if society cannot so
provide he will still exploit his causal relation although it must be in
violation of law and order. The result is delinquency, but even in this
he glories. It often gives a more pungent and romantic testimony than
could otherwise be secured. It is the flaring yellow advertisement of
misdirected effectiveness. Probably there mingles with this impulse the
love of adventure as developed in the chase. "Flipping cars,"
tantalizing policemen, pilfering from fruit stands are frequently the
degenerate, urban forms of the old quest of, and encounter with, the
game of forest and jungle.

Then there is the lure of the water, which explains more than half his
school truancy during the open season. It is a fine spring or summer
day. The _Wanderlust_ of his ancestry is upon the boy. The periodic
migration for game or with the herds, the free range of wood and stream,
or the excitement of the chase pulsates in his blood. Voices of the far
past call to something native in him. The shimmer of the water just as
they of old saw it, the joyous chance of taking game from its unseen
depths, or of getting the full flush of bodily sensation by plunging
into it, the unbridled pursuit of one's own sweet will under the free
air of heaven - these are the attractions over against which we place the
school with its books, its restraint, and its feminine control; and the
church with its hush and its Sunday-school lesson: and, too often, we
offer nothing else. It is like giving a hungry woodchopper a doily, a
Nabisco wafer, and a finger-bowl.

If we could but appreciate the great crude past whose conflicts still
persist in the boy's gruesome and tragic dreams, filling him with a
fear of the dark, which fear in time past was the wholesome and
necessary monitor of self-preservation; if we could only realize how
strenuous must be those experiences which guarantee a strong body, a
firm will, and an appetite for objective facts, we would not make our
education so insipidly nice, so intellectual, so bookish, and so much
under the roof. A school and a school building are not synonymous, a
church and a church building are not synonymous; schooling is not
identical with education, nor church attendance with religion. It is
unfortunate if the boy beholds in these two essential institutions
merely an emasculated police.

If either the church or the school is to reach the boy it will have to
recognize and perform its task very largely beyond the traditional
limits of the institution as such, and with a heartiness and masculinity
which are now often absent. In this field the indirect and
extra-ecclesiastical work of the minister will be his best work, and the
time that the teacher spends with his pupils outside the schoolhouse may
have more educational value than that spent within. In due time society
will be ready to appreciate and support the educator who is bigger than
any building; and outdoor schools are bound to grow in favor.

[Illustration: GETTING THE SPARK]

[Illustration: GETTING THE FLAME]

[Illustration: FIRE!]

Consider also the boy's love of paraphernalia and all the tokens of
achievement or of oneness with his group. The pre-adolescent boy
glorying in full Indian regalia, the early-adolescent proud in the suit
of his team or in his accouterments as a Scout, and a little later, with
quieter taste, the persistent fraternity pin - all of these tell the same
story of the love of insignia and the power of the emblem in the social
control and development of youth. Think also of the collecting mania,
which among primitives was less strong than is ordinarily supposed, but
which in early boyhood reaches forth its hands, industriously, if not
always wisely, after concrete, tactual knowledge and proprietorship. So
also with the impulse to tussle and to revel in the excitement of a
contest; inhibited, it explodes; neglected, it degenerates; but directed
it goes far toward the making of a man. Evidence of this intensity,
zest, and pressure of young life is never wanting. Disorder
"rough-house," and even serious accidents, testify to the reckless
abandon which tries to compensate in brief space for a thousand hours of
repression. Such occurrences are unfortunate but worse things may happen
if the discharge of energy becomes anti-social, immoral, and vicious.
"The evils of lust and drink are the evils that devour playless and
inhibited youth."

Right conceptions of religion and education must therefore attach an
added sanctity to the growth of the body, since in and through it alone
is the soul, so far as we know it, achieved. To accept the biological
order as of God and to turn to their right use all of life's unfolding
powers constitutes a religious program. For even those primitive
instincts which pass and perish often stir into consciousness and
operation other more noble functions or are transmuted into recognized
virtues. Popularly speaking, the tadpole's tail becomes his legs.
Success in suppressing the precivilized qualities of the boy results in
a "zestless automaton" that is something less than a man. Everything
that characterizes the boy, however bothersome and unpromising it may
seem, is to be considered with reference to a developing organism which
holds the story of the past and the prophecy of the future. To the
apostle of the largest vision and the greatest hope, these native
propensities will be the call of the man of Macedonia, saying, "Come
over and help us."

