Allan Hoben.

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

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in early adolescence the tax upon the heart constitutes a common danger
which is often rendered more serious by the untrained condition of the
players. It is to be hoped that in the further modification of the rules
from year to year, the players and their welfare will be kept more in
mind and the sensation-loving public, whose gate-fees have been too big
a consideration, will be measurably overlooked.

But with this concession, all of the virtue that attaches to baseball
will be found in football, only in accentuated form. Physical bravery
is, of course, more emphasized; while team loyalty, with all that it
implies, is more intense. The relation of the members to one another in
a well-organized team amounts to an affection which is never forgotten.
The words of cheer when the team is hard pushed and has to take a
"brace"; the fighting spirit that plays the game to a finish, no matter
what the odds; the hand extended to help to his feet the man who has
just advanced the ball; the pat on the back; the impulsive embrace; the
very tears shed in common after a lost game - all of this is a social and
moral experience of no small value. Basketball also offers a good field
for the subordination of personal glory to team success and, in point of
intensity, stands midway between baseball and football with the
elimination of the dangerous qualities of the latter.


Games of this sort are also the most effective means of developing,
through expression, the boy's sense of justice or fair play. And this
sentiment will always be found strong and operative in him unless it has
been overcome by the passion to win or by imitation of the bad example
of certain debased athletes, popularly known as "muckers." Under proper
leadership, the boy soon learns that the true spirit of manly sport is
the farthest removed from that of the footpad and the blackguard.
Appreciation of successful opponents and consideration for the
vanquished can be made effectually to supplant the cheap, blatant spirit
which seeks to attribute one's defeat to trickery and chance and uses
one's victory as an occasion for bemeaning the vanquished. The presence
of a capable director of play is sure to eliminate this evil which has
crept in under the sanction of vicious ideals and through gross neglect
of boys' play on the part of adults in general and educators in
particular. The Decalogue itself cannot compete with a properly directed
game in enforcing the fair-play principle among boys. It is worth
something to read about fair play, but it is worth much more to practice
it in what is, for the time being, a primary and absorbing interest.

A large part of the morality which is most obviously desirable for human
welfare consists in bringing the body into habitual obedience to the
will. The amount of individual suffering and of loss and expense to
society due to failure in this struggle is nothing less than appalling.
The victims of emotional hurricanes, "brainstorms," neurotic excess, and
intemperate desire are legion. A nation that is overfed,
under-exercised, and notably neurasthenic should neglect nothing that
makes for prompt and reliable self-control. Lycurgus said, "The citizens
of Sparta must be her walls," and in building up a defense for the
modern state against forces more disastrous than Persian armies we must
turn to the ancient device of the playground and athletic games.

The moral value of play in this respect arises from the instant muscular
response to volition. Delay, half-hearted response, inattention,
preoccupation, whimsicalness, carelessness, and every sluggish
performance of the order of the will, disqualifies the player so that
when we take into account the adolescent passion to excel, and the fact
that 80 per cent of the games of this period are characterized by
intense physical activity, we are forced to place the highest valuation
on play as a moral educator; for this enthronement of the will over the
body, although having to do with affairs of no permanent importance, has
great and abiding value for every future transaction in life.

Indeed, the physical competency attained in athletic games has its
reaction upon every mental condition. Many boys who are hampered by
unreasonable diffidence, a lack of normal self-confidence and
self-assertion, find unexpected ability and positiveness through this
avenue alone and, on the other hand, the physical test and encounter of
the game serves to bring a proper self-rating to the overconfident.

Dr. George J. Fisher, international secretary of the Physical Department
of the Young Men's Christian Association, says, "An unfortunately large
number of our population haven't the physical basis for being good." No
one with even the slightest knowledge of sociology and criminology will
be disposed to deny such a statement. One might as well expect a
one-legged man to win the international Marathon as to expect certain
physical delinquents to "go right." Thousands of boys and girls sit in
our public schools today who are the unhappy candidates for this
delinquency, and we are monotonously striving to get something into
their minds, which would largely take care of their own development, if
only we had the wisdom to address ourselves to their bodies.

There is indeed not only a physical basis of _being_ good, but, what is
not less important, a physical basis of _doing_ good. Many people avoid
blame and disgrace who fail utterly in making a positive contribution to
the welfare of the community. They do not market their mental goods.
Thousands of men remain in mediocrity, to the great loss of society,
simply because they have not the requisite physical outfit to force
their good ideas, impulses, and visions into the current of the world's
life. For the most part they lack the great play qualities, "enthusiasm,
spontaneity, creative ability, and the ability to co-operate." Whenever
we build up a strong human organism we lay the physical foundations of
efficiency, and one is inclined to go farther and think with Dr. Fisher,
that muscular energy itself is capable of transformation into energy of
mind and will. That is to say that play not only helps greatly in
building the necessary vehicle, but that it creates a fund upon which
the owner may draw for the accomplishment of every task.

