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


IN considering the principles which should underlie the form of government to be adopted in the Boys' Club, the writer is well aware that he is treading upon debatable ground; but he proposes to set forth the course which his own experience has shown to be wise and effectual.

A Boys' Club should resemble a true home. It should be a place of peace, of happiness, of love, and of liberty. It must be, too, a place of education in the fullest and noblest sense; and just as a Public School cares and is responsible for the whole life of its members, so also should our Boys' Club, though necessarily in a far smaller degree, take a similarly comprehensive view of its duties. For it has to take the place of home to many who scarcely know what the word means, and to others whom the stern realities of life may have caused to be prematurely separated from its influence and love. Let us, therefore, follow as nearly as possible the principles governing a home. There should be a supreme and undisputed head, in the person of the warden or manager, but under his fostering care there should be such healthy liberty as will most surely encourage the growth of personal and corporate responsibility. The ideals of the head of the Club must necessarily be in advance of those of the members, and the recognition of this fact renders it undesirable to attempt to make a Boys' Club self-governing in the sense in which an adult club may very properly be so made. The benevolent despotism which is here suggested will not be found incompatible with a large measure of self-government. It will indeed exist to promote this, and a wise manager will endeavour to carry out all branches of the club's work with the active help of the boys themselves, through committees and in other ways.

Thus the programme for the social meetings, the arrangements for game competitions, and the organisation of most of the departments of the Club can be most effectively carried out through such committees of the boys, subject to the control and advice of the head.

In thus developing the public spirit of the members by showing them that they are not members of a club merely to receive a personal benefit, but that they themselves are helping in its government and are responsible for its success, will be found the most effective means of making the Club one in which every member will feel a personal pride, and in which there will be that strong esprit de corps which springs from a common aim and affection.

It may reasonably be hoped also that in due time a certain number of the older members, filled with a true love and zeal for the club and its institutions, would be qualified by their club training for a yet more active share in its work. Their position in the club would approximate to that held in Rugby School by the members of the sixth form under Arnold, and many important officers, such as the librarians, the heads of tents at camp, the captains of the teams, would naturally be chosen from their number. From the best of these older fellows, again, when they have reached the age limit for members, the manager might well select his permanent helpers.

The age limit is something of a problem. On the whole, it is perhaps better to fix it high and to regard twenty as a desirable limit. Unfortunately, the chain of which the boys' club is but a link is not yet completely forged, and it is hard to lose lads who have reached the age limit without being able to pass them on to some other organisation fitted for their special needs. In the present case the other organisation may be forthcoming.

A department of the Club's work surpassed in importance by none is the outdoor life of its members. I have, perhaps, already referred sufficiently to the advantages to boys of organised games, and desire now to indicate briefly lines of working.

The first problem in this connection which the Club has to face is the provision of a field suitable for cricket and football. This question of ground is a vital one, and all difficulties must be surmounted. Fortunately there is no lack of ground near to the town of Dunfermline, and the difficulty experienced by so many towns in obtaining recreation ground need not arise.

Having once obtained a ground, however unpromising its condition, little, if any, further outlay upon it should be necessary, since the work of levelling it and making it suitable for play may well be done by the members themselves. They will readily respond to an appeal for their personal service, and the work itself will be at once a happiness and an inspiration to them. A simple pavilion or shelter could also be erected by them. They would be capable of carrying out, too, simple drainage operations, where such were necessary. It would, of course, be necessary to have skilled guidance, but there are few cases in which this could not freely be obtained from sympathisers with the work of the Club.

The most progressive schools of to-day have successfully demonstrated the great moral and educational value of thus encouraging boys to undertake manual labour, and particularly mention is merited by the experiments at Bedales, the Ruskin School Home at Heacham, the Manchester High School, and Abbotsholme. These schools have proved that outdoor work is thoroughly appreciated by boys and, questions of health apart, tends to promote a true manliness of character. In the near future it will be recognised as an essential part of all education. Certain it is that if work of this kind is successfully organised and carried out in connection with the Boys' Club, its members will thereafter be bound together by those hoops of steel which are made only in the presence of a spirit of mutual service.