The most striking biological change that comes to the boy on his way to
manhood is that of puberty. The church and the state have attested the
vast importance of this experience for political and religious ends by
their ceremonials of induction into the responsibilities of citizenship
and the obligations of formal religion. Among the least civilized
peoples these ceremonies were often cruel, superstitious, and long drawn
out in their exaction of self-control, sacrifice, and subordination to
the tribal will. The sagacity of the elders of the tribe in preserving
their own control and in perpetuating totemic lore must compel the
unfeigned admiration of the modern ethnologist.

The Athenians with their magnificent civilization exalted citizenship
and the service of the state far beyond any modern attainment. The way
of the youth today is tame, empty, and selfish as compared with the
Spartan road to manhood and the Roman ceremonies attendant upon the
assumption of the _toga virilis_. As a rule modern churches have too
lightly regarded the profound significance of ancient confirmation
services - Jewish, Greek, and Catholic. Knowledge of what transpires in
the body and mind of adolescence proves the wisdom of the ancients and
at the same time attracts both the educator and the evangelist to study
and use the crises of this fertile and plastic period.

The process of transformation from childhood into manhood begins in the
twelfth or thirteenth year, passes its most acute stage at about
fifteen, and may not complete itself until the twenty-fifth year. It is
preceded by a period of mobilization of vitality as if nature were
preparing for this wonderful re-birth whereby the individualistic boy
becomes the socialized progenitor of his kind.

The normal physiological changes, quite apart from their psychological
accompaniments, are such as to elicit the sympathy of intelligent
adults. Early in pubescent growth the heart increases by leaps and
bounds, often doubling its size in the course of two years or even one
year. There is a rise of about one degree in the temperature of the
blood and the blood pressure is increased in all parts of the body. The
entire body is unduly sensitized, and the boy is besieged by an army of
new and vivid sense impressions that overstimulate, confuse, and baffle
him. He is under stress and like all persons under tension he reacts
extremely and hence inconsistently in different directions. He cannot
correlate and organize his experiences. They are too vivid, varied, and
rapid for that. This over-intensity begets in turn excessive languor and
he cannot hold himself in _via media_.

His physical condition explains his marked moods: his sudden changes of
front, his ascent of rare heights of impulsive idealism, and his equally
sudden descent into the bogs of materialism; his unsurpassed though
temporary altruism and his intermittent abandon to gross selfishness. He
has range. He is a little more than himself in every direction. The wine
of life is in his blood and brain. It is no wonder that somewhere about
the middle of the adolescent period both conversions and misdemeanors
are at their maximum.

To make matters worse these vivid and unorganized experiences, simply
because they lie along the shore of the infinite and have no single
clue, no governing philosophy of life, are overswept by the dense and
chilling fogs of unreality that roll in from the great deep. Life is
swallowed up in awful mystery. External facts are less real than dreams.
One stamps the very ground beneath his feet to know if it exists. The
ego which must gauge itself by external bearings is temporarily adrift
and lost. Suicidal thoughts are easily evoked; and at such times the
luxury of being odd and hopelessly misunderstood constitutes a
chameleon-like morbidity that, with a slight change of light and color,
becomes an obsession of conceit. The odd one, the mystery to self and
others, is he not the great one that shall occupy the center of the
stage in some stupendous drama? A man now prominent in educational
circles testifies how that on a drizzly night on the streets of old
London the lad, then but sixteen years of age, came to a full stop, set
his foot down with dramatic pose, and exclaimed with soul-wracking

The time is out of joint; - O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

So is it ever with the adolescent soul unless society curses the desire
for significance and makes it criminal.

