Now was my big moment.
Here I was, a new Senior Patrol Leader, formally opening my first Troop meeting. I had everything prepared – I was going to lead the opening recitation of the Scout Law and Oath; I would then make announcements; finally, I was going to give a rousing pep-talk. My inspirational mini-speech was going to set the tone for the whole meeting, and it was all going to go off without a hitch.
Boy was I wrong! No sooner than had I gotten started, one of the Scouts made a joke about something I had said. The whole Troop thought it was pretty funny. I did not; I tried to continue. Half the Scouts looked like they were more interested in something on the other side of the room; the other half looked like they were about to fall asleep.
I ended up cutting myself short and starting the meeting. The Scouts were only too glad to get out formation, and despite the specific directions I gave for what we were supposed to do, a sort-of chaos descended upon the room. I felt like I had failed. Instead of inspiring them to do awesome Scout stuff, it seems like they were more interested in chatting about Skyrim cheat codes or gossiping about other kids from school.
“I can’t do this!” I said to myself after the meeting was over. “Scouting was meant for boys who have initiative, a desire for adventure, and a strong character. How am I supposed to start when they’re mostly indifferent about our Scout meetings?”
It wasn’t long after that when I borrowed a biography from the library that I found particularly interesting…
In fact, I was reading about someone who faced the same struggles.
It was early in 1897, and the British officer, Baden-Powell, had just been transferred to command of the 5th Dragoon Guards stations in Meerut, India. He wasn’t exactly excited about this new command. The life he just left in South Africa was full of danger, scouting, adventure, and what he called “flannel shirt life”. These were the things he really enjoyed, and now he would have to settle in to a more regimental life.
Things might have been worse, but they certainly could be better! Baden-Powell was something of a visionary guy, and the new group of men under his command was quite a bit below what he hoped it would be. The men were a bit lacking in discipline; the instances of sickness and fever were many; and moral wasn’t very high. He described all the raw recruits shipped to his regiment from England as:
“without individuality or strength of character, utterly without resourcefulness, initiative or the guts for adventure.”
But he had a chance to make a difference now. Baden-Powell was the regimental commander! He could drill or train his men in pretty much any way that he wanted to. So instead of letting discouragement give him lead feet, he set about implementing his own very creative training methods. These involved training in small groups, practicing tracking and scouting, participating in competitions, awarding proficiency badges, and etc.
If all these training methods sound a bit familiar, it’s because these were among the methods that Baden-Powell refined with much experimentation and eventually incorporated into ‘Scouting for Boys’.
Meanwhile in Britain, many leaders at the time were becoming very concerned with the physical, mental, and moral strength of their youth. For a variety of sociological reasons, many boys at that time were not being raised into men of character and health in mind and body. After his military life was over, Baden-Powell found that the same principles and methods he developed on the young, green recruits had the same effect when boys back home started to apply them. One thing led to another, and the Scouting movement was born, was refined, and was spread across the globe at a rocket’s speed.
Scouting was developed as a response to a problem.
Baden-Powell was coming up with a system of training that would be enjoyable and build the character of the listless young recruits from England. While he was doing that, organizations for boys were springing up in England and America. Some focused on military-esque drills, some were set in the outdoors and modeled after the skills of the native Americans. They were all run by leaders and far-sighted men in society who saw a problem with the lack of character training in young men.
Scouting was specifically designed to help remedy this problem, and it was proven to be a very effective solution. Over time, though, Scouting became so big and such an institution that many people came to look at some of the incidences of Scouting as if they were Scouting itself. Some people looked at Scouting as simply a leadership school for young men. Some made Scouting synonymous in their minds with a particular Scouting organization. Some came to the conclusion that Scouting was simply a way to go camping and spend time in the outdoors.
All of these are a part of Scouting, but they aren’t Scouting. Scouting is a framework made of a set of core principles and methods all working together. If any of the things listed above had been introduced by themselves (some of them actually were), they never would’ve had the impact that Scouting had. This is because the different parts of the framework of Scouting are all logically interconnected and build upon each other.
Scouting today has reached a critical point. A lot of people are starting to think hard about Scouting and what it means, whether it’s relevant, and what it should look like. Decisions have to be made right now about how we’re going to define Scouting for this generation.
We need a new (old) solution to our new (0ld) problems.
When I was a new Senior Patrol Leader and was reading that biography of Baden-Powell, I came to realize that I was facing the exact same problem he was facing. His men were unhealthy, lacked initiative and had an all-around lack of good personal character. What is our problem these days? Obesity among young people is reaching new highs, boys aren’t taking initiative in preparing for adult life, and the news is ever there to remind us of the how much our culture lacks men of character.
In other words, the framework of Scouting was built to answer the problems we are facing right here, right now. But the framework is now hidden in plain sight. It’s reached obscurity through popularity. The majority of Scouts and Scouters were never taught this framework and how it works. Instead, they simply follow traditions and precedents in their Troop or just ‘wing it’ on their own to greater or lesser success.
So this is the big idea of Scouting Rediscovered – let’s take the spotlight off all of the stuff Scouting has become (both good and bad), and let’s put that spotlight back on the core framework of Scouting. It’s worked before, and it’s working right now in many Scout groups where it’s being deliberately applied.
That’s the message I want to spread, and I’m starting with this series: “Traditional Scouting 101”. Over the course of time, I’ll will be sharing everything I’ve learned about this Scouting framework in a straight-forward and condensed format. The purpose is to spark conversation and gauge how much this resonates with other Scouters.
Over the course of the last few years of writing this blog, I’ve talked with many Scouters from around the world. I believe that now is the right time for this message.
If you agree, share this message with Scouts and Scouters you know. The best way is to bring up the conversation and talk about it face-to-face, you can also share this blog with them and/or point them to another one of the great blogs/resources on this topic.
Thank you for reading this article; I’m excited to hear your feedback, and I’ll see you in the next article!