Traditional Scouting in a Postmodern World

[N.B. This is a long post; roughly 2k words. However, I feel that it is one of the most important I have ever written. Please look at it when you have time to sit down and read it through. I don’t think you will regret the time spent!]

A Time When a Movement is Called to Decide

The Scout OathThe world is constantly changing. Ideas grow old; some die and are replaced with new ones. Cultures bend and grow and become something new and unrecognizable. In the midst of this tossing sea of people and ideas, there stands the greatest and largest youth movement in the history of the world. This is Scouting.

Scouting is old now, by cultural standards. Yet it still impacts the lives of many young people in a very strong way. Those of us in the movement continue to witness this first-hand. However, many are starting to ask questions about the Scouting Program’s place in the modern world. They are concerned about the old Program’s ability to do good in a postmodern culture. With a few exceptions, the Scouting Program we have today is relatively similar to the one that existed at its foundation.

What about technology? Why is there a decline in membership? What about modern entertainment? Why are there less boys interested in the outdoors? What about minorities who seem to have no interest in Scouting? What about the lack of interest in rank advancement? These and many more questions raised by our current culture are very important questions. Enough people are asking them now that a collective decision has to be made in the Scouting Movement. Our predecessors had to make similar decisions in the past. Make no mistake, the way we answer will shape the next generation of Scouting for better or worse.

It is becoming more and more evident that the Scouting Movement is at a point where it needs to decide how to respond to cultural changes.

The Reason It All Started

In order to know what changes might be needed, we need to thoroughly understand what it is that we would be changing from, and why it was set up that way.

You see, Scouting was successful: ridiculously successful! It spread so far and so fast that it was beyond anyone’s expectation or imagination. Nothing spreads like that unless it fills a real, widespread need. Scouting addressed a need that world had scratched it’s head over for centuries.

Learning Scout KnotsSpecifically, the intent of its founders was to address certain cultural deficiencies. The youth of Britain were not being properly trained. The industrial revolution made everyone and their brother busy. People wondered where the youth should fit in. Sometimes, they were just put to work as early as possible. Mostly, they were stuck in schools to educate and take care of them while the adults were busy building the outside world.

What happened was predictable in hindsight. Character training was often overlooked. Youth were unsure of their role in society. With parents constantly busy and preoccupied, they would form gangs and get into mischief when not in school. Boys were not being helped or guided by the society around them in their development toward manhood.

A solution (though not a cure!) was discovered almost accidentally in the form of Scouting. True adventure and training in self-reliance can be found in the wilderness. Leadership, responsibility, teamwork, and comradeship can be found in the Patrol System. Morals, self-improvement, a desire to help others, and a real societal value is fostered through service to the community and adherence to the Scout Oath and Law. Scouting inspired boys with a healthy ambition and desire to explore new things and do real good in the world.

Like most movements which are massively successful, Scouting fulfilled a vital and widespread need. The urgency of this need may have ebbed and flowed across different cultural changes, but it is just as present today as it was when Scouting was founded. The Scouting Program, at its essence, provides an environment for boys to grow into strong men. This environment is both outdoor and hands-on adventure and exploration through the Patrol System and guided by the morals of the Scout Oath and Law.

A Time When Things Are Different?

Early Scout Blanket PacksThe world of today looks so different than the world of 1910. We have cars and a busy urban life. Close communities have become smaller or disappeared altogether. The generational gap is bigger than it ever has been. We are plugged into media for a large portion of the day. Video Games are huge. Camping is now thought of as a casual activity that college-kids can do on a partying weekend.

Is it really time for Scouting to come up with a better solution for today’s youngsters than the traditional Scouting Program? Some argue that we need more focus on sports and technology and less on wilderness and camping. Others suggest we should have more cultural diversity training and less “God and Country”. Some profess the values of the Patrol System, but believe that it just won’t work very well with their Troop. In short, many Scouters say great things about traditional Scouting in general, but more and more are starting to believe that it just won’t work for their Troop for one reason or another.

For ScoutingRediscovered, I’ve done a lot of researching and reading about traditional Scouting. The more I’ve read, though, the more I’ve realized that some things weren’t so different as we might imagine. Take, for instance, this quote from Baden-Powell:

“I asked a Scoutmaster once, in a great city, how he managed his Saturday hikes, whether in the park or in the country? He did not have them at all. Why not? Because his boys did not care about them. They preferred to come into the meeting room on Saturday afternoons! Of course they preferred it, poor little beggars; they were accustomed to being indoors. But that is what we are out to prevent in the Scouts-our object is to wean them from indoors and to make the outdoors attractive to them.”

