Why scouting?

Why Unique Scouting Jargon?

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Like most human specialized endeavors, Scouting has its own unique jargon. We often use these terms without much thought about their original meaning or its meaning as time has passed. Let’s stop and examine this language for a few minutes to see what we can learn about the philosophy of scouting.

The terms Cubmaster and Scoutmaster are used every day. There is even a movement to change these terms. Many national councils in the Worldwide Movement of Scouting have already taken this step. What does the term “master” mean in this context?

In Baden-Powell’s youthful days (1850-1880), a school teacher was referred to a “school master.” The teacher might have had a Master’s Degree. These were the 19th century license to teach. They had mastered the material well enough to teach the material.

Notice it is not a reference the doctrine of law known as “master-servant” or other less savory references that the XXXIII Amendment to the Constitution outlawed.

Knowing what Baden-Powell meant when he chose the term, does it change your vision of what a Cubmaster or Scoutmaster should do when working with Den Leaders or Senior Patrol Leaders, respectively? Look to some of the early stories from Wood Badge leaders about their first experiences as scouts trying to figure out how to build fires, pick camping sites, or hike without going in circles. The need for a teacher was clear. In some of the stories, the boys would set up tents but the police would show up and march them home, because no adult was present to vouch for the boys’ good intentions. The need for an adult mentor, not just an older brother was also clear.

Council is a very strange term. In the late 19th Century, British government was moving away from Administrators with sole responsibility. They were moving toward a more collective method of organizing. Councils sprung up everywhere in British society. They were not corporations. In American parlance, we would tend to use the term “committee.” Since Baden Powell was encouraging a “Scouting Movement” not a “scouting organization,” the idea of individuals coming to together more informally fit his vision for what scouting should be.

Commissioner is a very strange term. In the Commissioner literature, the attempt to explain the term is that Baden Powell wanted to rely on the landed gentry, who did not work for living to advise new scoutmasters. He chose an archaic term of Commissioner from the 13th Century. Council Commissioner’s Training Manual, pg. 57 (2009) tells the story this way:

The word “commission” dates back to 1344, when it was derived from the Latin word commissionem, meaning “delegation of business.” The nation’s monarch delegated authority to a deserving few.

Individuals identified by the monarch had to qualify as a “gentleman,” legally defined as a man who earned his income from property and as such was independently wealthy with time to devote to other agendas. It was exactly this kind of man that Lord Baden-Powell wanted as his volunteer commissioners: men of both money and leisure. [ed.: too bad this era has past.]

Baden-Powell’s first chief Scout commissioner was Lieutenant General Sir Edmond Roche Elles Baden-Powell’s commissioners included W F deBois MacLaren, who donated Gilwell Park; and Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book [ed.: and the source material for Cub Scout concepts].

As communities formed more troops, it became evident that leadership was needed to maintain standards, provide camping opportunities, recruit leaders, give training, establish local courts of honor, and stimulate local Scouting This person was the commissioner.

The Scout commissioner represented the local community committee or council. A great deal of importance was placed upon the selection of this man. He was expected to have a great deal of outdoor experience and act as the local authority in all Scoutcraft matters.

While originally a volunteer, in some areas the community was able to raise enough funds for the Scout commissioner to become a salaried position.

The areas with paid leadership positions, such as a Scout executive or executive secretary, became known as first-class councils, while those with a volunteer head, still called the Scout commissioner, were known as second-class councils. By 1931, there was only one second-class council left.

The wreath of service that surrounds all commissioner and professional position badges is a symbol of the service rendered to units. It also symbolizes the continued partnership between volunteers and professionals.

Sometimes a return to original definitions helps better understand how we can improve our service to youth, as an indirect means of returning to first principles.

New Law’s Opportunity for Scouting Recruitment

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The Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) is the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) of the Bush 43 years, expiring in 2007. The ESSA will have major impacts on school funding from the federal government and the expectations of schools that accept that funding.

Here is a quick overview. Worth noting is a requirement that is summarized as (italics added),

Districts that get more than $30,000 have to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on at least one activity that helps students become well-rounded, and another 20 percent on at least one activity that helps students be safe and healthy. And part of the money can be spent on technology.

