Problems of Youth

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Digital History ID 3822

Problems of Youth

Interpreting Primary Sources

Every American boy, a hundred years ago, lived either on a farm or in such close touch with farm life that he reaped its benefits. He had all the practical knowledge that comes from country surroundings; that is, he could ride, shoot, skate, run, swim; he was handy with tools; he knew the woods; he was physically strong, self-reliant, resourceful, well-developed in body and brain. In addition to which, he had a good moral training at home. He was respectful to his superiors, obedient to his parents, and altogether the best material of which a nation could be made.

We have lived to see an unfortunate change....It is the exception when we see a boy respectful to his superiors and obedient to his parents. It is the rare exception, now, when we see a boy that is handy with tools and capable of taking care of himself under all circumstances. It is the very, very rare exception when we see a boy whose life is absolutely governed by the safe old moral standards....Degeneracy is the word. To combat the system that has turned such a large proportion of our robust, manly, self-reliant boyhood into a lot of flat-chested cigarette-smokers, with shaky nerves and doubtful vitality...[we need to substitute] the better, cleaner, saner pursuits of woodcraft and scouting.

Boy Scout Handbook, 1910

Out of School Activities of 14,683 Children
Cleveland, June 23, 1913

Where they were seen:
  On streets  7,799  
  In yards  3,581 
  In vacant lots  883
  In playgrounds  1,869 
  In alleys  551 
What they were doing: 
  Doing nothing  5,961 
  Playing  7,358 
  Working  1,354 
What games they were playing: 
  Baseball  1,638 
  Kites  531 
  Sand piles  471
  Tag  153 
  Jackstones  325 
  Dolls  282 
  Sewing  144 
  Housekeeping 244 
  Horse and wagon  113 
  Bicycle riding  92 
  Minding baby  60 
  Reading  52 
  Roller-skating  47 
  Gardening  27 
  Playing in other ways, Mostly just fooling 3,171 

Questions To Think About

1. What changes had taken place in the lives of youth, according to the Boy Scout Handbook?

2. What, according to the handbook, were the solutions to the problems of youth?

3. How did children in Cleveland spend their leisure time?


Interpreting Statistics

Resources Invested in Education 
  Spending on Education  Spending Per Child 15-19  Percentage of GNP 
1860  $60  $ 5.33  1.4 
1900  $503  $20.53  2.9 

Improvements in Education 
% Illiteracy 10 or older 

High School  Graduates

College Enrollment
Total  White  Black 
1870  20 % 11 80 2.0 1.7
1900  11 % 6 45 6.4 4.0

  Proportion of Young Attending School Average Days Attended By Pupils  Proportion of 17 Year Olds Graduating High School
1870  57  78 
1890  69  86  3.5 
1910  74  113  8.8 
1930  81  143  29 
1950  82  158  59 

  Percent of 18-21 Year Olds Attending College Percent of Adult Population Illiterate
1870  1.7 % 20 %
1890  3.0 % 13 %
1910   5.1 % 8 %
1930  12.4 % 4 %
1950  29.9 %  3 %

Questions To Think About

1. How many days of school did a typical student attend in 1870? What proportion of young people actually attended school? How likely was such a student to graduate from high school or attend college?

2. Describe the changes that took place in educational expenditures, high school graduation, college enrollment, and literacy rates.


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