Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Thoughts on the uniform

I recently came across an old article on the Bryan on Scouting blog about a troop that "allows its Scouts to wear any kind of pants or shorts they want with their uniform shirt." The reason for this is that they serve low income youth who often feel like they can't afford the pants. "These Scouts are only required to wear the official field uniform shirt and troop neckerchief."

Many of the Scouts in this troop also wear campaign hats. "How do they afford them? The Stratton hat company gave them “quite a deal” to buy the hats" the article states. 

This article, and the accompanying comments, got me thinking about Scout uniforms and I decided to post my thoughts here.

First, let's take a look at BSA policy on the uniforms. The Guide to Awards and Insignia is the place to go for questions about the uniform. On Page 5, the section titled "official policy" says: "While wearing the uniform is not mandatory, it is highly encouraged. The leaders of Scouting— both volunteer and professional—promote the wearing of the correct complete uniform on all suitable occasions."

So, it's the responsibility of Scout leaders to encourage Scouts to wear the complete uniform. 

Page 7 of the Guide to Awards and Insignia has this paragraph: "No alteration of, or additions to, the official uniforms, as described in the official guidelines or the Rules and Regulations covering the wearing of the uniform and the proper combinations thereof on official occasions, may be authorized by any Scouting official or local council."

In other words, no Scout leader has the authority to tell his or her Scouts that anything other than the full uniform is a correct uniform. This is explained further in the Cub Scout Leader Book under the section on uniforms: "The entire uniform should be worn or not at all. The pack does not have the authority to make changes to the uniform."

I have heard many people say that, because the want to relieve a financial burden from their families, they made a decision to have their pack's uniform be just the shirt. I know one Scout leader who actually asked his Cub Scouts not to wear the uniform pants because not everyone has them and, in an effort to be "uniform" would rather have everyone in jeans. 

These well meaning leaders are wrong. Sorry. 

I understand the desire to reduce the financial burden for youth who want to be in Scouting. I have five people in my family to try to outfit with uniforms and it can get pricey. But those are the rules and a Scout is Obedient. 

The other issue in the article that really caught my attention was the bit about the campaign hats, and the line that "the Stratton hat company gave them "quite a deal" to buy the hats."

The problem I see is that the Stratton hat company doesn't make official BSA uniform hats. The official hats come through the official Scout Shop and are manufactured by Stetson.

Early on in my Scouting experience I decided I wanted a campaign hat, but thought the official one was too expensive. I did some looking online and found one that looked the same but cost less than half as much. I ordered it and then bought an official BSA hat band and hat pin to make it look official. "Nobody will know the difference," I thought. 

A few years later I heard someone explaining how they saved money on a Scout shirt by buying a similar looking shirt from Wal-mart and putting all the right patches on. It's a lot cheaper that way, they reasoned. I felt like that approach was not honest because they were trying to pass off an imitation as the real thing. Then I realized I was doing the same thing with my campaign hat. So, I stopped wearing it, saved my pennies, and bought the real thing. 

When I taught Cub Scout leader training a few years ago I came up with what I called:
A Plan to Implement Proper Uniforming.

Step 1 - Cheerfully model the correct uniform.
Adults must set the example they want their Scouts to follow, and they have to do it cheerfully. 

Step 2 - Teach Scouts and parents what the correct uniform is and when to wear it. 
There could be lots of ways of doing this. In our new pack, the information packet we give to new families covers this topic. We also have a science fair-type display describing the correct uniform we put up at every pack meeting. Uniform inspections could be another tool to help teach the correct uniform.

Step 3 -  Teach Scouts and parents to follow the Cub Scout motto in wearing the uniform: "Do your best."
There are always going to be concerns about how expensive the uniform is. Teach them to "do your best." Their best might include having the Scout do extra work to earn the uniform. This also helps teach the value of being Thrifty.

Step 4 - Accept Scout's and parents' best efforts to wear the uniform. 
If a Scout comes without a uniform, what do you do? Be glad they are there at all. Official policy is clear: wearing the uniform is not mandatory.
If a Scout comes with just a BSA shirt, what do you do? Compliment them on how good they look in that shirt. Maybe that contradicts the "all or nothing" rule, but I'm not comfortable telling a Scout to change his shirt because he doesn't have the right pants, socks, and belt to go with it. And I think it would do more harm than good.

One final thought on uniforms.

My biggest pet peeve is when people referring to the official uniform as a "Class A" uniform and something else as a "Class B" uniform. Sorry, but those designations don't appear anywhere in the Guide to Awards and Insignia, or any official handbook or leader book. There is no such thing as a Class A or Class B uniform. There is the official uniform and everything else that is not the official uniform. What most people refer to as a Class B uniform is more properly described as an "activity shirt."

Monday, October 28, 2019

A New Beginning

I haven't actively posted on this blog in a long time. There are lots of reasons for that, but I'm not going to go into those.

