Thursday, March 31, 2011

What's The Matter with Jane?

In 1920 an editorial “The Matter with Jane” appeared in the New York Times. Jane had problems—oh boy did she ever—Jane was a teenager. We now call this Adolescence and recognize it as a distinct developmental stage—though, at the time was still a relatively new idea, being coined only 16 years earlier.  Thanks to child labor laws and public schooling, kids were finally able to enjoy a longer period of dependence between childhood and adulthood.  Surliness was also invented around this time.

Like all things we do not understand, it was a problem. Adolescence is, of course, impossible to understand by anyone who has survived it thanks to our human nature to repress traumatic memories.

The concerns that parents had for their girls in 1920 are the same as today, with a quaint Victorian twist. Instead of monitoring the dangers of the internet, Jane’s father is worried that his daughter is spending too much time at the movies or reading romance novels. Jane’s mother wrings her hands that her daughter is becoming “self-conscious and vain”. Problems by definition have solutions.

The solution to the problem of Solitary Jane the Adolescent—in whom the biblical battle of good vs. evil rages—is Girl Scouts.  There, Jane would learn outdoor skills through hiking, camping, swimming and woodcraft.  The Girl Scouts would teach her that “her young body is to be used instead of decorated” or “The kindergarten in the great school of citizenship through service”.

The writer lamented that 4,000 girls a month were being turned away from membership because of lack of volunteers; being turned away from the one organization that could save them from their ‘problem’.
In 2010 there was still a problem with Jane—though this time it is high school drop out rates, teen pregnancy.  The modern solution is Girl Scouts, still, but this time around Girl Scouts is rebranding itself as the trendy “Gamma Sigma” to get away from the ‘old-fashioned’ program of hiking, camping and crafts.  “Traditional badges are out.  Gamma Sigma will have speakers, workshops and experiences intended to bolster girls’ self-esteem and decision-making”.

Juliette Gordon Low first brought girls outdoors to help them learn to trust themselves as independent, powerful, resourceful citizens. Girl Scouts has never been intended as only a training ground for park rangers or river guides. Taking girls into the outdoors was also never meant to simply remove the girls from the problem (modern society). Outdoor education removes the problem (self-consciousness, vanity, lack of courage) from the girl. The lessons learned through pioneering and camping were meant to inspire in the girls a sense of comeradere and teamwork—a Can Do attitude. Camping teaches girls that they are powerful and influential human beings, despite being adolescent.

The solution to the problem with Jane is still outdoor education.  The solution is still to give Jane the tools to control her own destiny, even if it is only for one weekend in the woods, so that she will have the confidence to face any challenge in her life with determination.

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