People talk as if all of the issues we have today are brand new. They really aren’t! The love of the wilderness is just one example. In my post series on the importance of the wilderness in Scouting, I came to the conclusion that the love of the wilderness is an acquired taste. While some boys will automatically fall in love with the outdoors, others have to be shown the wonders of the wilderness in time. They will see that, through skill and effort, camping without the comforts of civilization doesn’t have to be a torturous affair!

Now, I’m not saying that this isn’t harder today than it was in 1910. We are more accustomed to comfort and not having to do things for ourselves. This makes the task of instilling a love of the wilderness in Scouts more difficult. The thing is, though, that fundamentally boys haven’t changed. Boys today still love the challenge and adventure of surviving the backwoods. This love is just waring with the love of ease and comfort that we so effortlessly have today. I have seen this with my own eyes many times.

This was a long example, but please bear with me and the point I am trying to make. What I am finding over and over again is that the problems we think are unique to today’s society are really just variations or magnifications of the same old problems that Scouting’s founders saw in their own society. While culture may have changed, fundamentally boys have not changed. The definition of what it means to be a man has not changed either.

How Should We Respond?

When the farsighted men of 1910 saw a society where boys were not getting character training, where boys were stagnating indoors or causing trouble for lack of adventure, where boys were given little to no respect by society, then they created Scouting. They created the good old program of traditional Scouting with all it’s adventure, service, exploration, and camaraderie.

What about us? What do we do when we look around a see a society where boys are not getting good character training, where boys are glued to a TV or video game for lack of real adventure, where boys are considered incapable by society of doing anything without someone holding their hand? Do we give up because a postmodern society turns up the heat? Do we label the old program as failed because we have forgotten how to effectively implement it?

Scout HandbooksMany other Scouters around the nation will back me when I say that I have seen the good ol’ traditional Scouting Program change the lives of young men of all different types and backgrounds. It isn’t about numbers or budgets; it’s about what works. I can tell you assuredly that the traditional Scouting Program does indeed work! Over and over I have read, throughout the history of Scouting, of great men of character who gave all they had to serve others and make this world a better place. If you want men like that, then follow the path they left for us.

Now don’t get me wrong, this way of thinking isn’t some misguided call to go back to the original BSA 1911 handbook and follow it word-for-word. I have that handbook in front of me as I write this, and one of the requirements for First Class Scout is this:

“Advanced first aid: Know … how to help in case of runaway horse …”

This is quite humorous from the standpoint of today’s culture! Things such as this should obviously be updated to our current society. How about something like: “what to do in case of a downed power line”?

Care is needed when changing things, though. Little details which are updated do not change the Scouting Program. However, we must never feel like we need to change for the sake of change. Although culture may make it harder to implement, the Scouting Program is not broken. It still does great things today! No one should pressure us to change what we are doing!

Our new modern culture brings its own special challenges. Scouting should accept a changed culture as a challenge to implement it’s unique program in the best way, but the program itself is still relevant and should not change. Scouting should not accommodate it’s program to the weaknesses of the culture. The Scouting movement was meant to help raise a culture to a higher level. Scouts should continue to do this no matter what the challenges or oppositions are.

The only way the Scouting Movement will lose its relevance is by ceasing to strive for a higher standard. The aspects of the Scouting Program: the Patrol System, the Wilderness, the Service, the Morals, and the Adventure; are all things which will always have a innate attraction to boys. And they are all things which will help guide boys into a strong manhood. The culture may even try to diminish these things and seek to sell boys against them. But even if the job is harder and the movement grows smaller because of this, if Scouts stick to the real Program then the Scouting Movement will always be relevant and strongly impact the lives of many young men for the better.


The Scouting Movement is like a fruit tree. When it was first planted, it had the perfect soil, the perfect weather, and plenty of water. Consequently, it shot up like a rocket and started producing fruit like crazy! However, time brought changes. The soil became drier, and the weather became more harsh. The tree still produces excellent fruit, but the tree is weather-beaten and there is less fruit then before.

What should the care-takers of the tree do? Should they cut it down and plant a new one in it’s place? Absolutely not! The old one is strong and has deep roots; to cut it down would be to lose so much! It should be cared for and protected, so that it may weather the storm.

