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.
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.
Many of our Boy Scout troops I have elaborate systems for keeping track of records and attendance. But even bigger question is who will be attending a weekend outing.
Many trooms rely on electronic means of collecting the information. In a recent article Frank Meynard of Bobwhite Blather suggested we may need to look at this a little bit differently. Take a look at his article for a different point of view.
UPDATE 10/7/15: Retitled.
This Fall Camporee is going to be fun but very busy. It may require a special emphasis on preparing your SPL.
Does your SPL know about these items:
- The Friday night meeting at 9:00 pm.
- The new Commissioner’s Awards for patrols and SPLs.
- Encouraging older scouts such as OA and Firecrafters to be involved in managing troop events.
- The requirements of the Willy Award.
- His adult leaders’ plans to attend District Training at Camporee to better manage contingencies.
- The time and place for the Saturday SPL meeting.
- His troop’s contribution to the Saturday night campfire.
The goal of all of these events is to offer opportunities to lead while having fun. Help your SPL focus on the fun and avoid unnecessary stress. If he is prepared, it will work well.
If problems arise, at least he will have stories to tell.
We, as scouters, are all familiar with the emotional growth that scouts obtain from being involved in outdoor activities. How do you describe why it works? Often scouters struggle to explain what they have witnessed to be true. We need to be able to describe why this works if we are to be able to persuade new families to join. Let’s take a look at what types of activities promote personal emotional growth.
Ultimately, well-run scout units are boys-at-play not boys-at-school-outdoors. If that is so, may be this explains why scouting works:
Closely related to the increased pressure to achieve is the decline in play.  Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a continuous and, overall, dramatic decline in children’s freedom and opportunities to play with other children, undirected by adults. In other essays I have linked this decline to the well-documented rise in depression and anxiety among children and adolescents (here) and to the recently documented decline in creativity (here). Free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their own lives, solve their own problems, and deal effectively with fear and anger—and thereby protect themselves from prolonged anxiety and depression. Free play is also the primary means by which children maintain and expand upon their creative potentials. Now, I suggest, free social play—that is, play with other kids, undirected by adults–is also the primary means by which children overcome narcissism and build up their capacity for empathy.
Play, by definition, is always voluntary, and that means that players are always free to quit. If you can’t quit, it’s not play. All normal children have a strong biological drive to play with other children. That’s part of human child nature—an extraordinarily important part of it. In such play, every child knows that the others can quit at any time and will quit if they are not happy. Therefore, to keep the fun going, each child is motivated to keep the other children happy. To do that, children must listen to one another, read into what they are saying, and, in general, get into one another’s mind so as to know what the other wants and doesn’t want. If a child fails at that and consistently bullies others or doesn’t take their views into account, the others will quit, leaving the offending child alone. This is powerful punishment that leads the offender to try harder next time to see from others’ points of view. Thus, in their social play, children continuously practice and build upon their abilities to empathize, negotiate, and cooperate.
Moreover, children, unlike adults, are rarely effusive in their praise of one another. They have little tolerance for anyone who thinks that he or she is “special,” or is in some way above the rules, or is a natural leader who should get his or her way all the time. Playmates are often highly skilled in deflating one another’s egos, through such means as humor and insults, or through outright rejection if those means fail.
Consistent with this view, correlational studies have revealed that children who engage in more social play with other children demonstrate more empathy, and more ability to understand the perspective of others, than do children who engage in less such play. Moreover, several short-term experiments conducted in preschools have shown that when some children are provided with extra opportunities to engage in social play, those in the extra-play groups later exhibit higher performance on various measures of social perspective-taking and ability to get along with others than do those in the control groups.
Boys setting up their own terms of play provide emotional development benefits because they have an incentive to adapt. The incentive is the desire to keep others involved. They don’t seek out or give effusive praise — often quite the opposite. Yet, these unstructured opportunities provide real opportunities to foster empathy and understanding.
What lessons do we learn as scouters? In the last post, I suggested that adult-guided activities, especially in sports, have a much higher incidence of injury, requiring medical attention, including orthopedic surgeries. Now we see that emotional growth is greater where youth-led activities are allowed, including juvenile insults. The more time for unstructured interaction is allowed, the greater opportunity for growth.
While many of the points in the excerpt above focus on “free-play” for young children, the lessons for emotional growth are the same as children become teen-agers. They need time to face challenges together and have arguments where they face the risk of the other kids giving them the ultimate juvenile punishment: non-participation. If a patrol leader is overly controlling and lack in empathy, his patrol will find anything else to do than follow the patrol leader’s instructions. The patrol leader may or may not learn quickly, but he has the opportunity to learn that dictatorial methods fail.
