A few weeks ago, we were talking about children who amuse themselves by throwing snowballs at moving vehicles. Now the sessons have changed, and Jane Alles writes:
"Does it worry you that the summer vacation period is approaching and young people will be even more idle than before?
"Insted of having nothing to do but hang around, wouldn't it be nice if they could be taught to love beauty? The beauty of the earth, I mean.
"Don't you think the crime rate would go down and vandalism would disappear if the loveliness of our earth could be instilled in young people?
"There are many, many areas here where trash floats all over the streets. Could not even children be employed in beautifying their own neighborhoods? Sort of a Junior Pride. So many have nothing to do.
"If they were calle the Pride Cadets or something and supervised in the cleaning of sidewalks and alleys, given flowers and small shrubs to plants, could not a change for the better take place, not only in the surroundings but in the people themselves?"
My first reaction to Jane's letter was, "What a wonderful idea. This is just what we ought to be doing."
later I happened to be talking to a friend who loves Our Town, and I mentioned Jane's letter to him. "Forget it," he said. "It can't work."
"Why not?" I asked.
"When I was a kid," he said, "we al used to hang around the neighborhood drugstore because we had nothing better to do. We'd buy 5 cents worth of candy and make $5 worth of commotion in doing it, to say nothing of the stuff we'd steal in the meantime. The druggist finally hit on a plan. He hired the biggest kid in our group, supposedly to sweep the store, but mostly just to hang around and keep the rest of us from causing trouble.
"The boy did his job well for a few days. Then the authorities ordered the druggist to fire him because of the child labor laws, so the kid went back to hanging around the store without pay, and making trouble. You just can't hire kids any more."
My mind didn't work fast enough to argue the point with him, but afterward I found myself wondering how old that boy had been. My impression was that the District of Columbia grants work permits to youths of 14.
It also came back to me that Pride, Inc., has for many years been working with lads of 14. I went to our library and began going through clippings that told of the many good things young people had done here.
One example was a story that was published on Aug. 25, 1975. It began this way: "Youth Pride, Inc., started with federal funds as a cleanup corps for the inner city, celebrated its eight anniversary yesterday with a sense on the staff that the training and self-help organization had come of age."
So Jane's ideas are indeed good ones - so good we have already put much effort and money into implementing them. But ot what avail?
One can theorize that crime is reduced by youth programs, but firm proof can seldom be cited. We can ask, "Would things have been worse if we hadn't had such programs?" But hard answers are seldom available.
My owns gut reaction, not provable by statistics, is that self-help programs are benefical, and deserve more funding and attention than we give them.
Unfortunately, it is a lot easier to organize a work detail than it is alter an attitude. Proper supervision of physical activity is not too difficult. But how do you tiptoe into a teenager's brain and rearrange his social attitudes with such subtlety that he doesn't realize he's been transformed from a rebel into a conformist - or even into an idealist who thinks the earth should be beautiful and he has a role in keeping it that way?
Pride, Inc., has demonstrated that it can get young people to work together constructively. It may even be able to help them think constructively. But it certainly can't do that job alone.
It needs help from schools and religious institutions, but most of all it needs help from constructive home environments.
And on that point, inner city and suburbia can shake hands. Inadequate home environment is a problem both must face.
Regardless of what you may have read here yesterday, the word "public" is not spelled "puplic." The careless fellow who sets the type for this column is getting more undependable with every passing day.