Patrol System

Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 3)

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This is the third part of a series commenting on what I have been reading in the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning with his book Anti-Fragile, part of the Incerto series.

incerto

In the first article, I outlined his biography and introduced the questions of “What is the opposite of fragile? Are your scouts, scout parents, or scouters fragile? What are your duties as a scout leader in handling this matter?”

In the second article, I defined anti-fragile as strengthing in face of adversity. I suggested that resilience is not the antonym of “fragile.”

Up to this point, I have focused on making the scouts anti-fragile, stronger for having faced adversity. Let’s look at the concept of anti-fragile as a criterion for assessing the quality of your unit’s planning and programming.

Taleb questions the engineering world’s emphasis on efficiency. Let’s assume the definition of efficiency is doing just enough to complete the task with just enough resources and time. No wasted motion, effort, time, or resources. What is the effect in today’s world of being ever more efficient?

When planning goes well, the planner looks like a genius. No waste. No muss. No fuss. The trailer is packed so efficiently just the perfect amount of food is loaded. There is no excess weight to slow the trailer down. Every scout finds just the equipment he needs to do his tasks. It’s perfect.

But what happens if some of the planning fails? What if there was no weather report of a major rainstorm? To have been truly efficient, the planner took only what was in the plan. Since no weather report predicted a rainstorm, the efficient planner takes no shelters or tarps to keep the weather out when cooking. People get cold and wet and maybe are a little hungry.

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Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 2)

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This is the second part of a series commenting on what I have been reading in the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning with his book Anti-Fragile, part of the Incerto series.

incerto

In the last article, I outlined his biography and introduced the questions of “What is the opposite of fragile? Are your scouts, scout parents, or scouters fragile? What are your duties as a scout leader in handling this matter?

Let’s return to the question of “what is the opposite of fragile?”

Is it resilience? I have written here before about the value of building resilience through the scouting program. The research on building resilience in children is important for life-long physical and emotional health.

A quote from the previous article makes the point.

Amid all the hustle there are some worries parents can let go of, says clinical psychologist David J. Palmiter Jr., PhD, and author of Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference. Forget the concept of work-life balance, he says. It doesn’t exist. And the worries that you’re giving your kids the short shrift because both of you work? There’s no evidence to support that either, he says. In fact, there are many things that working parents worry about that aren’t really a big deal. But cultivating resilience is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, he says.

How important is resilience? It could have long-term health implications. A study published in the February 1, 2016, issue of Heart found that young men with low stress resilience scores were 40% more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life.

So how can you teach your children to bounce back—especially when you’ve got limited time?

I suggested that scouting provides a means of answer Dr. Palmiter’s question, “[H]ow can you teach your children to bounce back[?]” I made the point that you can’t teach resilience. You give it a chance to develop in presence of stressors and good role modelling. The scout learns how to behave amidst adversity.

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Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 1)

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As I have mentioned before, I have been reading the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning

incertowith his book Anti-Fragile, part of the Incerto series.

Since I plan on writing a series of commentaries on this author’s work, let me begin by giving a quick version of his biography.

Taleb is a polyglot (i.e., French, Arabic, English, etc.) and graduate of Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He was born and raised in a small francophone village in Lebanon to a well-connected Greek Orthodox family. Through most of his later childhood, he was surrounded by the Lebanese Civil War. After coming to America he has been a floor trader in the commodities exchange and worked on derivatives trading. He eventually received his doctorate and served as a distinguished professor at NYU’s School of Engineering and Dean’s Professor at University Massachusetts at Amhearst.

He is deep. He is thorough. He is just damn funny.

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Perception and Adaptation

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In some of my reading on other subjects, I ran across some scientific research from the mid-1800’s that I think is fascinating in its potential application to scouting. I am going to go down some complicated paths in this series of articles, so allow me to set the context first.

The View from the Eagle Board

For those of you who have sat on an Eagle Board of Review more than once, you likely can confirm that the following scenario is common.

A 17-year old in full dress scout uniform walks in the door. He is often clean shaven (although beards are increasingly common). He walks erect even if slightly nervous about what he is walking into. He firmly shakes hands with each member of the Board of Review. He answers questions about his Eagle project in great detail. He has pride in his accomplishments. He looks the part of an Eagle Scout already.