I'm now a Cubmaster. My wife and I started a new family pack in our area, serving both boys and girls. So far, our daughters are the only girls, and we need a lot more families to get involved, but we're official.

I hope to post more as we get going.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A change of attitude

Last weekend my wife and I attended our council's University of Scouting event. We were there to take classes to learn what we need to know to start a new family pack in our area. It was mostly a good day.

I say mostly because there was one major frustration. Over and over again we heard complaints and gripes about how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do Scouting all wrong: We don't get trained and do stupid stuff, resulting in excessive insurance claims. We don't get parents involved in the committees, so important stuff doesn't happen. We don't tell Scout leaders what their job is when they are called so they don't even know what they're supposed to do. And on, and on, and on.

It was exhausting.

Look, I get it. I've been involved in Scouting in the Church for over 10 years. I've been a young men's president, and a bishop. I've taught basic training for nearly every program. I've helped with roundtable. I've been on stake Scouting committees. I've been there. And if you look at past posts on this blog you'll see I've contributed my fair share of gripes and complaints about Scouters in the Church not doing it "right."

That's when it hit me. The thing that I found so exhausting that day was something I have done myself for a decade.

Well, I'm tired of it and I'm going to make a change. And I'm going to start by saying I'm sorry to those who have been worn out hearing my complaints.

I'm going to try to approach things differently. When I look back on the 100+ year history of the Church and the BSA I am filled with gratitude for that partnership. It would be impossible to say what either organization would look like today had that partnership not happened. The fact is that both organizations are what they are today, at least in part, because of that relationship.

Just look at how many millions of members of the Church have been influenced by Scouting, either as a youth or because they were asked to help as a leader. Or think of the contributions the Church has made to the BSA, among them:

  • The chartered organization structure (read more about that, here.)
  • The push for women to be leaders for Cub Scouts (read about Lavern Watts Parmley, here.)
  • The involvement in creating both Varsity Scouting and Venturing
So, to the Church as a whole, I want to say thank you, for using the programs of the Boy Scouts of America for over 100 years to help millions of boys. To the BSA, I want to say thank you, for allowing such a close relationship to flourish.

Most importantly, to all the Scouters in the Church (past and present) I want to say, thank you for giving your time, talents, energy, and resources to help boys and young men. Thank you for doing what you have. For those currently serving, thank you for doing all that you can. And if there is anything I can offer to help you improve your service, I want to help.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

On this date...

Today is the day my Wood Badge course should have started.

For those who may not be familiar, in order for a Wood Badge course to go forward, there must be a minimum of 30 registered participants by 30 days before the course.

We didn't get 30.

We didn't get 20.

We didn't get 10.

We had 4.

And now, instead of sitting through an inspiring presentation on Values, Mission, and Vision, I am sitting at my computer thinking about what might have been.

In many ways it would be easy to try to lash out and blame other people. And, if I'm being perfectly honest, there are times when those feelings try to come out. But the thing that bothers me the most is the thought that maybe it's my own fault it didn't happen.

I know there are things I probably could have done differently. There are things I didn't do very well. I feel like the entire time I spent as a course director prominently displayed my own weaknesses more than anything else.

People have tried to tell me that it's not my fault, that I did everything I could have. I certainly tried. But still, I wonder. If I had done this differently, or tried that instead, maybe it would have made a difference. Or maybe it wouldn't have. The terrible thing is that I will never really know.

I am disappointed. There were lots of little things that I really wanted to try. From the content of the Gilwell Gazette, to the theme for our Blue and Gold Banquet, to the way we were going to handle the outdoor experience on the second weekend, there were lots of little details that I think would have made our course awesome.

I also feel a little guilty. I spent nearly a year and a half of my life working to make Wood Badge happen, and I have nothing to show for it. I won't be getting a fourth bead. I won't get a certificate that says "Wood Badge Course Director." My course number, burned into my memory, means nothing. And I feel guilty for thinking about these things because I know that conducting a Wood Badge course isn't for me. It's not so I can get another bead to hang around my neck.

Some time last winter I had what I thought was an inspired vision for my course. I had the strongest feeling that gave me a definite picture of future success. I felt like if we could get this course to happen, we would be re-charging, in a sense, the Scouting program in my area. I was certain that participants from my course would be transformed into the next generation of leaders who would continue to carry Scouting (and Wood Badge) forward in my area for the next 10 or 15 years.

But I don't have any participants. I don't have a course to provide training and inspiration to them that will change their lives and the lives of the youth they serve. And I don't know what the future holds.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Scouting

I wasn't sure if I was going to post a blog about this or not, but I keep hearing things that bother me just enough that I decided to do it.

As you know, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that, on 31 December 2019, the church will "conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world."

To be honest, this announcement hurt a little. And not just because I had just barely finished talking to a group of bishops to recruit for an upcoming Wood Badge course, of which I am the course director. 

