Personnel Problems and Reconversion: Youth and the Postwar Period
by Anna M. Kross - 1945
Youth is our individual past and our collective future. It is the future of democracy. Our youth is the bridge over which we can pass from the mistakes of the past to a more decent world society of the future.
THE human resources of our nation are our most valuable possession. Upon the youth of today rests our country's future. They constitute the nation's greatest asset, its basic strength and its hope.
Despite the hue and cry about the rising delinquency rate in the country, America can be justly proud of its youth. The extraordinary test to which war has put American youth has been passed with great credit. They can be counted on to meet no less satisfactorily the test of peace. American youth have many needs and many problems. Youth itself is not a problem.
This country has many public and private youth-serving agencies, but these services are not coordinated on all levelsnational, state, or local. That we have not been meeting the needs of youth satisfactorily is made apparent by the many glaring facts revealed by our Selective Service reports and by statistics on crime. The 600,000 illiterates, the 4,500,000 rejected because of mental and physical disabilities, and the alarming rise in crime and youthful delinquencies are adequate proof of our failures.
One of the essential needs of youth today is guidance in determining the ethical values by which they may steer their own course and evaluate their own social and political relations. In the area of ethics and politics we adults have failed them. They have a right to question our judgment. They grew up in an age of materialism which belies all our professions of the good life. They have been subjected to the aftermath of the disillusionments of World War I, waged to make the world safe for democracy, the period of "flaming youth" with its hellbent determination to live for the moment, the discouragement of the years of the great depression, the impact of Nazism and Fascism from abroad and the Christian Fronts and colored shirts on our own shores, and the hypocrisy and tolerance of corruption of our own political life. Young people must be given an opportunity to achieve a set of ethical values which will be personally satisfactory as well as acceptable to the society of which they are a part.
We grownups should begin to practice what we preach in our daily life, in our religion, and in our politics. Our unfilled houses of worship belie our tradition of "In God We Trust," and our acceptance of political illiteracy and the philosophy of "Let George do it" seems out of keeping with the history of the revolutionary, constitution-making America.
Youth is our individual past and our collective future. It is the future of democracy and I should like to see that democracy start today. Our youth is the bridge over which we can pass from the mistakes of the past to a more decent world society of the future.
It is in the court that we find the end results of the failure of the community to meet adequately the needs of the people. The boy or girl who has failed to make the proper adjustment to life is brought before a judge who is supposed to be an expert. Unfortunately, too often that is what judges are not.
We who are on the bench are there because we have been appointed or elected under a far from perfect political system. The knowledge of the average judge is not the result of any special or profound background outside of his legal training, but merely of his experience. As a judge in a criminal court I have had brought before me every type of crime from the minor infraction of city ordinances to murder. This experience affords a broad view of the various maladjustments in our society. The shortcomings of the community as seen by the judge cannot be corrected in the court. The solution rests with the people and not with the judge.
The uneasiness and tension existing in our communities are apparent to everyone. Improved means for the dissemination of information and improved methods of communication have highlighted maladjustments. People are accustomed to reading about crime in the newspapers and to being entertained over the radio by the miseries and mishaps of fellow human beings. Delinquency is being overemphasized.
This practice may have some value in making the public aware of the social deficiencies in the community, but that hardly corrects them. The important need is for constructive action, and the only hope for such action will come from those who give mature and painstaking thought to the problems of human relations.
There are excellent reports which indicate that there will be a greater opportunity for teachers and sociologists to play a significant role with less difficulty than they encountered in the past. Some twenty years ago it would have been useless to talk about maladjustments in the community with the hope that educators would step in and play a major role in correcting them, but the fact remains that these maladjustments are distinctly a concern of the educator. In New York State, where vast sums of money have been expended in educational programs, it has finally been recognized that delinquency is a definite problem of the schools. Dr. George D. Stoddard, in a Foreword to the 1944 State Education Department pamphlet, "Schools Against Delinquency," said:
As school people, we accept willingly the challenge to combat delinquency. We have been concerned with the behavior difficulties of pupils, and much progress has been made in character education and guidance. The modern school emphasizes the individual pupil in his relation to home, school, and community. But there is much to be done, for many boys and girls are deprived of counseling when it is most crucial to their adjustment. Parents, too, increasingly must understand and cooperate with their children. In all these endeavors we welcome the support of the various branches of the State Government.
Another advance is the awareness that maladjustment, delinquency, and crime are community problems. In the past, law-enforcing agencies, such as police and court, saw their tasks as being the apprehension and punishment of lawbreakers. The job of picking up the pieces or rehabilitating the unfortunate was relegated to the social agencies. They, too, have been greatly influenced by modern scientific thinking in the field of criminology.
Prevention of crime is increasingly receiving more attention by police officials and courts. The need for the segregation of youthful offenders is an accepted fact. More and more police officials and judges are recognizing the fact that knowledge of the physical and mental make-up of the culprit is as essential as the evidence that spells the crime, and that guidance and probation hold out greater hope for rehabilitation than a jail sentence.
There is an increasing recognition of the part that physical and social environment play in producing crime. Two studies by Austin M. Porterfield, "Delinquency and Its Outcome in Court and College," which appeared in the November 1943, issue of American Journal of Sociology, clearly indicate not only the part environment plays in making criminals but also the part it plays in the recognition of this fact by the community. Porterfield came to some very interesting conclusions through comparing some two thousand offenders that appeared in court with a group of three hundred college students. The answers to the same questionnaire submitted to all revealed that the college students went through the same experiences as the members of the other group, but the students were not brought into court for their behavior. Porterfield concluded that where you were born, where you had lived, and what your background was determined whether or not you were considered a criminal. He indicated that, because of environment and social and heredity factors, the group brought into court has the stamp of the criminal put upon it, while the other group escapes that stigma because of its good fortune in picking the right parents and the right social status.
