Why “scouting”?

Sandy Hook 2011 017John Burkitt, National Commissioner at Trail Life USA, recently authored a fine article titled “The Relevance and Importance of Outdoor Adventure Programs

In that article (click HERE to see the article in its entirety) he addresses the following, commonplace conversation:

Either directly or indirectly, I’ve been confronted with “the question” on numerous occasions. Usually people are not asking it rhetorically, they genuinely want to know…

“Why Scouting?” **

** “Scouting” refers to youth movements that relate back to Baden-Powell’s ideas. For me it is now expressed in Living the Trail Life.

IMG_20140726_125408550His analysis and commentary in response to the question “Why Scouting?” is brilliant; however, I think that there are elements I would have added to my response to the same question.

John very appropriately develops several key topics:

  • Changing times rendering the need for some woods-craft skills as pointless (after all we now live in a world with microwave ovens, convenient refrigerators and freezers (no real need for canning, preserving, salting, etc.))
  • Our “modern” world has only existed for a relatively short period of time — if we think about the distance we’ve advanced in the past fifty years and the pace of advancement, it’s hard to recall a time without “9-1-1”; internet; inexpensive jet travel to almost anywhere on the earth, etc.
  • Changes in raising children:  from almost exclusively home-based education to almost exclusively institution based education
  • The death of apprenticing during those developmental ages now called “adolescence” (now a time to “find oneself” instead of a time to learn a trade)
  • The increase in post-secondary education (emphasis on book learning, intellectualism instead of self-reliance for living day to day)
  • Camping and outdoor adventure are not merely “historical re-enactment” but done for the pleasure of being away from our “modern world” and to keep some of the old practices and skills “alive”

IMGP6829As John states, “Canvas gives way to Gore Tex, and that’s ok” in that our approach to being outside may change over time, but the core principles of “leadership, responsibility, and self-reliance” are practiced and perfected in this outdoor laboratory.

There are things shared between father and son on these trips that are not as much about the past and the future, but about establishing common ground through shared experiences that can lead to a legacy between multiple generations.

You see, the methods or practices of scouting (in the general sense of the term – not as a brand for a specific organization) establish this shared experience mentoring as a valuable exercise.  Traditionally, the methods of scouting have included:

  • IMGP6865Teamwork (aka Patrols) – giving each boy practical experience in shared duties, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and participating citizenship among their micro-community.  While some programs limit this teamwork to the boy’s own small group, others promote the concept of “boy-led” where the boys plan all aspects of the program from meetings to outings and competitions.
  • Advancementgiving each boy their own set of personal challenges to grow their knowledge and skills related to survival/safety in the outdoors, self-sustenance through cooking/cleaning/hygiene, future careers, potential hobbies, etc.  The program provides as series of surmountable obstacles so that as the boy individually progresses he learns self confidence from completion of projects.  Recognizing that he can do small tasks naturally leads to completing larger tasks with the goal of discovering that if he plans and prepares properly there is really nothing that can not be accomplished.
  • Association with Adultseach boy learns from healthy interactions with adults.  He learns to appreciate the courtesies of communication, the need to set commitments (such as appointments for meetings) and honor those commitments consistently.  He learns that not all people share the same view point on every topic and that it’s alright to disagree if it is done with respect and an attempt to learn from each other.  He learns to solicit advice from role models who have more experience with life’s issues and to season it with his own context of family upbringing and beliefs.
  • CSB Uniform ShirtUniformsthe uniform serves several roles: public recognition of the goals of the program; a leveler of common identity within the unit and team/patrol; a sense of brotherhood among those who participate in the program from other units; a place to showcase positions of responsibility or leadership (identification of those who carry the burden to lead others).  The uniform need not appear “militaristic”, but should characterize a common theme and sense of belonging.  Whether cargo pants and a golf shirt or jeans with a specially decorated tee-shirt, a uniform can look many different ways as long as it is consistently executed from one unit to another.
  • Ideals the curriculum, combined with personal ideals received from the boys’ own family and church, provides a balanced set of moral guidelines for daily behavior, interpersonal relationships, and gives the boy a reasonable measuring stick to check his own behaviors, habits and attitudes.  Whereas most scouting programs limit the development of ideals to a pluralistic moralism, Trail Life USA, by virtue of it’s stated goals and mission embraces a deeper, specific message that has eternal implications.
  • Rockwell boy helps girlPersonal Growththe value or benefit to eagerly providing assistance to others in need stretches not only our muscles but our “heart” (compassion).   Service to others should be motivated from selflessness, genuine compassion for others and not out of a desire for personal recognition of hours completed towards a “requirement” or any sense of personal gain. The net result from developing self-reliance, strong physical endurance (from hiking/climbing, etc.), and finely tuned mental discipline should be characterized as a “what can I GIVE” rather than a “what can I GET” perspective.  We don’t chase the pinnacle award of personal advancement merely to put it on our resume or to get into a college of our choice — the primary purpose of becoming recognized as a Freedom Rangeman should be to give back to others who are in need of help.
  • Outdoor Programscouting necessarily requires work in the outdoor laboratory called nature.  Preparing or planning for outings teaches one set of skills, experiencing the plan in action develops a different set of skills and provides us with the simple reward of a great time.  The outdoor lab helps us develop physical strength, endurance, and cognizance of our surroundings.  We also learn to react appropriately to issues outside of our control — the presence of a wandering black bear, unexpected changes in weather conditions, coping with the occasional scrape or fall requiring first aid, or dealing with the lack of items we “forgot” to bring, etc.  We learn that these emergencies should bring out our best while we learn to suppress distracting panic.

