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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter VII. The Boy's Club, and its Place in Social Progress


THE foundation of Boys' Clubs belongs to recent years, but though their number is, relatively speaking, very small, their permanence in our social system is more than assured; and the great value of their work is constantly receiving, in ever increasing degree, the tribute of experts both within and without the movement. Social workers have at length realised that many great problems will never be solved so far as the present generation is concerned, and that their fair visions will prove something more than dreams only in so far as they succeed in properly training and directing the sympathies and the ideals of the youth of our country. The writer, therefore, submits that the provision of a club for the youth of Dunfermline should be one of the earliest schemes to be considered, and it is his desire in the course of the present chapter to sketch, somewhat in detail, the work of a Boys' Club, the principles which should underlie its management, and the possibilities which the work of a well-organised club affords.

The term "boys" in this connection refers, of course, to youths between the leaving-school age, say fourteen, and twenty-one; and the Club which we are now to consider is designed to receive the lads of our offices and factories fresh from school, and to look after them during the critical period of transition from boyhood to manhood. It is hardly necessary to point out how dull and uncared for the life of the average working youth is. In the larger towns, it is true, there are several splendid institutions on the present and other lines, for their special benefit, but in the smaller towns little is attempted, and a virgin field too often awaits the worker. The life of the boy in the daytime is frequently both laborious and monotonous, and in the evenings he must seek his pleasures as he best can. In the summer this is not of so much moment; sport, in some form or other, will probably occupy the greater portion of his spare time, but in the winter the long evenings hang heavily upon him. Frequently his home offers him but few attractions, and he seeks his amusements in the streets, at poor-class halls and theatres, and soon becomes surrounded with a thousand perils.

It should, therefore, be the first object of the Club to provide a place where lads can repair, as to a well-ordered home, secure always of welcome and sympathy, where every impulse for good will be fostered and directed, and where, though often unconsciously, they may be gradually brought into a world of new ideals, in which they will not be passive but active members. In the following pages it is attempted to show how this result may be attained by considering in detail the work of the various departments which the Boys' Club should contain.

I commence with the Recreation Room, not because this is the most important department, but because it is a means to an end j a bait by which you may obtain the sympathy of your boys for greater things. The first requisite, therefore, in a well-appointed club for boys is a large recreation room, where the natural healthy animal spirits of a boy may, within reasonable limits, find free expression. The room should be a large one, and should afford sufficient room for cricket to be played. I am, of course, now treating of a winter curriculum, and in later pages will treat of the outdoor life of the club members. But I may here express the view that much of the railing against the time given up to sport by the rising generation is sheer nonsense. Let us by all means protest against certain bad phases of our national sports to-day. Let us protest against the ever-increasing professional element. Let us protest against those sections of the crowds who watch our football and cricket matches whose presence is only due to their lust for gambling. Let us protest against what sometimes appears to be a growing tendency to brutality in some of our sports. But do not let this just zeal in protesting lead us to condemn that deep-rooted and very proper love for sport which is a characteristic of the race. Rather let us seek to foster it and to guide it. Let us give our poorer lads the opportunity to play themselves instead of merely watching others, and to receive the invaluable moral discipline afforded by our national games. No little of the true manhood of the nation to-day is due to the games of our public schools. These have recognised the moral value of play. A lad who will loyally field for some hours under a hot summer sun, with, perhaps, little chance of an innings himself, is learning patience, co-operation, and endurance. The lad who in his football matches is taught never to give in, though he may be losing heavily, and to receive a double kick on his shins with philosophy, is learning similar things, and is developing that spirit of camaraderie which, if more widely diffused to-day, not only in our national but also in our international relations, would be of such priceless value in promoting the harmony of nations.

In our Boys' Club, therefore, we shall not be suspicious of our recreation room, and if it is a large room where in the winter months games like cricket and football, in addition to the far inferior games (for our purpose) of bagatelle, etc., can be played, we may reasonably hope to get some of those moral benefits referred to above. Given a sufficiently large room, it is easy enough to adapt it for cricket. The windows, walls, and all other breakable fittings should be protected with string netting, which will be found quite effective. A roll of cocoanut matting makes an excellent substitute for a grass pitch. Simple methods of fixing up the wickets will readily suggest themselves. For football the necessary preparations are even simpler, and call for no special comment. To social workers who have never tried the effect of these indoor games, the results will be surprising and gratifying. But to get the best results, the recreation room must be under the close and constant supervision of the club manager. The games must never be allowed to degenerate into mere aimless horseplay, but must be organised and carried out with the same keenness and exactitude that characterise our outdoor sports. The recreation room need not, of course, be wholly devoted to games. It may also be used as a gymnasium, and for any form of drill which may be organised in connection with the club. Above all, let it be well ventilated, and teach the value of open windows and fresh air. If the principles here outlined are followed, it will be found that the recreation room will engender a public spirit for the club, which will be of priceless value in carrying out the ideals for which the club is founded.

The Club Library, an essential feature of a Boys' Club, may next be considered. It will be found that there are few lads who cannot be reached through the library, though the process frequently may be a slow one. The first thing is to realise that a boys' library must be different from all other libraries, and great skill must be used in furnishing its shelves. In fiction, the great writers—Scott, Dickens, Stevenson, Kingsley, Victor Hugo, and others—must, of course, be added, but many boys will not be equal to these writers at first. They regard them with awe, and their reluctance to get at close quarters with them must be overcome by a preliminary course of a less nutritious, but not of a harmful nature. There is now fortunately available an excellent field of boys' books containing fiction of high order, and boys may be easily led through such books to make the acquaintance of the great romancers, and to find an increasing delight in their work.

