Thursday, February 28, 2013


In the beginning, there were two things that drew a boy to Scouting. One was the adventure and fun activities involved. The other was the romantic idea of being a real man--a Scout. When I read Baden-Powell's works it seems to me that he was intent on taking the lowest, meanest, roughest boys, giving them an ideal to achieve and telling them the way they could be that person was by living the life of a Scout, both through outdoors activities and through appropriate behaviors. It was a game to boys to pretend they were real men, doing the things real men do. It was all a game, but in the process they actually became the men they were pretending to be.

Baden-Powell once expressed the idea in an illustration containing the caption, "the scoutmaster's conjuring trick":

I sometimes think that we have lost the romantic appeal to Scouting. We still have the fun outdoors activities and the values, but do we still have the ideal of a real man?

Part of the reason I think we have lost the romantic ideal is simply that the world is different. When Baden-Powell started Scouting he was a national hero. His leadership during the siege of Mafeking was the one bright spot the British had during the Boer war. Boys across the British empire wanted to be a Scout. They devoured B-P's book, Aids to Scouting. They enjoyed, of course, the kinds of things the book contained, but they also wanted to be the kind of man the book was trying to build. There was a certain amount of hero worship involved in a boy wanting to join Scouting.

We don't have that anymore. What do our boys want to become? Why do they join Scouting? I think most of our boys are in involved either because they like the activities we do, or they want to earn the Eagle award (sometimes it's not the boy but his mother who wants those things). Those are good reasons, and they can still gain a lot from Scouting, but I'm wondering if that's actually enough.

We have the values contained in the Scout Oath and Law, but do they really mean anything unless they are inseparably bound with the romantic ideal of what it means to be a Scout? At every meeting we stand up and say "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful,...etc." but what does that mean unless we understand what a Scout really is?

Why does it matter if I am trustworthy? Do we do it just because it's the rule? Is it one of our values because it makes our world simpler and easier if we can trust each other? Those are okay, but contrast that with the attitude of "I am trustworthy because I want to be a Scout." That carries with it the understanding that a Scout has his entire patrol and troop, and indeed, the entire army depending on him. If a Scout doesn't keep his word with exactness, or if he fails to accomplish a task with which he has been entrusted, lives could be lost. Therefore, "because I want to be a Scout, I am going to be trustworthy." Can you see the difference?

Right now we have lots of people who want to be involved in Scouting because of the activities, the awards, the social aspects, or for some other good and admirable reason. However, there are those who want these things but don't think the values are that important. Why do I have to believe in God? What does it matter if I'm "morally straight." Well, if all you're concerned with is the activities, the friendships, or an award to hang on your chest, then maybe those don't matter. But if you are trying to become something more than who you currently are, then those are vital.

This is an issue that I think the BSA really needs to address. What is the romantic ideal we are encouraging? Do we have one? In a way it's related to Vision and Mission. I know the BSA has a mission statement and a vision statement. They involve the ideas of responsible citizenship, leadership, and ethical and moral choices. Those are great ideas, but what does it really look like? Why are ethical and moral choices essential for citizenship and leadership? Are they essential? And why do we care about it? What are we trying to become? Where are the heroes?

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my views on Scouting are tied directly to my views on the gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, the romantic ideal of a Scout that Baden-Powell used is a metaphor for something even higher, nobler, and more divine. It is a metaphor for the kind of life God wants his children to live. As such, I know the ideal I want my boys aiming for, and I believe Scouting can help them get there. The question is, does the BSA really know what it wants for America's youth? Does the BSA know why it matters?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How's this for a wild idea?

I have a really crazy idea. It has been floating somewhere in my mind for over a year now. I've thought several times about posting it here but for some reason I haven't. Maybe it's because things have slowed down for me (Scouting-wise) that I finally decided to do it.

Keep in mind this is just an idea. I'm not suggesting we actually do this, or that it will ever happen. It's just an idea. However, I think it has some merit (as well as a few flaws).

Essentially, my idea is a complete restructuring of the advancement picture. I'll get to the details in a moment, but if this idea were to be implemented, it could be the biggest change to Boy Scout advancement since... well, since the founding of the BSA.

The Inspiration
Before I get into the details, let me explain some of the inspiration for this idea. Some of it comes from the largely non-linear advancement structure of the Venturing program. (See this post to see what I mean.) Part of my idea would be to re-structure Boy Scout advancement to use this idea.

