Activities and School Experience

It has come to be recognized that training of the mind is only one function of the high school now that it embraces such a large portion of the population many of whom are not interested in college entrance. Many of the interests of young people that cannot be met within the classroom can be met outside it in extracurricular activities. The school is recognizing its responsibility for broad training, for giving practical experience in leisure-time activities, and for extending the range of social participation and experience.

In recent years especially there has been considerable effort to get every youth to participate in a number of social activities, the assumption being that the more activities in which the young person engages, the richer his personal experience will be, and the more well-rounded his personality will become. There is considerable merit in this approach; too much introversion and too much isolation are not wholesome to the development of the person.

On the other hand, it is possible to influence the adolescent to participate so widely in numerous activities that he develops no core of interests, no integrated philosophy. He may even lose his power to discriminate and choose. Casual participation in many groups without deep loyalty to any one group does not necessarily broaden personality; it may make it shallow, superficial, and ineffective. The attempt to develop extroversion in the personalities of all individuals is absurd in any society with specialized functions. A cultivated introversion directed toward high purposes and well-selected goals may be creative and socially useful.

The good fellow, hale and well met, a stranger in no situation, is a personality type that has been too much overvalued in our highly competitive, economically motivated, businessoriented culture. The school has too often been inclined to try to stamp all youth with this pattern. It is time that the teacher recognize that a small group of like-minded individuals may share experiences that are more vital than any they will gain by promiscuous participation in an attempt to be friendly with everyone.

Actually, in a complex society no individual can participate in a large portion of existing activities and pursue those interests and values which for him will mean a creative, purposeful, and useful life. It is important that young people learn rather early to participate selectively in activities and interest groups that will help them achieve the values and purposes which for them are most meaningful. It is important, also, that they learn that there are many things in life that must be omitted in the interest of conserving time and energy and of escaping conflict. In a complex society no individual can find all groups compatible either in ideals, purposes, or goals. One must begin early to understand the things that must be left out in life, as well as the things that are to be retained. Personality integration can be achieved in a complex society only as the person establishes goals in his own mind, selects activities, and limits social participation in the light of these goals. Many of the struggles of young people are undoubtedly caused by their attempts to participate too widely, with resulting conflict, maladjustment, and loss of goals. Some of this disorganizing experience is necessary for those who have too narrow backgrounds, but even for these a reorientation about new goals eventually is essential.

Youth also must at some time in their development, if they are to reach maturity, come to appreciate that many customary norms practiced by large groups have no particular rationality; that a person who would realize his own highest interests must often stand out against these norms.

It is important that youth be taught sufficient breadth of activities and interests so that they will have an appreciation of work as well as leisure, of isolation and meditation as well as constant group activity, of rest as well as feverish activity, of
the greatness of nature as well as the brilliance of city lights. They must learn to get along alone as well as in the groups, to be happy in individual achievement as well as in cooperative group activities. Temperamental differences affect individual interests, but the development of a well-rounded, full life involves something of each of them.

The comparative difficulties in different environments of transition to the adult world in social experience must be faced by the school. These problems are decidedly different for rural, town, and city youth.

Organizational activities in the small-town and city school sometimes tend toward too great profusion during adolescence when elaborate extracurricular schedules fill up the students' time. The town adolescent frequently is so overloaded with extracurricular work that he has little time for home activities, and he is so overstimulated that he loses much of the sheer joy of social participation and becomes weary of many things because of an overenrichment of experience. The consolidated rural school, on the other hand, has difficulty in carrying on an extracurricular program because the farm adolescent has chores to do at home and finds it difficult to set aside practice periods for glee club, orchestra, band, football, or basketball. Busses start for home promptly at the close of the school day.

Town pupils feel that home duties that interfere with their participation in activities at school are unjust, whereas farm young people on the whole do not appear to question the priority of home responsibility but seem to enjoy much more than town young people their privilege of participation in extracurricular activities when given the opportunity. Even when the farm adolescent does participate in outside school programs, he usually participates in only one at a time; he cannot spare the time for more.

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