It is not necessary to dwell here upon the organisation of the football and cricket teams in their due seasons, beyond suggesting that the members of the teams should be entrusted as far as possible with the management of the arrangements. Social gatherings of the members of the teams will naturally be arranged from time to time. Cricket and football "caps" should be given to members winning their places in the teams, and every opportunity should be taken to promote keenness of interest. There must be no place for the fellow who is slack.

The manager and other officers of the club should, if possible, be with the teams on the occasion of all matches. Apart from the fact that this helps to maintain a higher standard of conduct, the closer intercourse which it gives between the officers and the boys will be found invaluable. If the manager and his helpers are playing members, so much the better.

The resources of the club in the matter of outdoor pastimes need not be exhausted by cricket and football. Cross-country runs might well be held at regular intervals, and these will be found to be keenly enjoyed by many boys. There are many other games which could be introduced as opportunity offers, but it is a sound policy specially to encourage those which can be joined in by a number and which, therefore, offer the best facilities for co-operation and joint enterprise.

But let us also have the regular country ramble, making some old church or other interesting building, or some scene of natural beauty or of historic association, our objective. Such rambles, especially if aided by a judicious use of the camera, cannot but be of great educational value. They may awaken the interest of the youthful pilgrims in architecture and in natural and human history. But they may do more than this : they may prove the first revelation of the beauty of the earth; they may herald the dawn of a love for nature to prove hereafter one of the truly precious and elevating joys of life.

A permanent feature of all Boys' Clubs should be the Summer Camp. It is unrivalled alike from the standpoint of health and moral training. As, however, a special chapter of this book is devoted to the subject of a Town's Summer Camp, it is not necessary to pursue the question further here beyond pointing out that to a boy the camp is peculiarly valuable. It teaches him the joy of simple natural pursuits. He is enabled to repeat with sincerity Professor Beeching's A Boy's Prayer:—

"God who created me
Nimble and light of limb,
In three elements free,
To run, to ride, to swim:
Not when the sense is dim,
But now from the heart of joy,
I would remember Him:
Take the thanks of a boy."

He is taught, too, the joy of mutual service and helpfulness. The individualistic spirit is restrained. The boy takes his share of all the work of the camp. He thus acquires independence by doing things for himself, and is shown at once the necessity and the dignity of so-called menial tasks. I wish the Summer Camp was an institution of every public school. There is no better antidote for snobbery, for the contempt for labour which so frequently results from a system under which a lad learns to ring the bell. There is no better way of promoting his unselfishness, and of training him for the great service of man.

The camp, too, will assist in promoting the spirit of the club. What is this elusive thing known as the "spirit" of any particular institution—a spirit always with a distinct personality of its own, with its attendant ideals and obligations? It is hard to describe it or to analyse it. But no organisation is worth much without it. For it is the expression of a noble pride in the object of its affection; it is a mark of brotherhood, of camaraderie; it is the expression of conscious life, progress, hope j its absence usually marks failure and decay. I have assumed in these chapters on the Boys' Club that the club spirit is not only desirable but essential, and I have touched on features and methods which, I believe, will produce this spirit. It is essential that it should be a noble one based upon ideals which each member of the club must feel he is striving to realise. Then, indeed, our club will become a true brotherhood, and each lad admitted to it will gradually feel the privilege of belonging to an order which has brought into his life sympathy, love, knowledge, guidance, and will be inspired to put forth the best that he is capable of in working for the success of a club which has made these words living realities.

In the scheme for a Boys' Club now put forward I have tried to outline a comprehensive basis for work in direct connection with such a club, and I should like to anticipate a possible criticism that if my plans were carried out overlapping with other agencies would take place. I can imagine it being urged that a Boys' Club is unnecessary, seeing that there is a swimming-bath, or a gymnasium, or a technical school. None of these things can take the place of the Boys' Club. It is here that, under the proper manager, character will be formed, enthusiasm directed, latent forces called out. It is here that the street gang will be killed, and the youthful loafer and cigarette smoker cured.

