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The Boy and His Gang

The Boy and His Gang
Title: The Boy and His Gang
Release Date: 2018-09-18
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Director of Beacon Vocation Bureau, Boston



The Riverside Press Cambridge




Sixty-six boys who were members of gangsare responsible for this book. They told methe stories of their gang life and I wrote themout in the form illustrated in Chapter II. Ishowed these stories to President G. StanleyHall, who asked me to present them in thePedagogical Seminary, where an article appearedin June, 1905. These original storiesof Boys’ Gangs and Boy Leaders later becamethe basis for a series of lectures onBoy Problems. In revising my material forbook publication, many interesting criticismsby parents, teachers, and social workers, invarious sections of the country have beenconsciously or unconsciously incorporatedinto it. I have found a wide interest in anddemand for such a book as this—bearingupon the group psychology of boyhood—anda lamentable scarcity of readable literatureon the subject.

For aid in preparing this book I am indebtedivfirst of all to the boys for their confidence,which I have tried to keep; to PresidentG. Stanley Hall for his kindly encouragementat the right time; to President Edmund C.Sanford and Professor William H. Burnhamfor pedagogical guidance; to my wife, E.Hope Puffer, who has shared in the task fromthe beginning; to Mr. E. T. Brewster forhis invaluable assistance in editing the book,and to McClure’s Magazine for permissionto reprint the illustrations.

J. Adams Puffer.



Preface iii
Introduction xi
I. The Eternal Boy 1
  The nature of the problem, and the persons to whom this work is addressed.
II. The General Nature of the Gang 8
  Importance of gangs—​Their neglect in the literature of boyhood—​The single conspicuous exception—​The author’s own experience with boys’ gangs and its lessons—​Boys’ own stories of six specimen gangs—​Fundamental likeness of all gangs—​Their instinctive basis.
III. The Organization of the Gang 26
  Age of members—​Their habitat, nationality, and social class—​Permanence of and definiteness of organization of gangs—​Their names—​Times and places of meeting—​Officers—​Initiation ceremonies—​Rules—​Resignations and expulsions—​Method of settling disputes—​Emergence of the group mind.
IV. Certain Activities of the Gang 39
  Analysis of gang activities—​Survivals from pre-gang stage—​Group games—​Tribal industries—​Boys’ reports of these—​Their significance—​“Plaguing people”—​Boys’ reports—​Instinctive nature of the impulse—​Stealing—​Reports.
V. Further Activities of the Gang 50vi
  Migration—​Reports—​Truancy—​Reports—​Theatre-going—​Reports—​Fighting—​Personal fights—​Fights between groups inside the gang—​Fights between gangs—​A case of war between federations of gangs.
VI. The Anthropology and Psychology of the Gang 72
  Certain human instincts—​Differing instincts of boys and girls—​Many instincts of boyhood are survivals from savagery—​The Recapitulation Theory, therefore, the key to boy psychology—​Not, however, a complete explanation—​Certain qualities of the young look toward the future—​Illustrations of these—​Ancestral qualities persist when useful—​Examples from instincts of both boys and girls.
VII. The Control of the more Primitive Impulses 83
  Certain maladjustments of human instincts to civilized life—​These especially noteworthy in boyhood—​Instinctive basis of cruelty in boys—​Other causes of cruelty—​Psychology of “plaguing people”—​Pedagogic worthlessness of the impulse—​Its cure—​Impulse to plague girls of a different nature—​Apparently protective—​The love of fighting—​Its instinctive nature—​Fighting is, on the whole, a virtue—​Its pedagogic value—​Practical treatment of the problem—​Two working rules—​Self-limiting nature of the evil.
VIII. The Management of the Predatory Impulses 94
  Transitory nature of instincts—​Acquisitiveness the basis of boys’ thieving—​Self-limiting quality of stealing—​Effect of collections—​Ofvii common property—​Cure of thievery must regard origin—​Practical hints—​Effect of gardens and shops—​Unconscious element in anti-social impulses—​Unfortunate position of city boy—​Analysis of reasons for theft—​Removal of specific causes—​Summary of two chapters on anti-social gang activities and their cure.
IX. The Tribal Instincts and the Wanderlust 109
  Inherent goodness of the gang impulses now to be discussed—​Balance of home and gang life—​General nature of the problem—​Wholesomeness and spontaneity of these interests—​Their usefulness in training for work—​Their religious aspect—​Uses of Sunday—​Control of the Wanderlust—​Its imperiousness—​Its dangers—​Its good side—​Practical suggestions—​Excursions to interesting places and historic spots—​Camping trips—​Truancy—​Limitations of athletics—​Advantage of non-competitive sports over games—​Their value as permanent sources of happiness.
X. The Individualistic Activities and the Group Games 124
  Education through games—​Their social training—​The problem of playgrounds—​Example of the best English schools—​Value of swimming—​Opportunity and supervision—​Skating and dancing—​Their peculiar function at the end of the gang period—​Theatre, circus, and picture show—​Analysis of their influence—​Wholesomeness of melodrama.
XI. The Special Virtues of the Gang 141
  Psychologic value of the gang period—​Biologic aspect of moral education—​Loyalty the foundationviii of the gang—​The boy’s devotion to ideals—​Mistakes of parents and teachers—​Why all boys are not in gangs—​Gangs are the natural training-schools for the social virtues—​Pedagogic value of even anti-social acts—​High social value of nearly all gang activities—​This illustrated by typical rules of gangs—​Gangs inculcate coöperation, courage, and other manly virtues—​Late reversal of opinion with regard to the influence of gangs.
XII. The Gang in Constructive Social Work 157
  The Boy Scouts—​The sound psychology of the organization and its relation to the boys’ gang—​The Church—​The psychology of religious training and its practical method—​The Sunday School—​The Home—​Prerequisites of good gangs—​Families should unite to provide these—​The Boys’ Club—​The Playground—​The Summer Camp—​its common failings—​Suggestions for the improvement of these—​Proper subjects for study in camp—​Special fitness of instruction in hygiene and morals.
XIII. The Gang and the School 177
  The nature of the problem—​Necessity of comprehending the gang spirit—​Illustration from fighting and by an incident of real life—​Difference between boys and girls—​Boys’ motor-mindedness—​Practical hints—​Importance of using natural groups—​Illustrated by gymnastics—​By nature study—​By work in practical arithmetic—​By other coöperative efforts—​By pupil self-government—​The important matter is to utilize the great passions of boyhood.