As he sits through the Board, the Board members ask the Eagle candidate to reflect on his beginnings in scouting and his growth. The candidate describes his first campout in the rain. He reflects on his anguish and discomfort. He laughs about how those deprivations are nothing compared to the later discomforts of camping in the snow of winter amidst the howling winds. He reflects on what he learned about overcoming obstacles, adapting, and accepting his circumstances.

He has learned that slight discomforts at home are nothing compared to facing the elements and the discomforts Mother Nature offers.

In my role as District Commissioner, the BSA charges me with the primary mission of encouraging Best Practices in our units. In other words, I am responsible for being able to explain to leaders why BSA policies are in the best interest of the unit, its leaders, and its scouts. That does not mean that I agree with each and every policy, but it does mean that I should be able to articulate the rationale in the light most favorable to the BSA’s intent.

For example, I should be able to articulate why units that camp the most are the more successful; why units that allow the boys to experiment with the patrol method with guidance and boundaries from the scoutmaster corps are more successful than units where adult leaders run the program; or why units with Senior Patrol Leaders who work the Patrol Leader Council are more successful than units where Senior Patrol Leaders acts as the patrol-leader-of-all. Read the rest of this entry »

Patrol Log Books vs Oral Reports at PLC

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Have you as a Scoutmaster ever asked your PLC for reports from the patrol leaders only to be met with silence or hesitant thoughts? If the patrol leaders had effective meetings with their patrols, why do they have nothing to share?

I would suggest part of the problem is that scouts believe that ideas at PLC’s need to be delivered in a manner similar to school. They might believe that they should remain silent unless they have a perfect answer. If they are asked to brainstorm, they may believe that they need to start from scratch. They may not have had the concept of serving as a representative from the patrol to the PLC clearly enough or frequently enough repeated to have it fresh in mind at key times.

All of these problems are a philosophical problem. These all need teaching to overcome. An active Scoutmaster sitting in a PLC should encourage his Senior Patrol Leader to use this silence as an opportunity to educate on the philosophy of the PLC. Something like a 30-second reminder would be ideal.

But these patrol leaders often don’t have a philosophical misunderstanding. They just took terrible notes or more typically no notes on the topic at hand. The topic may have been thoroughly debated by the patrol. The patrol leader may struggle to put the range of debate succinctly before the PLC.

Clarke Green of ScoutmasterCG.com has a solution to this problem. He recommends that a Patrol Log Book be maintained. The log book is more than the Patrol Scribe’s Minutes Book. It is a chance for scouts to write their own “roses, thorns, or bud.” The Log Book is passed around the patrol meeting. Each scout is encouraged to offer his own rose, thorn, or bud. He then writes it down in his own words in a short sentence or phrase. Now the Patrol Leader has a series of notes from his patrol to carry into the PLC.

Look at Clarke’s website for a sample PDF to download.

Personally, I prefer the new Scout Leader Guidebook’s vocabulary of “Stop, Start, Continue.” Both methods encourage scouts to look at good, bad, and new ideas. Stop, Start, Continue puts an emphasis on actions and moves away from debates about current status of persons, places, or events.

Whatever your preferred vocabulary, encouraging each scout to speak his voice in the patrol meeting and having a sense that his voice is being accurately represented to the PLC is a powerful method of teaching citizenship and active participation.

 

Advice for SPLs

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Many scoutmasters do not enjoy the start of a new Senior Patrol Leader’s term of office. The new youth leader has a lot to learn. The scoutmaster has to spend time teaching him the ropes, which may feel annoying, since the last SPL had gotten it all figured out. He had not required so much of the scoutmaster’s time as the new guy does.

Sometimes it is is useful to find an ally in getting the new SPL.

Clarke Greene recently posted a podcast about advice to a new SPL.

Take a look at the support materials and additional resources he points out.

What is a “Boy-Led Troop”?

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A phrase I hear often is apparently heard many times by other scouters, too.

Clarke Green writes, “Many Scouters claim, ‘We have a boy-led troop’ but what does that really mean? ‘Boy-led’ is not what adults do, it’s what they don’t do.”

He goes on to write,

Defining what we should not do is nowhere near as useful as sharing what weshould do,  but before I do let’s address one common misconception;

Boy-led is not boy-defined.

Every once in a while I’ll hear something like; “We don’t have patrols because the Scouts decided they didn’t want them, we are boy-led after all.”