There is ground also for the contention that grace of physical
development easily passes over into manner and mind. The proper
development of the instrument, the right adjustment and co-ordination of
the muscular outfit through which the emotions assemble and diffuse
themselves, is, when other things are equal, a guaranty of inner beauty
and the grace of true gentility. A poor instrument is always vexatious,
a good instrument is an abiding joy. The good body helps to make the
gracious self. Other things being equal the strong body obeys, but the
weak body rules.

One should not overlook the heartiness that is engendered in games, the
total engagement of mind and body that insures for the future the
ability "to be a whole man to one thing at a time." Much of the moral
confusion of life arises from divided personality, and the miserable
application of something less than the entire self to the problem in
hand. Do not the great religious leaders of the world agree with the men
of practical efficiency in demonstrating and requiring this hearty
release of the total self in the proposed line of action? The demand of
Jesus, touching love of God and neighbor, or regarding enlistment in His
cause, is a demand for prompt action of the total self. Possibly no
other single virtue has a more varied field of application than the
ability for decisive and whole-souled action, which is constantly
cultivated in all physical training, and especially in competitive
athletic games.

It should be noted also that the hearty release of energy is, in every
good game, required to keep within the rules. This is particularly true
in basket-ball, which takes high rank as an indoor game for boys. While
the game is intense and fatiguing, anything like a muscular rampage
brings certain penalty to the player and loss to his team. So that,
while the boy who does not play "snappy" and hard cannot rank high,
neither can the boy who plays "rough-house." Forcefulness under control
is the desideratum.

Besides this there is always the development of that good-natured
appreciation of every hard task, that refinement of the true sporting
spirit, by which all the serious work of life becomes a contest worthy
of never-ending interest and buoyant persistency. In the midst of all
the sublime responsibilities of his remarkable ministry we hear Phillips
Brooks exclaim, "It's great fun to be a minister." An epoch-making
president of the United States telegraphs his colleague and successor,
with all the zest of a boy at play, "We've beaten them to a frazzle";
and the greatest of all apostles, triumphing over bonds and
imprisonment, calls out to his followers, "I have fought a good fight."
"It is doubtful if a great man ever accomplished his life work without
having reached a play interest in it."

The saving power of organized play, in the prevention and cure of that
morbidity which especially besets youth, can hardly be overestimated.
This diseased self-consciousness is intimately connected with nervous
tensions and reflexes from sex conditions and not infrequently passes
over into sex abuse or excess of some sort. So that the diversion of
strenuous athletic games, and the consequent use of energy up to a point
just below exhaustion, is everywhere recognized as an indispensable
moral prophylactic. Solitariness, overwrought nervous states, the
intense and suggestive stimuli of city life, call for a large measure of
this wholesome treatment for the preservation of the moral integrity of
the boy, his proper self-respect, and those ideals of physical
development which will surely make all forms of self-abuse or indulgence
far less likely.

The normal exhilaration of athletic games, which cannot be described to
those without experience, is often what is blindly and injuriously
sought by the young cigarette smoker in the realm of nervous excitation
without the proper motor accompaniments. Possibly if we had not so
restricted our school-yards and overlooked the necessity for a physical
trainer and organized play, we would not have schools in which as many
as 80 per cent of the boys between ten and seventeen years of age are
addicted to cigarettes. In trying to fool Nature in this way the boy
pays a heavy penalty in the loss of that very decisiveness, force, and
ability in mind and body which properly accompany athletic recreation.
The increased circulation and oxidization of the blood is in itself a
great tonic and when one reflects that, with a running pace of six miles
an hour the inhalation of air increases from four hundred and eighty
cubic inches per minute to three thousand three hundred and sixty cubic
inches, the tonic effect of the athletic game will be better
appreciated. This increased use of oxygen means healthy stimulation,
growth of lung capacity, and exaltation of spirit without enervation.
"Health comes in through the muscles but flies out through the nerves."

It was well thought and arranged by the ancients
[says Martin Luther] that young people should exercise
themselves and have something creditable and useful
to do. Therefore I like these two exercises and
amusements best, namely, music and chivalrous games
or bodily exercises, as fencing, wrestling, running,
leaping, and others..... With such bodily exercises
one does not fall into carousing, gambling, and hard
drinking, and other kinds of lawlessness, as are unfortunately
seen now in the towns and at the courts.
This evil comes to pass if such honest exercises and
chivalrous games are despised and neglected.

[Illustration: WHAT SHALL WE PLAY?]