But this post is not intended to be about what bothers me about the announcement. Rather, this post is intended to be about what bothers me relative to people's reactions to the announcement.

The first thing I saw in my area was that people just gave up on Scouting. In effect, they have said, "the Church is done anyway, so I don't have to do it anymore." I have heard from several people that Scouting has simply died in their wards and stakes; people have just stopped doing it. This year, the Utah National Parks Council offered 9 Wood Badge courses. As of today, 3 of them have been cancelled due to lack of participants, and we're on track to cancel two or three more of them, including mine. I even heard of one boy that expressed the thought that "now I don't have to earn my eagle."

On the off chance that anyone reading this has decided to give up on Scouting now, let me highlight a line from the Church announcement. 
"Until [December 31, 2019], the intention of the Church is to remain a fully engaged partner in Scouting for boys and young men ages 8–13. All youth, families and leaders are encouraged to continue their active participation and financial support of Scouting until that date."
The direction we have been given by the Church is to continue Scouting right up to the end. Not to give up early, but to keep going. Besides, if you stop Scouting now, what are you replacing it with? The Church hasn't released their new program yet.

The other thing that really, really bothers me is what I hear people say about why the Church is ending it's chartered relationship with Scouting. I overheard someone just today trying to explain the Church's action by saying it's because the BSA is allowing "the gays" and now girls into their ranks.

First of all, the decision to allow gay Scouts and leaders was made several years ago. Given the chartered organization structure, where the Church could still choose it's own leaders, those decisions had basically no effect on Church-sponsored Scouting. The Church didn't leave then, it doesn't make sense that this would factor into it now.

As for the issue with girls.... I'm not even sure where to begin with this. Let me just say that having seen the value of Scouting for boys, why in the world would I not want that for my daughters? (My daughter is now a Cub Scout and loving every minute of it!)

So, if it's not about "the gays and the girls," why is the Church stopping it's association? Let's go to the FAQ page included with the announcement:
1. Why is the Church changing its children and youth programs?
Over the past several years, the Church has been conducting an extensive review of all existing children and youth activities and personal development programs. As a global church with millions of children and youth, we need to address diverse needs and fortify all children and youth with gospel-centered growth and learning experiences now more than ever.
The reason's given are about helping all youth, worldwide. We belong to a global church, and it seems there is a desire to emphasize that global nature and see each other as One (We also see this with the new global hymn books under development).

(As an aside, please note that the change is going to affect all of the Church's youth programs, including Activity Days and Personal Progress for the girls. And yet I haven't heard any speculation about why those are going away....)

After a recent discussion with someone about these very issues, I heard them say something to the effect of "yeah, but you know they had some other conversations behind closed doors," the clear implication being that the "real" reason for leaving Scouting is because of "the gays and the girls."

In other words, you think our Church leaders are lying to us? You think they just made up these other reasons because they didn't want to say what they really thought? Perhaps they were afraid to condemn what you apparently see as unacceptable behavior? Absolutely ridiculous, I say!

Consider this statement from President Dallin H. Oaks:
“In a 1988 interview … I explained my attitude toward attempts to supply mortal reasons for divine revelation: 
“‘If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, “Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,” you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We [mortals] can put reasons to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to the [revelation] … , and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. … I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.’ 
“‘… The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. … Let’s don’t make the mistake that’s been made in the past, … trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies’” (Life’s Lessons Learned[2011], 68–69).
I will argue that anyone attempting to speculate about the Church's reasons for leaving Scouting are making a mistake and will turn out to be "spectacularly wrong." The Church has given a reason. And it's a good one. Let's just stick to that, shall we.

But just in case we can't, consider this from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in his speech at the BSA National Annual Meeting this year.  (Note: these are notes that someone took from his talk, and may not necessarily be direct quotes. They were originally published on the LDS-BSA relationships blog):
“Collectively and individually we are invested in this. My boys are Eagle Scouts and my grandsons are Eagle Scouts. There has been considerable anguish at the highest levels of the Church as we have made this decision. But we hope there can be comfort and understanding as we move forward.”
“This isn’t a divorce. This is sending kids off to college, in Stockholm and Johannesburg and all around the world. Right now in the Church there are 4.5 million young people. We have a very large responsibility to a very large Church and it’s getting larger. That’s the arena and the growth that we’re facing. We are obligated for all the right reasons to intentionally reach them around the world.”
“Please know how grateful we are to the BSA. We are friends now and we will be friends forever. In 18 months when our charters are finished, we hope that many LDS youth who wish to do so will still choose to be in Scouting. It is just the charter part that we are separating from. We’re going to stay in close contact. And we are locked arm in arm and hand in hand for the next 18 months. Please keep your shoulder to the wheel. Let me stress again, ‘This isn’t a divorce.’ It’s growth. We’re not in any way disavowing any of those virtues of Scouting. This is about children. We hope that you keep serving. Let me say it again, ‘Keep Serving.’”