The wharves are a favorite meeting place for the gang Frontispiece
Boys “jump freights” because they “like to go and see places” 20
We fought for the fun of it 20
A football game between city gangs 44
A shanty or clubhouse in the woods 44
An inadequate playground 170
A model playground 170



The gang spirit is the basis of the social lifeof the boy. It is the spontaneous expressionof the boy’s real interests. A boy musthave not only companions but a group ofcompanions in which to realize himself. Thisbook had its origin in the minds and heartsof boys still active in their gangs.

It is evident that nearly all the activitiesof boys in their group life are not injuriousbut wholesome, or can readily be made so.What grown people too often interpret asdone from evil motives the boys in the gangdo from their love of fun. The educationalworld has not yet taken the interesting viewpoint, that in the group activities of boysare cultivated the great fundamental virtues,coöperation, self-sacrifice, and loyalty. Nowthat we are coming to understand and realizewhat the gang life means, and what canbe done with it, the surprise grows that ithas until so recently been left almost entirelyxiiout of account in the work of helping andsaving boys.

Mr. Puffer as a graduate student and fellowat Clark University has taken time toacquaint himself with the literature in thisand adjacent fields, and as a practical workerhas shown himself unusually sympatheticwith boys and helpful to them. Mr. Puffer’swriting is uniquely effective and hisbook ought to be read by all parents andfriends of boys.

G. Stanley Hall.

Worcester, Mass.,
February 12, 1912.




We adults do not commonly understandboys. Half of us, to be sure, were boys ourselves;but when we became men and settleddown to our work, we did not merely putaway childish things—we went further andforgot them. To-day, we read a story of boylife and we say, “Why, yes. That’s just theway boys do. I used to do exactly that sortof thing myself.” But the next hour we haveforgotten again, and the boy we were is oncemore a stranger. Boyville is so far removed,both from Delos and from Babylon, that weseldom think the thoughts of its inhabitants,nor see the world with the boys’ eyes. Onlya few men are at home in both worlds,—Lindsay,George, some schoolmasters, an occasionalfather,—and these can do anythingwith a boy.

2The difficulty seems not so much to bethat we have forgotten the incidents of ourboyhood as that we have lost its feelings. Sofar as specific doings are concerned, weprobably remember those crowded yearsmore distinctly than any equal period of ourentire lives. Most of us, too, remember themhappily, as happily probably as any years wehave lived. No, the trouble is not with thememory, but with the self. The experiencesof life since we were boys have shifted ourpsychic centre of gravity, so that we realizethe particular incident far more easily thanwe realize the being to whom it occurred. Wedo not completely feel that the boy that wasis quite ourselves; and while the memoryof the fact is sharp, the memory of the mentalstate that went with it has become dim.Therefore, it costs a distinct effort to

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