The feeling of harmony and _bien-etre_ resulting from play is, in
itself, a rare form of wealth for the individual and a blessing to all
with whom one has to do. Every social contact tends to become wholesome.
And who will say that the virtue of cheerfulness is not one of the most
delightful and welcome forms of philanthropy? Play, rightly directed,
always has this result.

Possibly no social work in America is more sanely constructive than that
of the playground movement. In the few years of its existence it has
made ample proof of its worth in humane and beneficent results; and our
city governments are hastening to acknowledge - what has been too long
ignored - the right of every child to play. It is only to be regretted
that the play movement has not centered about our public schools for it
constitutes a legitimate part of education. The survivors who reach high
school and college receive relatively a good deal of attention in
physical training and organized play, but the little fellows of the
elementary grades who have curvatures, retardation, adenoids, and small
defects which cause loss of grade, truancy, and delinquency receive as
yet very meager attention.

In dearth of opportunity and in cruel oversight of the normal play-needs
of boyhood, there probably has never been anything equal to our modern
American city. But the cost of industrial usurpation in restricting the
time and area of play is beginning to be realized; and the relation of
the play-time and of the playground to health, happiness, morality, and
later to industrial efficiency, begins to dawn upon our civic leaders.
If "recreation is stronger than vice," it becomes the duty of religious
and educational institutions to contribute directly and indirectly to
normal recreative needs.

But what can the minister do? He can help educate the church out of a
negative or indifferent attitude toward the absorbing play-interests of
childhood and youth. He can publicly endorse and encourage movements to
provide for this interest of young life and may often co-operate in the
organization and management of such movements. Every church should
strive through intelligent representatives to impart religious value and
power to such work and should receive through the same channels
first-hand information of this form of constructive and preventive
philanthropy. He can partly meet the demand through clubs and societies
organized in connection with his own church. He can plead for a real and
longer childhood in behalf of Christ's little ones who are often
sacrificed through commercial greed, un-Christian business ambition,
educational blindness, and ignorance. He can preach a gospel that does
not set the body over against the soul, science over against the Bible,
and the church over against normal life; but embraces every child of man
in an imperial redemption which is environmental and social as well as
individual, physical as well as spiritual. In short, he can study and
serve his community, not as one who must keep an organization alive at
whatever cost, but as one who must inspire and lead others to obey the
Master whose only reply to our repeated protestations of love is, "Feed
my lambs."



It is practically impossible to overemphasize the importance of the
boy's vocational choice. Next to his attitude toward his Maker and his
subsequent choice of a life partner this decision controls his worth and
destiny. For it is not to be supposed that play with all its virtue, its
nourish and exercise of nascent powers, and its happy emancipation into
broader and richer living can adequately motivate and permanently
ennoble the energies of youth. Until some vocational interest dawns,
education is received rather than sought and will-power is latent or but
intermittently exercised. Play has a great orbit, but every true parent
and educator seeks to know the axis of a given life.

For some boys presumably of high-school age and over, this problem
becomes real and engrossing, but for the vast majority there is little
intelligent choice, no wise counsel, no conscious fronting of the
profoundly religious question of how to invest one's life. The children
of ease graduate but slowly, if at all, from the "good-time" ideal,
while the children of want are ordinarily without option in the choice
of work. But for all who, being permitted and helped, both seek and find
then-proper places in the ranks of labor, life becomes constructively
social and therefore self-respecting. To be able to do some bit of the
world's work well and to dedicate one's self to the task is the
individual right of every normal youth and the sure pledge of social
solvency. Ideally an art interest in work for its own sake should cover
the whole field of human labor, and in proportion as each person finds a
task suited to his natural ability and is well trained for that task
does he lift himself from the grade of a menial or a pauper and enter
into conscious and worthy citizenship.

Here then, as in the case of the mating instinct, the vocational quest
rightly handled forces the ego by its very inclination and success into
the altruism of a social order. For it is the misfits, the vocationally
dormant, the defeated, and those who, however successful, have not
considered such choice as an ethical concern of religion that make up
the anti-social classes of the present time.

Hence this problem of vocational guidance which is so agitating the
educational world comes home to the minister in his work with youth. It
may be that he shall find new and practical use for the maligned
doctrine of election and that he shall place under intelligent, and
heavenly commission the ideals and hopes of later adolescence. At any
rate where the life career hinges, there the religious expert should be
on hand. For what profit is there in society's vast investment in early
and compulsory education if at the crucial time of initial experiment in
the world's work there be neither high resolve nor intelligent direction
nor sympathetic coaching into efficiency?

But the importance of vocational choice does not turn upon the doubtful
supposition that there is one and only one suitable task for a given
youth. Probably there are groups or families of activities within which
the constructive endeavor may have happy and progressive expression.
Nor, from the minister's point of view, is the economic aspect of the
problem paramount. It is true that an investment of $50,000 worth of
working ability deserves study and wise placing and it is true that the
sanction of public education is to return to the state a socially
solvent citizen who will contribute to the common welfare and will more
than pay his way; but the immediately religious importance of this
commanding interest consists in the honest and voluntary request for
counsel on the part of the youth himself.