Another inspiration for me was Robert Baden-Powell's initial idea for advancement. If my memory is correct, he had only two ranks--Second class and First class. Anyone who had not yet passed the second class test was considered a Tenderfoot and not a true scout.

A third inspiration for this idea was the original structure of advancement for the BSA. In 1911, the star, life, and eagle awards were not ranks. They were awards for earning merit badges. Furthermore, a boy could earn Eagle without ever earning Star and Life, depending on which merit badges he chose to earn.

Another inspiration is the idea expressed in this post on the Scoutmaster Minute blog, about getting all scouts to First Class, not necessarily Eagle.

The Idea
By now, you're probably getting some idea of what I have in mind. I would take Star, Life, and Eagle and change them from ranks back to awards. Since these would not be ranks, the award would be changed from a patch (for star and life) to a medal. We'd also have to eliminate the Eagle patch, keeping just the medal.

suggested Star, Life, and Eagle medals

I would keep the linear structure of the lower ranks, but I'd eliminate the Scout badge. I would make Tenderfoot the "joining" rank and spread the current tenderfoot requirements across the second and first class ranks. That would make First Class the highest rank in Boy Scouts:

I would then eliminate the linear structure for the higher awards. I would make Star, Life, and Eagle be more like the Venturing awards in that a boy could work on any one he wanted, based on his interests. That would mean each one would have a specific focus. This would require changes in requirements and I haven't worked those out because this isn't a serious proposal--it's just an idea.

In 1911, the Life badge was focused on "life." In order to earn it, he had to earn five specific merit badges, each relating to life: First Aid, Athletics, Lifesaving, Personal Health, and Public Health. I would keep this same idea for the Life award. It could be an award for earning merit badges in the area of health, medicine, lifesaving, etc. It would be an award option available to those boys interested in the health and medical field.

The Star award, I think, could be made to serve those boys with interests in the sciences. Merit badges could include those like environmental science, chemistry, astronomy, nature, etc. Actually, there is a possibility of separating the physical and natural sciences/conservation and making two awards (star and ???)

Speaking of additional awards... there could be several. They could be modeled after the Venturing program's areas of outdoors, sports and fitness, arts and hobbies, and religious life, or they could be developed specifically to address any grouping of similar merit badges (business and trades, communications, citizenship, etc.) or both. The awards would require a boy earn from 5-10(?) merit badges for each, with the possibility of some additional tenure, service, leadership, or practical experience requirement)

Of course, the Eagle award would have to maintain it's place as the highest award available to Boy Scouts. It's always been that way and it should stay that way. I would suggest that Eagle maintain it's list of required merit badges, leadership, and service requirements (except the time of service would be counted "as a First Class scout" rather than "as a Life scout"). I would maintain the Eagle as an award for "the all-round perfect scout" as it was described in the 1911 handbook.

My overall advancement scheme would look something like this:
Notice that the first three ranks would be linear. A boy would progress from a Tenderfoot upon Joining to a Second Class Scout to a First Class Scout. Any First Class scout could then be eligible to work on any of the awards he wanted, according to his interests. Even after earning Eagle, a boy could continue to work on one of the other awards, again, according to his interests.

The Consequences
If you have gotten all the way to here, chances are you've asked some form of the question "why should we do this?" Well, I'm not really suggesting that we should. It's just a wild idea I had. I would like to pose another question, however. What would happen if we did change the Boy Scout advancement to something like this?

I think we would lessen the obsession some people have with advancement. You've probably met those who see advancement as the end goal of Scouting rather than one of the methods. The structure I outlined here would maintain advancement as an important method but might lessen the possibility of obsessing over advancement to the detriment of other methods. 

It would do this in a couple ways. First, by making First Class the highest rank, and having several awards essentially on the same level, it could shift the focus from earning Eagle, to helping boys learn the skills they need to make it to First Class.

Second, since the awards structure at the top isn't linear, a boy isn't finished once he earns Eagle. He can continue working on something else. It emphasizes that the journey isn't over--that there is more to do and more to learn.

Another effect to this type of structure would be to enhance and extend the effect of earning merit badges. One of the purposes of merit badges is to introduce boys to interests and career opportunities. If a boy works on a merit badge and decides he likes that general field, having another, higher award related to it could encourage him to pursue it further. I think it could put the emphasis on learning rather than on earning.

It could also help maintain the interest of older boys, either by giving them something cool to work on after Eagle, and/or by helping them find career interests.

Of course, it's entirely possible that none of those things would happen. Maybe this idea would be a complete flop. What do you think?