It may be urged too that the Club manager has not been duly considered in this scheme; that the demands upon his time and strength are too great j that exceptional men would be required. The occasion will produce the men. A new spirit is now entering into such social schemes as the one under discussion, its chief feature being recognition of the fact that it is essential for sympathy and trained knowledge to go together in the guidance and control of schemes of amelioration. In work among "the young this principle has been generally disregarded in the past, especially by religious bodies, and the result has been inadequate schemes under incompetent guidance. The social worker of the future will be a specialist no less than an enthusiast. His methods must be based on knowledge; his individuality must be strong enough to mould men. How necessary the principle here urged is in connection with work for youth is shown in Dr. Stanley Hall's great work on Adolescence, recently published in America and Great Britain, a book which will be indispensable to all who would organise the social, moral, and educational environment of youth on a wisely synthetic basis.

I am glad to feel that the Club and its methods which I have endeavoured to set forth within brief compass are not inconsistent with the principles and multitudinous facts recorded by Dr. Hall, and I may be allowed to refer to one aspect of his teaching on the adolescent which directly bears on my subject. "No creature," Dr. Hall tells us, "is so gregarious as man, and we can hardly conceive him except as a member of the family, and emerging as the boy and girl now do, to become a socius in tribe, society, or political and industrial communities"; and he goes on to point out how the instinct of self-exhibition to win commendation now becomes dominant, and he gives a careful account of many American societies which exist to guide this spirit. One of these is the Knights of King Arthur, now a great institution which has had a remarkable growth and success. I quote the following account given of it, for though its methods differ, the spirit in which it is worked is essentially the same that has been pleaded for in these pages :—

". . . The Knights of King Arthur, an unique order of Christian Knighthood for boys, based upon the romantic, hero-loving, play-constructive, and imaginative instincts which ripen at about fourteen. Its purpose is to bring back to the world, and especially to its youth, the spirit of chivalry, courtesy, deference to womanhood, recognition of the noblesse oblige and Christian daring of that kingdom of knightliness which King Arthur promised that he would bring back when he returned from Avalon. In this order he appears again. It is formed on the model of a college Greek letter fraternity, with satisfaction for the love of ritual, mystery, and parade. The boys march into the hall in conclave, and sit in a circle in imitation of the Round Table, with a king at their head, with Merlin, an adult leader, at his side, and the various functionaries of the castle in their places. There is a constant rotation in office. Each boy takes the Dame of a hero, either an ancient knight or a modern man of noble life, whose history he must know and whose virtues he must emulate. The initiation is brief but impressive, with the grades of page, esquire, and knight, and room for the constructive instinct in making regalia, banners, swords, spears, throne, etc. Hero worship is developed by a role of noble deeds, a castle album of portraits of heroes, the reading together of heroic books, the offering of ranks in the peerage, and the sacred honor of the siege perilous for athletic, scholarly, or self-sacrificing attainments. The higher ranks can be obtained after probation by those who voluntarily accept a simple covenant of purity, temperance, and reverence. The instinct of roaming and adventure is in part gratified by excursions to historic sites and deeds of kindness. In the summer camp the environs are the land of the Paynims, to be protected and not ravaged. The ball team is the castle army, and its victories are celebrated by a mild wassail."

I have not touched in any detailed manner upon the finances of the Club, nor do I feel that to do so comes within the scope of the task I have set myself. But this may be said. The expense depends upon the scale upon which it is undertaken, and no budget can be submitted in a book like the present. I must, however, press for the recognition of certain facts. The Boys' Club cannot, alas, be self-supporting. Whatever weekly or other fees are paid by the boys, there will always remain a considerable adverse balance. But though the financial question may be a serious one, I entirely decline to believe that when public opinion has been awakened to the possibilities that lie before Boys' Clubs, it will not be possible to discover the means for their foundation and maintenance in every centre where they are necessary. For in the right hands and under proper guidance the Boys' Club may have an influence on the national life far beyond our present hopes. Why is it that an assembly of boys is one of the most attractive and impressive of all sights? Something of this no doubt is due to the peculiar distinctiveness of noble lads. Open-hearted, open-handed, they look the world in the face with cloudless brow. But the chief reason is surely due to our realisation, sometimes almost unconscious, that the potentialities of these unfolding lives are limitless. In the past these have been too often neglected, stunted, starved; or left to chance and inadequate agencies. An ampler day is dawning in which our poorer youth will receive sympathetic yet skilled guidance, to the incalculable good of mankind.


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