What is Scouting?
- As a noun, it describes a youth-focused leadership curriculum designed to accomplish specific aims or goals through specific processes or methods.
- As a verb, it could be a generic descriptor of actions or tactics employed to achieve the aims of the program (called “methods”).
Scouting got its start in Great Britain with the efforts and vision of Lord Baden-Powell (BP). The concepts put into practice by BP have migrated all over the world in due time. The program we call “scouting” goes by specific names in different countries and there are many programs that use scouting methods to implement their curriculum. For example, we could note that Boy Scouts of America, as a brand name, is a scouting program, but it’s not the only scouting program practiced in the USA.
The most common way to identify a youth program as a “scouting program” is to examine the methods used to present its unique curriculum. Generally speaking there are seven key methods to any scouting program:
- Character/Developmental Ideals
- Outdoor Program
- Association with Adults
- Personal growth
(BSA added an eigth method in the 1970’s called “Leadership Development” and it has been argued by many adult scouters whether this was redundant since it is incorporated throughout the other ideals and should occur on its own)
Follow the Recipe for Expected Results
When my sons were old enough to prepare their own meals, they loved to cook. We had not covered baking in great detail as it typically requires more precision and forethought. My older son decided that he didn’t need to learn recipes and practice with our supervision – he was sure he knew how to make cookies from scratch.
He mixed together milk, flour, oil, water, sugar and stirred it until it was soupy (no need for measuring cups – he just “eyeballed it”). He poured it out on a baking sheet and set the oven to 300 degrees. Hours later, he still had a sticky mess on the sheet instead of golden cookies. He was very proud of his effort until he tasted the outcome.
We then encouraged him to try again, but to stick to the directions and follow the recipe. The recipe serves as a guide, a reminder, of what has been tested and proven over time to produce predictable and happy results.
Sure, we can substitute toffee chips for the chocolate chips, but result isn’t chocolate chip cookies, its toffee chip cookies. Further, if we abandon the key mixture ratios or fail to combine the dry and wet ingredients properly, we may not get something edible at all.
God created us in His image and we have become a distorted version of that initial effort by the corruption of original sin. However, God gave us clear and simple directions on living our lives – initially, we had the Law, then Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. Now we have the Bible, too. These provide clear guidance on how to live life productively and in harmony with God. When we deviate from the recipe, we get something other than initially planned, less than ideal, and often it is frustratingly useless.
There are all sorts of youth fellowship and development programs available today.
- Some are built entirely within the local church and run by parents, or a dedicated youth pastor.
- Some are completely secular in approach.
- Some are regional in scope and use a shared curriculum or format to deliver a consistent program.
- Some are single gender focused, while others are co-educational.
- Some are designed to bring together every willing participant regardless of belief or background and others focus on families with specific beliefs so that there can be deeper discussion of those shared, group characteristics.
- Others are tied to specific faith practices or denominations to highlight a deep knowledge of their shared identity – defined by doctrines and practices.
All of these may be highly effective at helping boys and girls grow up to be successful, productive, character-rich individuals.
However, if we want to receive the benefits (results) of a scouting program, we ought to follow the recipe card (the methods) to get that defined outcome.
Welcome to Baking Class
Within Trail Life USA, we know that each unit is unique in how they execute the program locally, but ideally, they should each strive to incorporate all seven of the methods into their program in order to follow the recipe.
How individual units actually fare in following the recipe depends on a number of factors: the interest of the boys; the influence of the adults (too much or too little); the size of the unit (logistics); the support resources; the success of fundraising efforts or CO financial support and more. Even apart from these factors, each troop prioritizes its own emphasis on each scouting method.
One could imagine a mythical ‘control panel’ which has seven slider controls with a scale of one to ten printed alongside – the scouting unit, through its programs and activities would slide each controller ahead or backward to designate each method’s relative priority. Ideally, all would be relatively equal and offering as high a priority as possible.
However, many units cluster three or four high and the rest low. This is especially true of those troops who have limited resources, limited adult leadership (or committee) support or logistical challenges in conducting the program. Perhaps the troop and its member families are in an economically challenged area so uniforms and high adventure trips have to take a backseat to other methods which are less dependent on finances.
It would be amazing to participate in a unit where all of the methods received top-most priority and were executed consistently well. Unfortunately, that’s a relatively rare occurrence. Most units excel in three or four areas and demonstrate what we might label as “functional competence” in the remainder. Fortunately, this provides a good program for the benefit of the boys, and one that keeps families engaged.
If it Walks Like a Duck…
So can we alter the recipe? Sure, but don’t call it scouting, and don’t be surprised if the results are different, too. Our goal is to serve the boys by enabling them to own the program at an appropriate age. The prep work that goes on in Woodlands Trail ought to set the stage for increasing responsibility and challenge during Navigators and Adventurers with being recognized as a Ready Trailman the goal.