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?

1 comment:

  1. If you scratch the surface of the history of Scouting you get an idea that things used to be easier or better 'back then' but there was no perfect moment in the past we ought to return to, and there's no perfect moment in the future we will get to.
    Every Scouting organization in the world has been asking these questions for a century, they examine relevance and program delivery, making changes and adjustments.
    Local volunteers have always looked at the higher levels of organization with a good dose of skepticism. There have been heated issues and arguments throughout our history - they just don't get mentioned in the annual reports or official histories.
    It's not all that often that what happens on a national, regional, council or even a district basis has any real effect on what happens in your troop or redefines how you relate to Scouts, what Scouting means to them, or why they are involved.
    Scouts still think the same thoughts and have the same motivations for being Scouts as they did a century ago - just ask them. They say it differently.
    You ask if the B.S.A. really knows what it wants or why it matters but the B.S.A. is just an organizational entity, it's not a person that want's or thinks.
    The fact of the matter is that you and I are the B.S.A.. What we think of and want for our Scouts is what's important. You have a clear vision personally, you know what Scouting is, what it means and how to go about making it work.
    We all get a little frustrated with the seeming lack of direction and definition from organizations. But something has worked because you have caught a vision and you are making it happen.
    If you look closely enough you'll see that vision in the organization too, sure it's behind annual reports,studies, piles of paper and endless organizational tomfoolery - but it's there, and one way or another you caught it!