The patrol leader who leads by example will learn to be a better leader. When the duty roster is made, the good patrol leader will give himself the least desirable job first: latrine or KP duty or the patrol’s least favorite. The patrol learns that he has more credibility when he can say, “I understand it is not fun. I did it yesterday. Come. I’ll help you figure out how to do it faster.” His patrol will get tasks done.
So what is going to give your scouts the greatest opportunity for growth? A weekend campout that appears to be completely chaotic and unstructured? A high-adventure trip led by adults and planned down to the minute?
With these tools in mind, how would you explain that the patrol system is the reason that a prospective scouting parent should have their son join Scouts?
Frank Maynard is a long-time Troop Committee Chair. He hosts a blog at BlogWhiteBlather.com. Frank focuses on running the troop and the issues that scout leaders have in working with the parents.
One of the major issues at any campout is the new scout leader who just came from Cub Scouts. He tells a story about the common experiences that happen.
In his Soul to Work blog, leadership author Scott Mabry explains this very well. He tells us that the more we hold on to our old expectations, the more anxiety results and the more frustration ensues. It’s because, as leaders, we have become accustomed to being responsible for our portion of the Scouting experience, and we feel that we have failed if things go wrong. Now certainly we can’t just stand back and let a patrol or the troop flail about aimlessly, but neither is it our responsibility to do it for them. Our job goes from providing the program for the Scouts to providing them with the tools to spin their own program. It’s helping them discover for themselves which way to go, not pointing them in the direction we think is right. We have to let go of the way we did things before, as well as the idea that our reputation is staked on whether we have a snappy troop.
What Cub Scout leaders need to know is that, as leaders of Cubs, they are responsible for putting boys in tents, in the outdoors, and in other experiences that are hands-on experiences. Their job is to assist the Cubs with discovering themselves and their world. Cubs need to know themselves and some basics about the world before they can learn the next step. The Cub leader is the teacher, babysitter, and cat-herder.
“Do you have your handbook?” How many times at meetings have you asked this question?
As a passionate scouter, I enjoy the opportunity to interact with the scouts. As I sit to reflect about how to improve my skills, I often wonder if my passion is getting in the way of truly allowing the boys to play the game of scouting.
The story of the spread of scouting in the early 1900’s keeps coming to mind. There were two parts to the process: boys naturally grouping together in patrols to camp and play the game of scouting versus the adults trying to promote its spread for their own purposes. Each has furthered scouting.
As adults, we are involved in our units: packs, troops, and crews. We rarely stop to consider who is the most important part of the unit. As we talk to Council representatives, they talk about our units as packs, troops, and crews. This is for a good reason. Their job is to support the adults at those levels. Council’s (and, therefore, district’s) focus is on creating and maintaining a place for boys to do scouting.
This focus from council on units can easily confuse the adult leaders that those units are the primary units of scouting. If council focuses at that level it must be the most important, right?
Wrong. The most important is the den or patrol. Our focus is the boy and his enjoyment and growth. The den or patrol (which I simplify to patrol for reasons that will become more clear shortly) is where the boy experiences scouting. He wants to do scouting with his friends. He is more likely to continue scouting if his friends are physically nearby. The patrol is where this proximity can and should occur.
Clarke Green shares some very interesting literature from Canadian scouting about why and how this works. It is worth a read.
What should we learn from this? Do these lessons apply to Boy Scouts only or do they apply to dens and crews?
The stronger the identity and cohesiveness of the patrols, the stronger the pack, troop, or crew. The boys doing what they love as a patrol will never fail to seek more of the fun. They want to spend time with their friends their own age. If they get this, they will want to share the joy with younger scouts. It starts a healthy cycle of do, model, teach, and do again.
We spend a long time and effort worrying about the boys transitioning from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.
Frankly that’s not the biggest problem.
The people who have the hardest time transitioning are the former cub leader-parents. Boy Scouts is often a culture shock.
Considering that a former cubmaster may be very accustomed to watching the boys progress from year-to-year in there nice, tidy, little den. Rarely is there a difference in age greater than 14 months. The den leader is an adult, who maintains order much like a teacher in a classroom does.
And then the transition the Boy Scouts.
Here’s an interesting article on how to marry the Scout Law with technology-use rules in your troop.