Is Scouting still relevant?

p6.jpgWhen I was in 7th grade, my father left the military and we moved to South Jersey, where we stayed for some years. I joined the Boy Scouts when I moved there, and stayed involved thru high school, and yes, earned my Eagle Scout.

I was very lucky, however, to have found a troop that even then still modeled itself after Baden-Powell’s vision – turning boys into men, and using nature as the forum for learning. Our troop was fortunate to own two dozen canoes, trailers, and tents to be able to get out often, and get out often we did. Starting in the spring, we would get the canoes out (most of them fiberglass behemoths, with a few aluminums) and clean them up and make any repairs necessary. Then every Sunday until fall we would have a canoe outing – sometimes it was just down to a local lake, but mostly it was into the Pine Barrens of South Jersey to explore some interesting route or other. In the summer the troop would take up to 20 kids to Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada for a four week canoe camping adventure.

In addition, during the warmer months, the troop would hold a backpacking trip at least once a month – we would head out to Pennsylvania, Delaware, or parts of Jersey and hike to a designated spot where we would set up camp. It was never too much, and the Scoutmaster did a great job of getting everyone to work as a team. Oftentimes we would visit historical sites like Gettysburg and combine that with our camping outing.

My best camping recollection from those days was always the January campout – in the days between Christmas and New Year’s our Scoutmaster would gather the unsold Christmas trees from the area and dump them off at a wooded area where we had our troop camping location. Then one weekend in January we would go out there, drag the trees for about a mile and half to the campsite, and pile them up. In teams of 3 or 4, we would strip the branches off with machetes, and use the trunks to build lean-to frames in the woods, and the branches to seal in the lean-to’s. The first time I did this, I remember we built a traditional top-only lean-to, and we woke up with our sleeping bags covered with snow. In subsequent years we learned to build full shelters, to the point where our problem was not snow, but the fact that we had actually built Indian-style sweat lodges!

February always meant Klondike derby, where we would build dog-sleds, with wheels, and use boy-power to traverse a course thru the woods. The goal was to use orienteering skills to get to the right place at the right time – at which point you should have found various skill stations where you would be tested. This was a contest between the troops of our district, and was a high point for the year.

My son had joined the local Cub Scouts a couple of years ago, and I was as excited as he was at first. It didn’t take long to see that something was different from when I was involved. First, the emphasis was not on the Scouting principles I had learned, but rather on how quickly one could get their books signed off to move onto the next rank. Outings were few and far between – admittedly these were only Cub’s, but with no associated Boy Scout troop, there also seemed to be nothing to look forward to. The drop-out rate among the boys was high, and I am still trying to convince my son to get involved again but with no success.

My question, then, is as noted in the title – is Scouting still relevant? How does its relevance (or non-relevance) relate to the “Last Child in the Woods” book? Perhaps parents are too protective, and don’t see the value of what Scouting has to offer. Without parent involvement, no troop could be as active as mine was. Or is it simply that other organized activities like Little League and soccer have dominated the time constraints on our children?

I have seen little evidence in my area that Scouting is alive and well – but would love to be proved wrong, and would love to have something to show my son that would convince him to reconsider.

If not, then the best answer may be to pull out my own Scout Handbook and attempt to use it as a guide to teach him what I learned – not just how to tie knots and paddle a canoe, but how to live with decency, respect and reverence. As always, it’ll be one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

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8 thoughts on “Is Scouting still relevant?

  1. denleaderbob

    Well, being a Cub Scout leader and parent I would have to answer your question with HECK YEAH. To me it sounds like you might have picked the wrong Pack for your son. Our pack is very active, having atleast one activity a month outside of normal pack meetings. During the warmer months, starting in about March and ending around October, those activities a usually outdoors. Now we do not go canoing (not allowed for Cubs) or other activities you might remember doing with the Troop. But we go hiking, kite flying, rocket shooting, swimming, biking and many other outdoor activities.

    My suggestion to you and your son is to look around and find a pack that is busy… So busy that you can’t keep and get him involved with them. All it will take is for you to find one fun pack activity that your son enjoys to get him involved again…

    My two cents

    Mr. Bob
    A Cub Scouting Adventure Podcast – http://acsadventure.com

  2. Thanks Bob –

    My fear, too, is that the Pack we joined was lacking in organization and experience. My son simply thinks that means Cub Scouts is boring, and has been reluctant to try again. My other concern though is that many of the scout groups I’ve seen lately seem so focused on accomplishing the sets of objectives they miss the point of program. In other words, they rush thru the checkoff lists so as to get to the next rank, but miss the lessons meant to be learned. I hope it was a Pack-related issue, and not a general statement of Scouting. Given that so many of today’s kids are taught to get from point A to point B without regard for the journey, I hope I can find a unit that still remembers WHY we do this in the first place.