Fortunately in the very midst of a reticent and often skeptical period
there comes, through the awakened vocational interest, an inlet into the
soul of youth. No religious inquisitor or evangelistic brigand could
have forced an entrance, but lo, all at once the doors are opened from
within and examination is invited. It is invited because the boy wishes
to know what manner of person he is and for what pursuit he is or may be
fitted. When once this issue is on and one is honored as counselor and
friend, the moral honesty and eagerness of youth, the thoroughgoing
confession on all the personal and moral phases of the problem in hand
are enough to move and humble the heart of any pastor. Such conference
solemnizes and reassures the worker with boys, while to have spent no
time as an invited and reverent guest within this sacred precinct is to
fail of a priesthood that is profoundly beautiful.

Several experiences with both individuals and groups are fresh in mind
at this writing. On one occasion a guild of working boys in later
adolescence were living together in a church fraternity house, and it
was their custom on one evening of each week to have some prominent man
as guest at dinner and to hear an informal address from him after the
meal. It chanced that on the list of guests there was, in addition to
the mayor of their city and a well-known bishop of the Episcopal church,
the manager of one of the greatest automobile factories in America. On
the occasion on which this captain of industry spoke, he told in simple
fashion his own experience in search of a vocation.

It was of a kind very common in our country: early privation, put to
work at thirteen, an attempt to keep him in an office when he longed to
have hold of the tools in the shop. In time his request was granted.
While he worked he observed and studied the organization of the shop and
the progression of the raw material to the finished product. Having
mastered the method he left this shop and hired in another, and then in
due time in still another shop, much to the disgust of his friends. But
in reply to their warning that "a rolling stone gathers no moss" he said
that that was not his aim. As a result of faithfully following his bent
he was ready to respond to the great demand for men to organize and run
bicycle factories, and when that demand was followed by the much
greater need of doing a similar work in the manufacture of automobiles
he was chosen for the very responsible position which he now holds.

[Illustration: THE GUILD, First Baptist Church, Detroit, Mich.]

There was, to be sure, nothing distinctly spiritual in his story, but
after he had finished the young men kept him for two hours answering
their questions and there was there revealed to the pastor more of their
fine hopes and purposes and possibilities - their deep-buried yet vital
dreams - than he had ever heard unfolded in any religious meeting. Many
of these youths were taken in hand in a personal way and are now "making
good." Their subsequent use of leisure, their patronage of evening
schools, Y.M.C.A. courses, and many other helps to their ambitions
testified to the depth and tenacity of good purposes which were timidly
voiced but heroically executed. On the other hand, the writer has
knowledge of many cases of delinquency in which apparently the deciding
cause was the vocational misfit foisted upon the young would-be laborer
in the trying years between fourteen and sixteen.

There comes to mind the instance of a lad of seventeen found in the Cook
County jail. He had left his Michigan home with fifty dollars of
savings and had come to Chicago to make his fortune. His mother's story,
which was secured after he got into trouble, narrated how that as a boy
he had taken to pieces the sewing-machine and the clocks and, unlike
many boys, had put them together again without damage. Reaching Chicago
he hired in a garage and conceived the idea of building an automobile.
After the fashion of a boy he became totally absorbed in this project.
His ingenuity and thrift and the help of his employers enabled him to
get well along with his enterprise. But at last he was balked because of
lack of a particular part which he knew to be essential, but as to the
nature of which he was not informed.

Going along the street one day in profound concern over this matter an
impulse seized him to learn at once the nature of the needed part. He
jumped into an automobile standing by the curb, drove it to the nearest
alley, and crawled under it to make the necessary disconnections, when
the police caught him in the act. The case was a clear one and he was
thrown into jail. The mother in her letter to the Juvenile Protective
Association which was working for his release said that now, since he
had been so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the authorities,
she wondered whether they might not perform an operation for his
benefit, for she had heard that there was an operation by which the
skull could be opened and a certain part of the brain removed, and she
thought that possibly they might do this for her boy and take out that
part of his brain which made him so "wild about machinery"!

Public education in America is only beginning to respond to the need of
intelligently connecting our educational product with the world's work.
Trade schools for boys and girls, half-time schools, continuation
schools, night schools, and in a few cities vocational bureaus are at
work, but so are poverty and the helpless ignorance of the hard-pressed
home. The children who must in tender years be offered to our rapacious
industries are the very children who are without hope of parental
counsel and direction.

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Online LibraryAllan HobenThe Minister and the Boy A Handbook for Churchmen Engaged in Boys' Work → online text (page 5 of 9)