Indiana will also have a say on how this new federal law is implemented. Indiana Code sec. 20-30-5-5 now requires,

Sec. 5. (a) Each public school teacher and nonpublic school teacher who is employed to instruct in the regular courses of grades 1 through 12 shall present the teacher’s instruction with special emphasis on:

(1) honesty;
(2) morality;
(3) courtesy;
(4) obedience to law;
(5) respect for the national flag and the Constitution of the State of Indiana and the Constitution of the United States;
(6) respect for parents and the home;
(7) the dignity and necessity of honest labor; and
(8) other lessons of a steadying influence that tend to promote and develop an upright and desirable citizenry.

(b) The state superintendent shall prepare outlines or materials for the instruction described in subsection (a) and incorporate the instruction in the regular courses of grades 1 through 12. 

While this statute refers specifically to in-classroom curriculum, we can see that the principles of the Scout Oath and Law are required to be taught in a school.

Being aware of this curriculum requirement and being able to refer to it when communicating with our schools as prospective Chartered Organizations helps demonstrate how scouting serves their statutory mission. Having the studies (e.g., Tufts study on scouting) referred to in the FAQ attached is another way to reinforce proof of scouting’s successes in meeting these statutory requirements.

Council has prepared a Frequently Asked Questions flyer on how scouting can contribute to bringing a school into compliance with these requirements.


Read through the FAQ and learn more about scouting and its benefits to schools. Then you can be an informed supporter of Council’s efforts to be re-introduced to schools.

Mental Health Benefits of Scouting

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A new study shows scouting gives mental health benefits along into adulthood. It also gives the ability to adapt to socioeconomic situations throughout life.

The study does not explain why the benefits exist. There are extrapolations based on prior research including increased mental resiliency, adaptability to stress, exposure to the outdoors providing stress relief, and communal activities.

Earlier studies going back a decade had also shown the lack of problems in the criminal system was another benefit.

How does scouts compare to sports?

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Bobwhite Blather talks about sports and scouts. He talks about how the programs work and highlights differences.

A great resource to have on hand in recruiting season. Any scout recruiter should be able to recite this simple article well. It shows why scouting outperforms sports in developing good citizens.

Using clinical research in recruiting

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As the Worldwide Movement of Scouting  reaches 110 years old, we need to find new ways to explain ourselves.

We all know that Robert Baden-Powell designed scouting to deal with the transition from childhood in a rural setting to an urban setting.  He was not alone. At the same time many different organizations tried to duplicate the same effort. Professor Montessori, Dan Beard,  Ernest Thompson Seton  and many others who are less renowned in history were trying to do similar things and often corresponded with each other. Each had their own spin on what they thought needed to happen to be successful. each of the persons name above put a heavy emphasis on exposure to nature.

They did not know the mechanical reasons why returning to nature was so important for kids.  They just knew from anecdotal experience and observation that it was true.

In the last 20 years, there has been an increase  in research about the impact of the environment on our psychological well-being.  Many times the focus is on better designing a city to reduce the stress on its inhabitants. Other times it is trying to figure out mechanically why being in nature while doing exercise is so good for psychological health.  Most of the studies that I have seen of been focused on adults.

Even from this research, we can reach some conclusions about the effects of Scouting on our youth. Read the rest of this entry »

Memorial Day Honoring Late Servicemembers

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North Star District through historic relationships between its Zionsville units and the Zionsville American Legion Post and between some of its Washington Township units and Post #3 of the American Legion (where OA and Firecrafter monthly meetings are held) have honored deceased service members for years.Scout at gravesite

This year, the District and Troop 56 are working on adding American Legion Post #153 (54th St and Keystone area) to the Posts that we serve.

If your unit is not currently helping to place flags on deceased service members graves in the month of May, in preparation for Memorial Day, please contact Jeff Heck to work with one of these posts.

This is a very important service. As Jerry Gould, a Korean War veteran, explained on Monday night, each post is especially responsible for placing flags on the graves of their deceased members. Unfortunately their membership is aging and can no longer provide the service adequately by themselves. They need the scouts and scouting families to provide the manpower.

Please help with this important Duty to Country task.

The posts have different methods for handling this. Some work on a scheduled basis. Other posts schedule around the scout units’ schedules. We can help direct you to the post that best fits your unit’s needs.


