the left’s contribution to the post-Albemarle discussion on youth work has not been particularly impressive. Sneers at youth club members and “grammar schoolites” (from Roy Kerridge in the New Statesman) and the vision of “a society by the young consumer for the young consumer” (outlined by Ray Gosling in his Young Fabian pamphlet Lady Albemarle’s Boys) seem to represent the average level of its ideas. Deep and creative thinking about all that working with youth involves has been conspicuously lacking.
For the youth worker in general, this is very disappointing. Merely to dispense packaged entertainment seems to him a poor aim to set youth work as long as there is the opportunity to challenge emerging, uncommitted personalities with new ideas, new experiences and a new view of themselves; the need to offer these opportunities if full maturity is to be reached; and the demand for them from the young people themselves.
But, for the youth worker calling himself a socialist, the disappointment goes further. For much Left-wing writing seems to assume that, in planning youth work, the starting point is society as it is and not the possibility of evolving a superior social organisation, and that young people can in the long run be attracted by such pessimism and lack of vision. Cannot the purpose and methods and organisation of youth work be related more closely to socialist principles?
The trouble is that the Left, in its thinking on young people, is in a dilemma. It justifiably feels that it must defend the modern generation, at worst merely to frustrate the flog-’em school, at best because it accepts that young people cannot be blamed for a world created by their elders.
But, having reached this point of sympathy, the Left often then goes on to try to accommodate all that “modern youth” implies. This is denied, of course. Mr. Gosling, for example, rejects any suggestion of “the juke-box c/o the Ministry of Education”. Yet he still ends up with his “club for the ordinary consumer”, by implication thus accepting the unflattering commercial image of young poeple and what they are capable of. No wonder he pleased the Bow Group!
It is of course undeniable that many current habits and fashions must be accommodated. The whole atmosphere of the young person’s life has changed in the last generation and, if youth workers are not to reject a large majority of today’s teenagers, they cannot just ignore “teenage culture”—Tin Pan Alley, Marty and the rest.
But, though the best youth leaders have long known this, they have needed much more positive inspiration to keep them in youth work, especially during the depressing years of the fifties. They may have expressed themselves badly or, more commonly, remained silent. Their ideas may have been misinterpreted. They may at times have been mistaken and the Left in particular may wish to disassociate itself from some of their views. What cannot be ignored, however, is that they have survived mainly because they have felt that there are values to which it is worth holding and introducing young people. This determination not to have their ultimate purpose reduced has undoubtedly often led to their being misunderstood.