These bare cliffs of primal personality have not yet undergone the
abrasion of the glacial drift nor of the frost and the heat, the wind
and the rain of long years. They are angular, bold, defiant, and
unsuited to the pastoral and agricultural scenes of middle life. The
grind of life with its slow accomplishment and failure has not as yet
imparted caution and discretion. Shrewd calculation and niggardliness
too are normally absent. Generous estimates prevail. Idealism is
passionate and turns its eye to summits that a life-time of devotion
cannot scale. Honor is held in high regard and select friendships may
have the intensity of religion. Judgments are without qualification.
Valor, laughter and fun, excess and the love of victory mingle in hot
profusion. Except in the case of the precocious boy of the street, the
cold vices of cynicism, misanthropy, and avarice - the reptilians of
society - are found almost exclusively among adults. The _younger_
brother is the prodigal. Experience has not taught him how to value
property and the main chance.

The failure of self-knowledge and self-control to keep pace with the
rapid changes of bodily structure, sense-impressions, and mental
organization is nowhere more marked and significant than in sex
development; and the common experience of adolescent boys is to the
effect that no other temptations equal in persistence and intensity
those that attend and follow this awakening. It is highly important,
then, that, as preparation for dealing with the individual, the minister
shall both see the generic boy upon the background of the past and that
he shall also understand in some measure the physical basis and
psychological ferment of the boy's inevitable re-birth, not for the
purpose of cheaply exploiting adolescence but in order that he may bring
every life to its best in terms of personal character and of worth to
the world.



From the consideration of bodily health the village boy is better off
than his city cousin. He also enjoys to a far greater degree the
protective and educative attention of real neighborhood life. The
opinions and customs which help to mold him are more personal. He
probably holds himself more accountable, for he can more readily trace
the results of any course of action in terms of the welfare and
good-will of well-known persons. His relation to nature is also more
nearly ideal. Artificial restrictions, territorial and otherwise, are
not so strictly imposed. His lot favors a sane and normal view of life.
There are more chores to be done, more inviting occupations in the open,
and altogether there may be a more wholesome participation in the work
of maintaining the home than is possible for the city boy.

On the other hand, the static character of village life leaves the boy
with little inspiration in his primary interests of play and his serious
ideals of the noblest manhood. Idle hours work demoralization and the
ever-present example of the village loafer is not good. A
disproportionate number of village people lack public spirit and social
ideals. The masculine element most in evidence is not of the strongest
and most inspiring kind, and the village is all too often the paradise
of the loafer and the male gossip. This, however, cannot be said of the
small frontier town where the spirit of progress is grappling with crude

Furthermore, the village is sadly incompetent in the organization of its
welfare and community work. As a matter of fact, social supervision is
often so lax that obscene moving pictures and cards that are driven out
of the large cities are exhibited without protest in the small towns.
Usually the village is overchurched, and consequently divided into
pitiably weak factions whose controlling aim is self-preservation.
Seldom can a religious, philanthropic, or social organization be
developed with sufficient strength to serve the community as such.

The sectarian divisions which in the vast needs and resources of great
cities do not so acutely menace church efficiency prove serious in the
small town. The saloon, poolroom, livery stable, and other haunts of the
idle are open for boys; but the Christian people, because of their
denominational differences, maintain no social headquarters and no
institution in which boys may find healthy expression for their normal
interests. The Y.M.C.A. is impracticable, because the church people are
already overtaxed in keeping up their denominational competition and so
cannot contribute enough to run an association properly. Wherever an
association cannot be conducted by trained and paid officers it will
result in disappointment.

The caricature of essential Christianity which is afforded by the
denominational exhibit in the village works great harm to boys. It is
not only that they are deprived of that guidance which true Christianity
would give them, but they are confronted from the first with a spectacle
of pettiness, jealousy, and incompetency which they will probably
forever associate with Christianity, at least in its ecclesiastical
forms. Villages are at best sufficiently susceptible to those
unfortunate human traits that make for clique and cleavage in society,
and when the Christian church, instead of unifying and exalting the
community life, adds several other divisive interests with all the
authority of religion, the hope of intelligent, united, and effective

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Online LibraryAllan HobenThe Minister and the Boy A Handbook for Churchmen Engaged in Boys' Work → online text (page 2 of 9)