    I’m curious as to where you’re located, by the way – you’re not close to me, are you? I’ve tried using my local Council’s website to find other Pack’s, but I can’t find a good list anywhere.

    WW

  3. denleaderbob

    I am in Kansas City… Well just south of there. I would suggest contacting your DE (District Executive)… If you do not know the name just call your council office and they can get the name for you…

    As for objectives vs journey, I kinda agree… I focus on the objectives as we do have a limited time to get the rank that the boys are working toward. HOWEVER, my number one focus is fun… If the boys are not smiling or moving than I am doing something wrong. For instance, as Tigers (1st Grade Cub Scouts) we have a requirement to talk about the weather and do a leaf rubbing… Even though it was 30 degrees outside the boys, thier adult partners and myself went on a hike around the Church grounds looking for leaves and talking about why it gets cold and why it rains and why it snows, etc… The boys had a great time and they got three requirements out of the way.

    You can still focus on the badge requirements while making the journey worthwhile. Here are a few things to ask a new potential pack:

    1. Who is on your committee? Is it just leaders or are other parents involved? The reason for this question is this shows how involved other parents are in the pack. That is very important to having a well run and organized pack. If the leaders are having to spend all their time talking about funds and fund raising and recruitment and blah blah blah they have less time focusing on making the pack fun…

    2. Are your leaders and committee members trained? If not, are they scheduled to be at the next training? Most councils have training at least twice a year for leaders and other positions. I believe most do a summer and fall training. LEADERS MUST BE TRAINED. I hate training but there are things about BSA you can’t learn by doing. For instance, two deep leadership. When ever you are around the boys there should ALWAYS be two leaders / parents. This protects the boys and leaders… (See Youth Protection Training for more info)…

    3. Do you and the other leaders / committee members attend Roundtable? Every council holds monthly meeting where leaders and other adults get together to further knowledge, relationship and disperse information. I put allot of emphasis on attending roundtable because I have learned so much myself. I have built friendship with other leaders that I have leveraged to help my pack grow.

    4. Explain to me your plans for the next six months? If they do not have a six month plan for the pack I doubt someone like you would be happy there… (Trust me, we sound alike 🙂 )…

    5. What can I do to help? That is the most important thing… Every pack needs more hands to help. If they do not than I suspect they might be doing something wrong like not enough activities. Get involved. You do not have to be a leader to help… Organize the family campout, pinewood derby or some other event. Help to set up a fundraiser so that the boys can go to camp… There is a ton of stuff to do at the pack level…

    Just a few things to think about. I encourage you to interview the packs in your area… and heck if you don’t like what you see start one of your own 🙂

    Mr. Bob
    A Cub Scouting Adventure Podcast – http://acsadventure.com

  4. Thank you very much – this is very helpful. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    WW

  5. I don’t really know where to begin; is Scouting still relevant?

    Is education? Is mentoring? Is camping, backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, cycling, hiking, pioneering? It is all what one chooses to make of it.

    As Tom so eloquently demonstrates on this blog hiking is more than putting one foot in front of the other; there are spiritual, psycological, physiological factors at play that make hiking more than a walk in the woods.

    Scouting is more than a bunch of nerdy kids wearing uniforms or overzealous parents trying to advance the interests of their children.

    Observe a community or classroom anywhere in the world and you will conclude that boys instinctively form groups, adopt uniforms, establish standards, develop a credo and create initiatory challenges. While most educational systems battle these instincts scouting gives them a means of positive expression. Boys yearn to belong, to gain acceptance and approval outside the confines of their family. Their imperfect search for guidance and understanding is often met with suspicion and misapprehension. In adolescence they try on lots of attitudes and poses paradoxically seeking approval from the adult world in their very rebellion against it. It can be a tough time for everybody.

    We all more or less hammered our way through adolescence in whatever way we could. Some had it easier than others. There were some people who made the process more difficult for us and some who helped. That’s part of the reason that I am a Scoutmaster – I’d like to help. I like to go camping, I like to teach, and I like to cook over a fire.

    Scouting, for all the protestations otherwise, is not an ideology. It is a movement with a program that recognizes how to channel the unstable energies and excesses of adolescence. When scouting doesn’t work as it should it is usually adults who have made a real mess of things; it is almost never the fault of boys.

    As with any pursuit there are various levels of commitment and interpretation. Some are shining examples of relevance – some are otherwise. Like most things Scouting is what one makes of it.

    Look past the uniform (by the way everybody wears a uniform in one guise or another) and see for yourself.

  6. denleaderbob

    Any luck on finding a new pack?

  7. How is the recovery coming Winter Warlock?
    Haven’t seen a post in a while and thought I would drop in…
    DSD

  8. DSD

    You doing ok there guy………?
    DSD

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