Imagine a basketball game where the players were carrying the ball rather than dribbling. You ask a coach why and they tell you; “the players all decided they’s rather play this way.” Can you still call that game “basketball”?

Just like any other game Scouting has limitations and definitions. We all play the game within those definitions and limitations, the players don’t re-invent the game.

Adults should help Scouts maintain focus on fulfilling the promises of Scouting and understand the limitations and definitions of the game we are playing.

One of the commenters, Richard Andersen, adds, “I personally don’t like the term ‘boy-led,’ I prefer scout-led.”

Mr. Andersen really helps to clarify Clarke’s point extremely well. If the troop is “boy-led,” there is not inherently a strong sense of limitation of what the “boys” can do in defining the troop. On the other hand, describing the troop as “scout-led” always requires that the scouts revisit the idea of what it means to be a “scout.” Using the word “scout,” emphasizes the importance of working the system of scouting. It clarifies the difference between a scout’s choice following the Scout and what their friends would do outside without the Scout Law guiding their choices.

As modern-day scouters, we often see scouting as another extracurricular activity that a boy does.

When Baden-Powell opened the first scout encampment at Brown Sea Isle, the first thing he did was to put the boys “on their honor” to live within the scout system. For Baden-Powell this oath of honor set scouts apart from other boys.

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Part-time Patrol Method

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Bobwhite Blather blog has a great article about scout troops that believe they are running a successful patrol method.

Frank questions whether this is truly an example of running a successful patrol method.

This is especially a waste of great learning opportunities when there are so many resources for improving the patrol method. Clarke Green has an entire section of his website dedicated to this one question and its philosophical reasons. He even has written a book about the process of implementing the patrol system from the scoutmaster’s perspective.

The recent Eagle Scout turned blogger Enoch Heise has a wonderful post on the real basics and purpose of the patrol. Not too many months ago (from an adult’s perspective), Enoch was an SPL. Now as newly minted adult scouter he uses his practical lessons to teach other adults.

There are even books on the subject. Here is one from the British Scout Association in 1943. Here is one of more recent vintage, that I can only find in paperback. I have read it. It has great stuff.

Read more about the patrol method. Become a believer.

Thanksgiving Lessons for Scouting

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As Thanksgiving arrives this year, we begin considering more time with extended family and friends. Scouting tends to be put on the backshelf. Even so, Thanksgiving is a great time to think about the philosophy and lessons of scouting. (While this article is focused on boy scout troops, the same lessons of unit cohesion apply to Cub Scout Dens and Venturing Crews, too.)

The history of Thanksgiving is not often as it is represented in the media. To truly learn the lessons of Thanksgiving, we need to return to the the true story of Thanksgiving.

When the Plymouth colonists arrived and were moored alongside shore, they entered into the famed Mayflower Compact, effectively the first constitution written in North America. The Romans had previously had their Twelve Tables, the Swiss their agreement of confederation, and the Jamestown colony their royal charter. All of these were written agreement of government organization, but were all written in Europe. The Compact did not emphasize powers and duties like the US Constitution. It emphasized that all the colonists agreed to be subject to a common government as it was constituted from “time to time.” (That phrase is lawyer-speak for changes that occur every once in a while.) So they agreed to stick to the colony as the rules changed.

This agreeing to be part of the group and be subject to its changing rules is the first similarity between the Compact and a boy scout troop. While the rules for troop organization and management are far more detailed in the Senior Patrol Leader’s Handbook, the new Troop Leaders’ Guide Book (which replaced the Scoutmaster’s Handbook this year), and the Scout Handbook than the Mayflower Compact, neither these scouting handbooks nor the Compact define the daily rules of performance. Neither tells who cooks food, cleans, or organizes the day’s activities. Those are left for future decisions. Consequently, both systems leave lots of room for future lessons to be built into the future activities and organization of the band of people participating.

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Baden Powell on the Purpose of the Patrol/Den

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The Patrol [or the Den] is the character school for the individual. To the Patrol Leader it gives practice in Responsibility and in the qualities of Leadership. To the Scouts it gives subordination of self to the interests of the whole, the elements of self-denial and self-control involved in the team spirit of co-operation and good comradeship.

Lord Baden-Powell, October 1936.

Hat tip to Clarke Green.