Celebrating Imagination AND Tradition

October 31, 2013
Batman: The Long Halloween

Batman: The Long Halloween (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Halloween is among the more popular holidays with the Scout-age crowd.  Its not just the candy.  Its a time of year when imagination runs wild.  Forget about what you are, or what your peers think you are.  You can be a pro-baseball player, or an NFL quarterback, or a super-fast goalie.  You can be a soldier or a sailor, Superman or Batman, warlock or web wizard.  Icabod Crane or the Headless Horsemen, Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, Charlie Brown or Snoopie, pick your hero or villain.  You can be anything you can think up.

I’m not a Halloween guy myself.  The roots of the “holiday” lie in ancient pagan celebrations of Celtic spirits, which became incorporated in All Hallows Eve.  I have a hard time reconciling the tradition with my faith (A Scout is Reverent) but that’s me.  However, it reminds me that one kid’s harmless fun can be another kid’s offense.

I’m not talking about being politically correct.  I am talking about respecting tradition and different perspectives.  History is full of a variety of stories–my post on Tall Tales & the Bear Cub achievement activity is the #1 all-time post I’ve written anywhere.  These stories bind us to those who have gone before.  Our ancestors deserve to have their stories told unvarnished.

At the same time, Scout leaders must be sensitive to perspectives we may not share.  We grow by learning and welcoming new ideas, and figuring out how to incorporate those ideas into our traditions.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  And our Packs and Troops and Crews will grow by letting our imaginations run a bit wild, without scaring off boys… or their parents.

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Scouter Davey Jones, RIP

September 29, 2013

Lewis & Clark Monument

I can’t say it much better than Sioux Council’s Scout Executive, on the recent loss of a long-time Scouter from Minnesota:

Scouting Friends:

It is with deepest regret that I share the news of the passing of Lewis & Clark Scout Camp icon and our Scouting friend, David “Davey” Jones. Davey passed away in his sleep on September 5th while on a fossil hunting expedition with a friend in Lusk, WY.

It is not over stated to say that Davey was a legend among Scouts who attended summer camp at Lewis & Clark. This past camping season was Davey’s 37th at the camp on the hills above the Missouri River. His legacy literally touched the lives of thousands of campers throughout the decades.

Davey’s impact on Scouting was not limited to summer camp alone. He was a stalwart presence in local Scouting in both the Worthington and Marshall, MN areas. His distinctive voice, the always positive attitude and the wealth of knowledge will be sorely missed by all.

In many college communities, Davey was renowned for his knowledge of, work in and support of paleontology. It is fitting that Davey’s last hours were spent doing what he loved.

Davey’s family wishes to express their thanks for the many kind words of condolence they have received from the Scouting community. Davey’s body will be cremated and a memorial service will be held in Spring 2014 at Lewis and Clark Scout Camp.

Family members have requested that anyone wishing to honor Davey’s memory can make contributions in his name to the Sioux Council, BSA.

Please keep Davey’s family, including his many beloved friends in Scouting, in your prayers in this time of loss.

Tom Smotherman Jr. – Scout Executive

Davey was displaced from his long-time home in Worthington, Minnesota, when the State widened a highway through town.  Turning lemons into lemonade, as Scouters are wont to do, Davey worked out a life estate at Lewis & Clark Scout Reservation outside Yankton, South Dakota.  He helped the camp build some much-needed facilities, as I understand it, and the camp helped him with a place to stay.  I can still hear him smile, raise his hand, and say “On my honor…” .

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Each of Us a Corp of Discovery

August 30, 2013

Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center

Back to school time is a good time to remember Scouting is NOT Scout School.

Scouting is boy-run, bottoms-up.  School is adult-run, top-down.

Scouting is a game for learning.  School is learning, so we can play games.

Scouting is a gang of eight (the patrol), all for one and one for all. School is all about individual achievement, as a cog in too-often a nameless bureaucracy.

Scouting is not competition for school or sports, but a compliment. We do well what they do not. Successful teams, like Lewis & Clark’s Corp of Discovery, follow universal truths with a strong dose of adaptation–to team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and to their changing environment. And each Troop does this not because we have to, but because we WANT to…go higher, last longer, be better citizens and men.

Yours in Scouting.
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Nothing More American Than Scouting?

July 4, 2013
Three early 20th century leaders of the Scouti...

Three early 20th century leaders of the Scouting movement (l-to-r): Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden-Powell, and Dan Beard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elsewhere on social media, an innocent Independence Day missive provoked a flurry of comments:

“There’s nothing more all-American than Scouting! So it’s a great day to thank you for supporting BSA… Happy 4th of July!”

To which the most relevant responder pointed out that Scouting was in fact founded by an Englishman, and that Independence Day celebrates our (US) separation from the Brits.  Others (sarcastically or not) accused the Boy Scouts of America organization of either continued prejudice or abandonment of first principles, etc and so on.  You can guess where I stand on principles, but I’ve often wondered about America’s love-hate relationship with our Colonial overlords back in the United Kingdom.  America was first settled by people of British origin (setting aside the Native Americans who had migrated to the continent a millennium or more before).  To rebel against Britain was in many ways to rebel against our own family.  Yet there it was, in the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…

I will let historians debate our shared Special Relationship.  Here I am interested in Scouting, as a movement not a bureaucracy.

