Monday, November 28, 2011

The generation gap and reinventing bob-a-job week

I have long worried that older people find children and adolescents threatening. Given that a recent survey found 44 per cent of adults agreeing with the proposition that young people are becoming feral, it seems I have good cause.

In part this fear arises from a more general decline in community, but I suspect it also a result of our enthusiasm for segregating the generations. And advanced opinion generally wants to increase that segregation by further raising the school leaving age and sending more teenagers to university.

If this analysis is right then most of the remedies suggested, whether liberal (more youth clubs) or punitive (youth curfews), may make things worse because they are based on the idea that it is a good thing to keep the generations apart.

But if the old fear the young because they do not meet them in normal social interactions, then increasing segregation will make them more fearful not less.

So I got to thinking about how we might get the old and young to meet again.

It would be a great if we could bring together youthful energy with older people’s need for help. This would enable the old to experience the young being helpful and do much to repair relations across the generation gap.

Of course, the scheme would have to be run by a respected organisation so that older people knew who they were letting into their homes and the youngsters had somewhere to turn if they were being exploited or were worried...

And before I knew it I had reinvented 'bob-a-job' week.

So I was pleased when I saw this story on BBC News last month:
Scouts are to volunteer their services in a dedicated UK week of action for the first time almost 20 years after "bob-a-job week" ended. 
The Scout Association is to launch Scout Community Week from 14-20 May next year, encouraging its members to do work to help their local community.
Except that it turned out that the Scout Association is not quite reinventing bob-a-job week. Instead, the report says:
Matt Rooney, head of Nottinghamshire Scouts, told BBC Breakfast that the new week of action would be different from the previous one, in that scouts would no longer go door-to-door offering to do work in return for a small donation. 
"It's not about rattling tins and brushing leaves off the neighbours driveway. It is about local communities working with the Scouts to decide on projects that they can do to make things better locally.
While having Scouts help in this way is an excellent thing, I doubt it will bring the generations together in the way that I would like to see.

So how do we do that?

Incidentally, I have never bought the idea that Scouting is a sinister, right-wing movement. That views misses the essential strangeness of Scouting. This is brought out in this passage from Tony Gould Inside Outsider: The Life and Times of Colin MacInnes from 1983:
Colin always defended the scouts against leftish accusations of incipient fascism and the like. How could be not be loyal when the "prophetic book" was none other than Cousin Roddy's Kim? 
He describes the ideology of the movement as "the weirdest blend of ritual, non-sectarian religiosity, nature and beast worship, and a passion for peoples (Red Indian, Australian aborigines, African tribesmen) whom Christian imperialism had tried for centuries to destroy." 
He makes a distinction between militarism - useless to deny, he argues, what it is for which the scout should chiefly "be prepared" - and the para-militarism of the Boys' Brigade. The true military heir to Baden Powell (he writes in 1961) is Dayan. Fascist and Communist countries alike usually end up suppressing the scouts.
MacInnes, the author of Absolute Beginners, is an impeccably left-wing figure, even if (as this passage hints) he was a kinsman of Rudyard Kipling, who gave the Scouting movement its mythology.

And even if you think Baden Powell would have liked, at least in certain moods, to have founded a paramilitary movement, it didn’t turn out like that. Here are Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy writing in their Goodnight Campers! The History of the British Holiday Camp in 1986:
When Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys was published in serial form groups of boys all over the country set up their own groups before any central organisation had been formed. 
Leslie Paul recalls how “With an astonishing perception they leapt at Scouting as at something for which they had been waiting, divining that this was a movement which took the side of the natural inquisitive, adventuring boy against the repressive schoolmaster, the moralising parson and the coddling parent. Before the leaders knew what was happening groups were springing up spontaneously and everywhere bands of boys, with bare knees, and armed with broomsticks, began foraging through the countryside.
It seems Baden-Powell was not so much scouting for boys as chasing after them.

But I repeat my question. If bob-a-job week does not bring the generations together, what will?

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