The facts must be analyzed very carefully if an intelligent job is to be done in dealing with the problems of the postwar era. Crime and delinquency statistics generally are inaccurate. We must recognize the handicap under which law-enforcing agencies report. Governor Alfred E. Smith once said, "Figures do not lie, but who knows who does the figuring?"
The FBI figures indicate that 60 per cent of all persons charged with robbery in 1943 were under twenty-five years of age; 65 per cent of all the automobile thieves were under twenty-one; 36 per cent of all the persons arrested in the United States were under twenty-one; the arrest of girls under twenty-one years of age increased 54 per cent in 1942. There was an increase of over 130 per cent in the arrest of girls under eighteen. These data carry tremendous significance. Nor can we ignore the thousands of hasty marriages and the terrific increase in illegitimacy. The conditions revealed by these figures should open the eyes of educators to the seriousness of the problem.
Our youth are vulnerable but they are not expendable. The war and its aftermath will take heavy tolls of them. Our failure to recognize the needs of youth in the past should be sufficient incentive for us to waste no time and spare no effort to conserve our youth of the present. Unless we begin immediately to provide adequately for the needs of youth, our population and the quality of our citizenry will suffer tremendously.
Educators must become the aggressive advocates of crime prevention, and education for citizens should include an enriched curriculum beginning with the nursery school and continuing through high school. Implementation of vocational guidance and physical and mental hygiene, as well as development of leisure-time programs, must also be utilized.
The greatest menace to our country is the apathy of the average citizen. The past three or four years have demonstrated that Americans can be aroused. In every corner of the country organizations have been created to meet the war needs, and those groups must now be transformed to meet postwar needs. Americans have become more international-minded, but efforts to live with other nations in peace cannot succeed unless Americans make the United Nations Charter work in their own back yards.
Our internal conflicts are revealed daily in the courts. The clash is not only between groups of different color, race, or religion; it is between people who, because of faulty education, have not learned to live with one another. There are also the personal clashesbetween parents and children, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, etc. The strife among young people is evidence of the failure of the community in training its youth. The school is the one agency in a democracy which must be responsible for essential preparation of youth for living in a democracy. The family and church also play fundamental roles, but both groups have failed because we have never recognized the need to educate our young people for family living. Such education can and must come through our schools in conjunction with our churches. There is much talk about making parents responsible for children, but few parents are specially trained to fulfill their responsibility intelligently. Everything resolves itself into the question of how our schools are going to face these conditions.
The most shocking figures with regard to this lack of special parental training are to be found in the report that was prepared in 1940 by the National Commission on Children in Wartime. This study shows that over 75 per cent of America's population before the war was living on the fringe of poverty. The background which is so implied does not provide readily the type of parents who will make it possible for children to grow up into well-prepared parents or citizens.
In a democracy, education for constructive citizenship must continue from the cradle to the grave. It is to be hoped that nursery schools will become part of the routine curriculum in every school. Guidance and mental hygiene must no longer be considered fads or frills.
Dr. Esther Lloyd-Jones, in her article "Counseling and Present-Day Problems" (Teachers College Record, October 1944), said:
Counseling, in fact, is in danger of being viewed as something of a panacea. Those who are interested in seeing that it does not become more popular than its actual offering justifies, those who wish to protect it from charlatanism and false pretension, may well consider how to protect and strengthen it.
At best, counseling can do only three things: (1) it can provide an individualized information service; (2) it can so fortify the individual with additional self-understanding, courage, and so forth that he is better able to take advantage of his own abilities and the opportunities that his situation affords; and (3) through the insight and understanding the counselor obtains in the counseling process, a way may be provided to keep the situation better adapted to the needs of individuals.
There is need for the implementation of a curriculum that provides for necessary counseling. We have all heard of the clashes between different groups because of racial and religious tensions. The only hope for their elimination lies in the schools. Through the schools we can reach directly into the home, church, and community; through their cooperation we can build an adequate bulwark upon which democracy can depend for survival.
These intergroup clashes are symptomatic of the disease that is assailing our communities. Adequate community education is the only antidote for this disease. Racial and religious clashes are the greatest menace to democracy. The percentage of delinquents and criminals is not surprising when we consider how little we do to prevent delinquency and crime. In view of the inadequacies and the apathy in our communities, we are fortunate that there are not more young people in trouble.
Our high school population has been increasing. We have not developed adequate after-school programs to meet community needs. We keep our children in school for a certain number of hours. What they do after school hours is a hit-or-miss proposition. The "latchkey" children will not disappear with the coming of peace, nor will their needs be met by wishful thinking. After-school and leisure-time programs can become the mainstay of sound theories of democracy. This is imperative now more than ever in view of our increasing leisure. One hundred years ago the chores of everyday living fully occupied one's time, and there was not as much opportunity to get into trouble. Now, however, the five-day working week and the eight- or six-hour day create an entirely different situation. Youth must be trained to use their leisure constructively. Those of us who have had experience in raising children in these modern days have found great competition in the movies and radio. That does not mean that movies and radio cannot play an important part in the education of youth; on the contrary, they become a "must." They should be made part of our educational program.
The twenty-four-hour-a-day school must be our goal. The schoolhouse can become the counterpart of the Town Hall of the days of our forefathers. Through it we can reach into the homes and churches and provide the necessary platform for our young people's active participation in democracy.