May 1st Firecrafters to Train Units in Flag Retirement

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Spring Camporee SuccessThe Firecrafters of the North Star Ember would like to extend a warm thank you to all the troops who came out and participated in the Spring Camporee. One of the goals of our organization is to encourage continued participation by our youth in camping, outdoor activities, and Scouting. The activities and fellowship promoted at district camporees is a great opportunity that benefits these goals.

Importance of Scouts in Flag Retirement. At the evening campfire, we were excited to be given the opportunity to perform a flag retirement ceremony. The Boy Scouts is one of the largest organizations that gives communities opportunities to have worn American Flags properly retired. Organizations that also offer this service include the American Legion Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other civic associations. Using flags donated by the Broad Ripple American Legion, one of our service projects for the year will be a flag retirement this Sunday, May 1st.

Invitation to Units and Scouts. We would like to invite Scouting members of the North Star District to attend. We will not just be retiring flags, but also answering any questions you have about proper flag retirement. This may be of great value to upcoming Firecrafter candidates, if they want to include a flag retirement as part of the candidate campfire. One of our goals in carrying out this service project is educating you in this area. We hope to improve your confidence so that in the future, you might consider conducting a retirement as a troop service project or include in your troop ceremonies.

Where: Second Presbyterian Church
7700 N. Meridian Street, Indianapolis, IN 46260
(fire ring in picnic area at north end of the parking lot)

When: Sunday, May 1, 2016

Time: 1:00-2:00 PM

What: North Star Firecrafter Flag Retirement Seminar

The weather for Sunday is not predicted to be as beautiful as the camporee weather. In the event it is raining between 1:00 and 2:00, the meeting will be at the Broad Ripple American Legion Post #3 at 6379 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220. We will still have a mock retirement and answer questions from an inside location.

Jacob Danek
North Star Ember Chief

Greg Hoyes
North Star Ember Advisor

How Do We Know What a Scout Needs to Develop?

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In explaining scouts, we do best when we ask what a mother would like to see her child grow to be. If she wants an athlete, we can discuss athletic activities in Cub Scouts and athletic merit badges in boy scouts.

If a father wants a STEM focused child, we can focus on those activities.

Scouting can meet those needs because scouting is the only liberal arts activity for youth. We serve all interests.

More importantly we encourage our scouts to expand their interests. An athletic scout may show little initial curiosity about the stars. Yet a little introduction to astronomy in Cub Scouts may open his eyes to the skies. That exposure to ideas and concepts that they never had considered is only part of why scouting works.

We know what a scout needs to develop because it has been well studied over the last century.

One of the summations of what a youth needs has been compiled by the Search Institute. They have summarized the skills and experiences that a youth needs at each age level in order to develop into a well-rounded and upstanding citizen. For each age level, the Search Institute has developed a chart of 40 Developmental Assets appropriate for the child’s age.

In reviewing these assets, place a checkmark next to each developmental asset that scouting touches. Then repeat the exercise for each activity that you child participates in. You will find an average Cub Scout Pack or Scout Troop outscores most other activities.

When you are talking to parents who don’t know scouting, these charts are a great method for the parents to formulate questions and independently determine that scouting is worth their family’s time.

For parents who are considering withdrawing their son from scouting, these charts are a perfect method to diplomatically challenge their thinking.

If you cannot explain how scouting serves most of the developmental assets, talk to your unit commissioner or the district membership committee. You may be losing scouts because you are struggling to explain “Why Scouting?”


Training through adaptation to stress

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Have you ever had one of those experiences in life where you’re studying or working on something completely different and you start seeing logical connections with everything else you’re doing? That is happening to me. Recently I finally made the commitment to do weightlifting in training while my son was preparing for high school sports. I was trying to make sure I kept up with the teenager. (It has not been easy for me. Aches and pains. Blah blah blah.)

Original Mission

The goal was to help him get stronger. I needed to learn more about barbell training to help him. University of Tennessee Law School Professor Glenn Reynolds had been praising a gentleman by the name of Mark Rippetoe. The professor had talked about how much Mark’s strength training methods had helped the professor improve his back troubles. I have found the professor interesting about other things, so I took an interest in what he said about this.

I listened to a podcast where Mark was the interviewee. I was instantly hooked. It was passionate, logical, and well informed. I bought Mark’s book Starting Strength. I started to listen to his podcast. I watched his YouTube videos. I bought his app. The more I listened to Mark, the more I learned.