rockwell careful-aim

These methods are equally important — no one should overwhelm the others, and none should be removed or de-emphasized within a unit or team.   When these methods are consistently employed they should develop personal well rounded character, citizenship and fitness.  For those boys who also take on the responsibility of leading others, leadership would also blossom (some argue that leadership development should be listed as a method, while others argue that leadership is developed out of these key methods — that listing it as a method is redundant).

For me and my sons, we pursued scouting for the practical experience of these methods.  There are times when my sons learned more from other adults than they could have learned from me alone.  There were times when they had to act immediately to provide first aid, or to cook, or to help others with service projects and the benefit of working side by side with other team mates and other adults was an experience that they would not have gotten by remaining within the strict confines of our own family experience.

To me, the answer to the question “Why Scouting?” is to enable my sons to benefit from all of its unique methods which shape character.

Beagle ScoutsThe follow up question might then become “Why Brand X? (where “brand X” may be Boy Scouts of America, Baden-Powell Service Association; Christian Service Brigade; Navigators USA; Royal Rangers; Federation of North American Explorers; Calvinist Cadet Corps; or Trail Life USA).  The answer depends on each family’s own goals for youth development within their own ideology or faith practice.  For some, full inclusion of all youth members and adult leaders regardless of personal “lifestyles” is of paramount concern, but for others the promotion and understanding of their deeply held faith convictions is paramount.

To assume that only one branded program can hold claim to the methods of scouting may seem romantic to some and quixotic to others.  The reality is that there are multiple programs which espouse the scouting method (with all of its benefits to youth), but each family must align it’s own goals with the “brand” that most closely fits their unique concerns.

For many Christians, a deterministically “Christian” organization may offer the best fit over a religiously pluralistic brand whose definition of “god” can include nature itself, a rock, or simply a mindset with no name or uniquely defining characteristics.  Often, these pluralistic programs de-emphasize personal faith convictions from it’s ideal set — focusing exclusively on moralistic conformity (ie. do not break the laws of the state, or our brand-specific ideals).  This can lead to “interfaith” practices which devalue and strip away those unique, personal expressions of faith practice (“diversity”) in order to avoid offense (“tolerance” or “conformity”).

Regardless of the brand of the program, “scouting” represents a strong set of youth development practices that encourage personal growth, character, fitness and participating citizenship.

Walk Worthy!



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