Not long ago a student of our educational work put this query to educational directors and boys' secretaries:
"Should all employed boys who join the Association be expected to take some form of educational work?" By many the idea was considered preposterous, but the question is really one of great moment. Stated somewhat differently the question is, "If we draw employed boys to the Association to spend their evenings, is it right to absorb their time and attention without giving them the things which they most vitally need?"
Working boys should have educational, religious and physical training, and especially the more definite education termed schooling. For the benefit of those who plead that so marked an emphasis on educational features will interfere with Bible study, or gymnasium, let it be said that the opposite results have been obtained by leading boys, otherwise unreached, into those very things. At least one Association is definitely preparing to try the experiment next season of requiring employed boys to carry some educational work. The recreation rooms will be closed during school hours, and any member who comes to the department between 7.30 and 9.00 o'clock, must either be in the school or in an educational club.
When our night schools for boys arc undertaken in this comprehensive way, they will become just as good a drawing card as the gymnasium. They will give the Association a constant grip for moulding the boy. This kind of work appeals strongly to parents, to employers, and to those who conduct the frequently over-worked public night schools. It will lend dignity and permanence to our boys' work that directors and supporters of the Association can view with satisfaction.
So much for the department; now about the boys.
When it is realized what a working boy's evening means to him through relaxation and recreation, we will see that it is idiocy to put up a tame class in arithmetic against the attractions of "The King of the Wild West" which is holding forth at the theatre in the next block or around the corner. Until we can make our night schools so absorbing that to miss a night would be a misfortune in the boy's mind comparative to the loss of missing the evening at the cheap theatre, we will have to satisfy ourselves with small attendance and meagre results. What must be done first, last and all the time, is to challenge the attention of the boys, even though it is not an easy task by any means. We can set up the most elaborate curriculum, pay high salaries to teachers, have the finest equipment, and fail. Someone must put life and ginger into the work. Someone must study as hard to hold the boys' attention as the managers of the shows do.
When a boy rises at 6 o'clock on a winter morning, walks from one to two miles to his place of employment, works hard all day, eats a cold lunch, goes home again, and then walks another mile to our building to attend night school, and, moreover, keeps this up three nights a week from October to April and does not miss a night, he is acting on some stimulus other than a consuming desire and passion for geography and spelling. The writer has known many boys working near the Association, who, on account of the long distance from home, would come to the night school and then go home for supper at 9 o'clock. When we protested, they said that it was too far home and they did not wish to miss a night.
Some agency, besides the public schools, must grasp this tremendous proposition of determining the life direction of tens of thousands of boys too old ever to be touched by child labor legislation, and yet young enough to be reached for a higher life and for the Christ life while their minds are yet plastic. They must have general education and then technical industrial instruction perhaps similar to that of the continuation schools of Germany.
To develop interest strong enough to hold boys to the necessary routine and fatigue incident to study when the body is weary is problem enough, but when the school itself is in operation, it is next to the impossible to put the finger on the particular feature or influence that created and sustains it. From the experience on which much of this article is based, those in charge, the teachers, secretaries and educational directors (there having been two boys' secretaries and two educational directors during the time) believe that there were at least six leading factors which counted sufficiently to be considered in yielding success.
The time a working boy spends at the building is limited. To do all we want for him, his attractions must be grouped around some one feature. If we can gain his attention for the serious things first, our gymnastic and social privileges will have more lasting effect. No matter what is said to the contrary, there are hundreds of boys in families absolutely indifferent to religious appeals, and we cannot hope to enlist large numbers of boys every season from Catholic, Hebrew and indifferent homes directly into religious work. It is only after parents and boys of this class have come to have implicit confidence in the Association that we influence them most, religiously. On the other hand, it has been demonstrated in various places, that by its educational features the Association can attract crude factory boys in large numbers by interesting them and their parents in general education; it can enlist them in Bible study, and see them come out boldly for Christ, joining the church and doing definite Christian service.
This entails, of course, strong centralized control and an assembling of the school in a sort of chapel exercise, which would include singing, scripture reading, prayer and announcements of general interest in the department. Opportunity is afforded for brief remarks on current topics by the educational director or some other man in charge, in this way doing much to correct the false ideas of men and things picked up at the store or factory or from the newspapers during the day.
These are arranged in co-operation with the physical director. It is well to provide contests and games among the classes and clubs and occasionally a large event with the public school boys or some outside organization according to the custom of the local Association in such matters.
It is suicidal to let the school get away from the Association spirit and work. The school should have its Bible classes (voluntary, of course), its clubs, banquets and its representatives at camps and conferences. Various committees should be made up of the school's boys for visiting the sick and for other purposes. The ideal of uplifting the boys of the city and of bringing as many as possible to a decision for Christ, should be kept uppermost in the minds of the leading boys all of the time.
Night schools seem destined to be shifting in their personnel, but courses can be so arranged and interest so kept up through the summer as to hold a valuable remnant from year to year. This is equally serviceable to the men's school, when the boys pass on into the men's department or when special courses are arranged in connection with the men's classes.
When boys' educational work is taken up in this way, someone must give minute attention to handling the school. There must be personal interviews innumerable; the boys must be guided in employment matters, in which they can do much for each other. There is always the boy with trouble at home, trouble at the shop or the factory, trouble with his teachers, subject to tardiness and absence, etc. All these things must be dealt with wisely and with sympathy born of a knowledge of each boy's employment and, if possible, his home conditions. The right man may be the educational director; he may be the boys' secretary; or possibly a hired teacher, able to assume the principalship of the school.
Whoever he is, he must be the man with a mission.
His opportunity for usefulness will be unexcelled in the whole range of Association activity.