One of Mark’s running themes is the importance of training as a process. Training, as opposed to exercise, is the process of applying repeated stresses to a biological system to create predictable and programmable results. If the technique is properly used, for example in weightlifting by increasing weights in a predictable manner, the body adapts to the stress of greater weight by becoming stronger. The strength comes from the body creating more muscle.

Principles Learned Applied to Scouting

As I have looked at Scouting, I have learned more about Green Bar Bill Harcourt and his theories of the patrol system. I have read Baden Powell’s literature on the patrol system and the intentions of Scouting.

Both of these gentlemen would have seen the logic of Mark’s weight training system. These gentlemen would’ve gone further and suggested that the same principles apply to developing and promoting character in young men and women.

Scouting is a system of intentional stresses placed on boys at strategic moments to create predictable results. If you take a tiger cub into the woods, he will be stressed that he is not in his home environment. He will have fears that he has to overcome with the new noises and smells. The presence of animals may give him trepidation. Yet he walks out of the woods having experienced a game that promotes curiosity and a desire to cooperate. While he may have been yelling at his peers, the den leader offers him the opportunity to be quiet to listen for animals.

As the same boy grows in Webelos, he goes back into the same woods to learn how to work in a small group of boys with one of his peers as the leader. The stresses are more focused on the social aspects. The boys become each others’ teachers. One boy may have taken a great interest in raccoon behavior. Another one may be more interested in trees and leaves. Yet another may be fascinated with mushrooms. Each one of them offers the others some lessons. All of them have to learn how to work together under stress. All the stresses are not necessarily self created. There may be rain or cooler weather than expected. They have to learn to adapt. They have to learn how to put up dining flies or tarps as walls.

As they move into Scouting, they take some of these lessons working together and start to work toward the future. They take a greater part in planning and developing what they want to do. They become more involved with teaching each other the basic skills they need to do camping and cooking in the field. Many of the other scouts will be reluctant students. The teacher must learn patience and creativity in trying to teach his ideas.

Each one of these stresses of working in the field together and teaching one another is a part of the character building system. Each boy will suffer his own stresses. Each one will grow stronger for having faced the stress and adapted to it. Just like a weightlifter must put his body under the stress of increasing weight. He pulls the weight off of the floor in the hope that the additional stress on his muscles will create new muscle fiber; so, too, the scout will face mental stresses and challenges of character that the scoutmaster, the teacher of scouts, hopes will grow the scout’s ability to withstand pressure and stresses in the future while still making moral choices.

So what are the stresses that the scout faces that create character? It is not strict organization and military discipline. The troop that does not suffer chaos and conflict is not doing scouting. A troop that does not take advantage of the chaos to teach lessons of life in the scoutmaster minute or impromptu patrol leader council meetings, does not teach the lessons that are available. The chaos and conflict are our teachable moments. They are what we are waiting for — not trying to avoid.

You know you have run into a masterful scoutmaster if he is both quiet and is keenly observing his troop. He is studying what is going on for his next opportunity to give a scoutmaster minute that is full of lessons of the moment. He is watching to see if there is a vision that he can draw from his senior patrol leader and patrol leaders. He is the master of the Socratic method. He asks strategic questions at strategic moments. In this way he is like the strength coach. He is present and offering tidbits of information. As a coach and teacher, he is not undergoing the stress of lifting the weights. He is offering ways to improve his student’s efforts in the moment. He helps the student articulate his own thoughts about what feelings the student has and what lessons he can learn from those feelings.

So when you see a scout under stress, be aware and think about when you might have a strategic moment to offer a coach’s thought.

Do not remove the stress for the sake of being stress-free. You may be removing the lesson that the Scout needs to grow into the man of character that you seek.

Selling Scouting: Teaching Resilence

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If you are like me, you are constantly reading random articles on the internet. Most are pop-psychology hogwash: “5 Ways to Become the CEO Tomorrow!” (Never forget the exclamation mark!)

Every once in a while, you find a good article. Generally, the quality of the article is best when it is a summary of monograph a/k/a a book on a single subject. One article I saw fits that description.

It is written for the stressed out helicopter mom that wants her child to be perfect and will stress the child out until perfection is attained.

The article is from Fast Company. It focuses on “teaching your child resilience.” (Which begs the question, how do you “teach” adaptation to stress.)

Read the rest of this entry »