The U.K. Guardian, a strongly leftist newspaper, ran this favorable article about being a scout leader. We don’t often hear from scout leaders about the value to the adult leaders.
Please send me your experiences and benefits from being a scout leader. Or share your thoughts on the comments below. I would like to run our own Indiana version of this article.
An article about free play time disappearing and its effect on kids makes an interesting starting point for a series of articles I am planning on posting.
People who meet with me about their Scouting unit often hear me recite the phrase, “If it is efficient, it is not scouting.” I know this often confuses some as they look at articles on this website. I’m also looking at best practices for improving the scouting experience. The question should arise in many people’s heads that best practices are often about efficiency; so, how can best practices in scouting not seek efficiency?
For me this is a very simple and obvious answer, we are not building a business to maximize profit. We are building young men of character. If it were simple to form a young man of character by a simple recipe, we would have no crime, we would have no conflict, and we would have figured out the system already.
Over the millennia, we know many different methods for raising young man of reliable character. In ancient Sparta, Young men were raised in very strict circumstances. They were taught to fight and to obey orders. At the same time, there was a strong structure of encouraging boys to break out from within the rules. If they wished to find a wife, they would often have to escape discipline and jump through windows in the dark of night to find their future betrothed. This mixture of discipline and self-reliance made Spartan warriors among the most flexible minded and deadly of any armies of their era.
In the Middle Ages boys of landed classes would serve as an apprentice to a knight, called a squire. The predecessor to modern trade unions, guilds, would take scout age boys in as apprentices and train them into journeymen. The guild apprentice system worked its way over to America with trades like blacksmiths, tanners (leatherwork), and coopers (barrel makers).
All of these training methods involved action and exposure to the real world.
The modern method of “classrooms solve everything” began in earnest around the turn of the 20th century. Part of the logic was parents were too dumb and ignorant to know how to properly teach children. It should be left to professionals.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect classroom education. I finished 19th grade (as I tell my Wolf Cub nephew. Want to see a head explode? “Seventeen more years?!”). From my many years in the classroom, though, I have concluded that Baden Powell had it right when he quoted a writer named Casson (of whom I know little else):
Judging from my own experience, I would say that boys have a world of their own — a world that they make for themselves; and neither the teacher nor the lessons are admitted to this world. A boy’s world has its own events and standards and code and gossip and public opinion.
In spite of teachers and parents, boys remain loyal to their own world. They obey their own code, although it is quite a different code to the one that is taught to them at home and in the schoolroom. They gladly suffer martyrdom at the hands of uncomprehending adults, rather than be false to their own code.
The code of the teacher, for instance, is in favour of silence and safety and decorum. The code of the boys is diametrically opposite. It is in favour of noise and risk and excitement.
Fun, fighting, and feeding! These are the three indispensable elements of the boy’s world. These are basic. They are what boys are in earnest about; and they are not associated with teachers nor schoolbooks.
According to public opinion in Boydom, to sit for four hours a day at a desk indoors is a wretched waste of time and daylight. Did anyone ever know a boy — a normal healthy boy, who begged his father to buy him a desk? Or did anyone ever know a boy, who was running about outdoors, go and plead with his mother to be allowed to sit down in the drawing room?
Certainly not. A boy is not a desk animal. He is not a sitting-down animal. Neither is he a pacifist nor a believer in safety first; nor a book-worm, nor a philosopher.
I love that line, “A boy is not a desk animal. He is not a sitting-down animal.”
I have a nine-month old Golden Retriever puppy at home. She is not a sitting-down animal, either. Goldens are known for their expressiveness. When Goldens are happy, they are jubliant. When Goldens are sad, they look like their best friend died. Put a Golden in a kennel by herself all day, every day and watch depression set in. I see much the same behavior in younger scouts.
We have noted previous studies that suggested that being in nature was good for a person’s psychology. These studies are showing patterns that BP would have warned us against nearly a century ago.
Boys need to be active. They need to take risks. They need to “waste time” being boys. It is an inefficient process.
I am starting an intriguing book right now called Antifragile.* As part of the introductory chapter, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes,
[Anti-fragility] is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.
He continues a bit later,
The antifragile loves randomness and uncertainty, which also means— crucially— a love of errors, a certain class of errors. Antifragility has a singular property of allowing us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them— and do them well. Let me be more aggressive: we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility. I’d rather be dumb and antifragile than extremely smart and fragile, any time. It is easy to see things
The paragraph that connects Taleb’s concept of “anti-fragile” to the study first noted above is wrapped up in this quote,
Crucially, if antifragility is the property of all those natural (and complex) systems that have survived, depriving these systems of volatility, randomness, and stressors will harm them. They will weaken, die, or blow up. We have been fragilizing the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything … by suppressing randomness and volatility. Just as spending a month in bed (preferably with an unabridged version of War and Peace and access to The Sopranos’ entire eighty-six episodes) leads to muscle atrophy, complex systems are weakened, even killed, when deprived of stressors. Much of our modern, structured, world has been harming us with top-down policies and contraptions (dubbed “Soviet-Harvard delusions” in the book) which do precisely this: an insult to the antifragility of systems. This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.
Being inefficient in scouting is no inherently good. Many mistakes can be made by just allowing the boys to “just be boys.” They can spend all their time playing video games on their iPhones in their tents, the modern equivalent of lying in bed reading War and Peace or watching the Sopranos.
We don’t want to hurt those we are trying most to help. So we need a chance for the boys to figure out their situation in the face of stressors. They need to be exposed to randomness and volatility. They need to be able to act within the framework of life without “neurotically overprotective parents” hovering over the boys.
Every day it is becoming clearer that “risk management” driven by the insurance and legal industries is not all that it is cracked up to be. The much better form of risk management is the old innoculation method: expose the patient to very small doses of the harm. This small exposure to the risk creates more strength, adaptability, and resilience.
So when you are with your scouts, take your cup of coffee and sit down. Wait for the scouts to face a risk before intervening. (Intervene for frustration, confusion, or danger.) You will be silently teaching them the best lessons.
* Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile (Kindle Locations 342-345, 347-350, 366-373). (Random House Publishing Group, Kindle ed. 2016).
UPDATE 5/1/17: I just love this sentence, ibid. at 426.
We have the illusion that the world functions thanks to programmed design, university research, and bureaucratic funding, but there is compelling—very compelling—evidence to show that this is an illusion, the illusion I call lecturing birds how to fly.
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.
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:
(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.
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.
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.
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 »
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.
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.
Spring Camporee Success. The 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.
North Star Ember Chief
North Star Ember Advisor
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?”