An excellent plan for promoting systematic reading amongst the boys is to organise reading circles in connection with the library. Hold monthly or fortnightly meetings. Take, in turn, the great writers. Tell the story of their lives, and illustrate your talks with photographs or other pictures, or, better still, with lantern slides. This method will be found of great value in getting boys to read the great authors, and just as you will obtain their sympathies through the medium of the recreation room for greater things, so you may take advantage of the average boy's natural love of fiction, and guide him through the influence of these little meetings to study other subjects. Let History, Science, Nature, and Poetry be well represented on the library shelves. Appeal also to the healthy love which every boy has for hobbies, and let him find in the library all the help he wants in order to specialise. All the best school tales should find a place on the shelves, headed by Tom Brown, and including without exception all the stories from the pen of the late Talbot Baines Reed, which in their own special sphere are matchless.

Proper library management is essential to the success of any library, but especially to one for boys. It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with lads who have had little previous intellectual training. They should have free access to the shelves, and be encouraged to take down the books and examine them for themselves. They will be found to replace the books in proper order, and they will appreciate the trust shown in them. Then, in addition to a general catalogue, it is very helpful to prepare special lists of books in the library, e.g., school tales, historical novels, and so on. It is a good plan to prepare a list of historical novels in chronological order, as in Table I. (page 65).

Another good plan is to include side by side tales dealing with English History and those dealing with foreign events of the same period. (Table II.)

If the library is really vitalised the boys will soon find this out, and will become keen upon it. It is, in many cases, the best medium for getting to know many points of the character of the boy himself, for it shows his interests and general outlook. The club library will also reflect in a small degree the interests of the nation. The South African War caused a demand for historical works, especially those dealing with the history of the Cape. The educational opportunities which this and similar

great questions afford should never be neglected. A special list of books should be exhibited showing what works the library contains on any special question before the public, so that the club members may be led to understand it and to follow it with intelligence. The same method may profitably be followed in adult libraries. From the library it is natural to turn next to the Reading-room of the club. If space is limited, and the library is in a large room, the reading-room may be arranged in the library, but it is better to have it in a separate and larger room, which can be used also for lectures and social meetings. The reading-room, like the library, presents great opportunities for influence. Let it be a bright and, as far as possible, a beautiful room. With the present wealth of inexpensive reproductions of the great masterpieces of-art, it is always possible at a small cost to make the least promising of rooms both beautiful and interesting. Pictures exercise a refining influence, and their value in schools is now beginning to be realised and taken advantage of. All pictures shown should be intelligently and adequately labelled, which will do much in awakening and directing the interest of the members. The contents of the reading tables should be very carefully selected. The club must lay itself out to kill the taste for the halfpenny and penny dreadful, which is more widely spread to-day than most people have any conception. From the back slums of journalism these papers issue in their tens of thousands, exercising a fatally pernicious influence on the youth of our land, the result of which is too frequently seen in the police courts of our larger towns. Fortunately, there are at least four admirable papers for boys published in this country. They are (1) The Boys' Own Paper, a thoughtful, high-toned paper, which deserves the great reputation it has enjoyed for more than two decades; (2) The Captain, a more recent paper of a very bright and healthy nature, with a large knowledge of boys' hobbies and sports, and showing throughout a true sympathy with boys; (3) St. Nicholas, by far the most artistic of the four, and specially good in the encouragement it gives to the study of out-door life; and (4) Toung England, an excellent paper within its limitations, but not of so wide an interest as the others mentioned.

In addition to these there should be a good selection of the best monthly magazines and the weekly illustrated papers, not forgetting Punch. As to newspapers, these must be provided, taking care to choose the highest toned. The newspapers are with us for good, and it is idle to hope ever to do without them. They are specially necessary in a boys' club, because we wish to teach our members to think for themselves and not to be led away on great or small questions by partisan daptrap, and also to develop in them an intelligent interest in the life of their country and its multitudinous problems. This we can largely do through the daily paper by working on the following lines: — Let the club manager hold regularly a general knowledge class, with, say, weekly meetings. At these meetings the chief events of the past week, as recorded in the newspapers, should be considered and explained in detail. Briefly describe important proposals before Parliament and how they may affect the life of the country. If a war has broken out, try to show what it is due to and what the aims of the contending parties are, always using maps and other illustrations where possible. By these means you will gradually get your boys to realise that they are witnessing the making of history. The head of the club will frequently find that many of his boys have strong political prejudices, and he must be tactful in making it clear that he is treating all events in the spirit of the historian (what is more important, he must so treat them). He will then soon secure the perfect confidence of the boys in his leadership, for none could be quicker than they in reading motives. It will be readily seen what immense opportunities for influence such a class gives. Encourage discussion and questions, and the candid expression of divergent views. You are fitting future citizens for their great responsibilities.

The reading-room should also be used for the delivery of lantern and other lectures, and for social gatherings of the members—which it is well to have at least quarterly. Lectures on Natural History, properly treated and not too heavy in substance, would be found to be greatly appreciated, and would do much good in creating an interest and reverence for Nature. It is a good plan to form a little Nature Museum, and to get the members themselves to contribute specimens. A glass case fixed on the wall of the room will give the necessary accommodation. Exhibit near it a monthly Natural History Calendar, showing what bird, insect and plant life may be looked for during the month.

So far, the educational side of the club has mainly been dealt with. It is capable of infinite expansion, according to the opportunities of the managers and their helpers. If space permits nothing could be better than classes in handicrafts—such as modelling, bookbinding or woodwork.


 


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