Forgive me if the analogy above sounded corny, but that is how I see the Scout Movement as it exists today. Scouting organizations are very important, culture is very important; but when it comes down to it, they are just a part of the weather. It is you, the ones who work directly with the Scouts, who are the care-takers of this movement, and it is you who will decide whether the old tree of the traditional Scouting program lives or dies.

If you have read this far, thank you very, very much for your time! If you resonated with this post, if you agreed with the message, please take a few seconds to share it with your Scouting friends! This is a topic vitally important to the future of the Scouting Movement!

If you like what you read here, and you want to hear more, subscribe via the email box in the sidebar, or follow on you preferred social media.

Thank you again for reading this post!

Scout On!

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Gwyn James

Superb article especially for the UK!! I have reposted in our local scouter,s web page and hoping you get more subscribers!


Thank you for the comment and share, Gwyn! It really is awesome how universally applicable the principles of Scouting are!

Mark West

Traditional Scouting works! ENDOFSTORY! And while most would say it fails to meet todays challenges, I think that it today is even MORE relevant and MORE suited for the modern world. We live in a world that does not allow Traditional Scouting to do it’s job. We must realize that we have become safety and risk management freaks, when have become cowardly, we no longer take risk, we no longer encourage our youth to go outside to the lab of nature.

I could myself go on and on and on but I think you get the point.


Thank you for the comment, Mr. West! I’m excited that a lot of Scouters are rediscovering many of the principles that made Scouting great!

Mark West
Plkease don’t call me a Mr, I am very close to what age you are. It is Mark but anyway we must work to spread this message. These are the activities young people join Scouting to be able to participate. I don’t think it is just a plain out laziness the primary reason to blame. I think it is because unless you are really good at something then you are ignored. Ignored because their isn’t enough time. Ignored because their talent isn’t worth developing. Ignored because unless you win you can’t try. Ignored because their is no hope for them.… Read more »
I’m not sure exactly where you were going with the “ignored” point; you’ll have to elaborate on what you meant. What you said about making mistakes is very true. There is a saying that if you fall flat on your face at least you’re headed in the right direction: forward! Scouts do things, real things. A real Scout camp shouldn’t be a place where Scouts are herded around and entertained to give their parents a break. A real Scout camp is a real purposeful campaign that’s planned, prepared, and executed by the Scouts themselves. There will be mistakes made, but… Read more »
Mark West
When I was saying “ignored” what I was referring to was the fact that in many organizations only those who excel or those who have serious potential to excel are intensely focused on, while the rest tend to be pushed aside or aren’t given a fair chance at changing/improving. These are the so-called average/below-average performers. They just aren’t given the attention needed to get better and be better at whatever they choose to try. Scouting is different in the fact that we encourage everyone, not just those who excel, to try new activities. We encourage this because we believe that… Read more »
Ed Bruce
I was surprised to read the following paragraph from a 1928 document that Clarke Green reposted on his site at “…we must keep in mind that the boy today comes to us in a day of changed and changing home life. Science and modern invention have altered the conditions in the home. The boy no longer shares with his parents the necessary operations for supplying the elementary constituents of life, with which he gained not only skill and experience, but also insights and attitudes. He has fewer home duties, fewer responsibilities, few opportunities to really live.” I read… Read more »

Thank you for the comment and encouragement!

Larry Green

Hi Enoch! Your 18 year old mind and heart parallel mine of 65. We’re planning a special program at our council camp this summer I think you’ll readily appreciate reading about. Here’s a link:


Thanks for the comment, Mr. Green! Again, thanks for creating! It is such an excellent resource!

Also, thanks for sharing the program your camp is doing! It looks pretty awesome! I wish my council had something like that! Let me know how it goes; it looks like a really good way of sharing some traditional Scout activities with Scouts!

Doug Best

Well said. Perfectly stated what I’ve been feeling and thinking for many years. Thank you.

Traditional Scouting is even more important now, as National wants to bring girls into boy scouts and cub scout, both programs for boys and young men. Our Troop is a traditional boy scout troop, all men lead from the boys to the adult male leaders. I can’t tell you how many single moms thank me for having a mans influence in their boys lives. As my moms tell me, of all the things I can teach my son, I can’t teach them to be a man. I rely on the male leadership in the troop to help with the transition… Read more »