Robert Baden-Powell, the Englishman did, of course, found the game of Scouting based on his military experience in Africa and India.  He also had a lot of help.

We all know the story of the Unknown Scout who helped Chicago publisher William D. Boyce through the London fog, and to a lesser extent James West who took the helm of the new Boy Scouts of America a century ago.  But sometimes we forget Boyce & West didn’t just import a British idea—they brought a Scouting idea home that had many fathers.

Ernest Thompson Seton was the first Chief Scout in the BSA, and is fairly well known as a founder of Scouting in America.  He is in the new Handbook, page 60 in fact.  An Englishman of Scottish descent, he emigrated to Canada with his family when he was a small boy.  Later settling in the New York area, Seton founded Woodcraft Indians in 1902 to give local hoodlums something to do.  It is well known that B-P was influenced by The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, which Seton published in 1906, and the Woodcraft Indians merged into the BSA when that organization was founded in 1910.

“Uncle Dan” Beard is also on page 60, fairly well known as an American founder of Scouting, at least as far as Scouting Heritage is followed these days.  Daniel Carter Beard was an engineer and surveyor, and a friend of Ernest Thompson Seton.  In 1882, he published the American Boy’s Handy Book, filled with illustrations and practical stuff for American Boys to do.  In 1905, he founded the Sons of Daniel Boon, (aka Boy Pioneers) in celebration of American Frontiersmen such as their illustrious namesake, Kit Carson, Davey Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, James Audubon, and George Catlin.  Beard became National Commissioner in the new BSA, and helped found Campfire Girls as an outdoor-oriented sister organization to the BSA.

Less well known in the US are others who contributed to B-P’s Scouting Movement.  Minnesotan Frederick Russell Burnham, for example, grew up among the Sioux Indians and was an Old West scout in the Apache Wars.  He went on to serve in the British Army in Africa, where he taught woodcraft to Baden-Powell.  You can blame Burnham for B-P adapting the American cowboy’s bandana as the Scout Neckerchief.

Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, a Dakota Sioux, was also from Minnesota and graduated from Dartmouth College and Boston University.  He wrote about growing up in an Indian tribe on the changing frontier, including Indian Scout Craft and Lore.  He worked with Seton to implement programs through the YMCA and other groups, then in establishing the BSA.  It was one thing for East Coast anglo-americans to tout Indian skills, but Eastman lived them and was proud of his Native American heritage.

These are just a few of the Americans who influenced Baden-Powell in establishing the Scouting movement, and who later implemented B-P’s ideas in the USA.  There may, in fact, be nothing more American than Scouting.  In many ways, in reaching out in partnership between the old family in England and the the new family here in the United States to bring to life the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, Scouting as a movement is more American than America herself.

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Scouting is the Idea

June 1, 2013

English: Front cover of the second installment...

What would B-P do?

Robert Baden-Powell founded Scouting over 100 years ago to fill a void.  He took what he had learned in service to his country and adapted it for boys who clamored for an outdoor life—a Boy’s Life.

Over the years, B-P’s Scouting idea was filtered and further adapted and bureaucratized by men, most with good intentions, as the Scouting Movement became institutionalized in 100s of nations across the world.  As they say, an idea is the raw grain of a movement, and as any other ingredient in man’s diet it is seldom recognizable by the time it becomes a “movement”.

We can argue if the Scout Association of the UK or the Boy Scouts of America (current or “improved”) or the Girls Scouts of America or any member of the World Organization of the Scouting Movement (WOSM) has remained faithful to B-P’s spirit and intent.  How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

There is no arguing that modern bureaucracies have changed essential elements of B-P’s Scouting for Boys.  That fact is printed in plain black and white.  The BSA has wandered far from the basics of the Game of Scouting, with warm fuzzys and merit badge factories and full-time institutional inertia.  We can (and will) argue whether this is a good thing or not.  And in the United States, this time of trouble regarding such a bureaucratic travesty as membership standards may be the perfect impetus to revisit the whole reason we became Scouts.

Why do you play the Game of Scouting?

As a youth, I never thought much about the difference between “Scouting” and the BSA.  I knew B-P started Scouting in England a long time ago, and communist nations outlawed Scouting.  When I returned to the BSA as an adult leader, I read up on the meaning of that purple fleur-de-lis on my uniform, and the fact that there are many different Scouting organizations, both within the WOSM and without.

The Traditional Scouting movement refers to a back to basics effort that returns Scouting to a style based on Robert Baden-Powell‘s model of Scouting; rejecting the trend of modernizing Scouting to appeal to more youths… In America, the term Traditional Scouting can also refer to “old-fashioned” Scouting in some form, as opposed to the Traditional Scouting movement. -Wikipedia

The BSA is only one player in the Scouting movement.  Some alternate groups are more or less organized, more or less conservative or liberal, more or less “Traditional”.  As a Scouter, this may be a time to stick with the BSA and work to bring the movement back closer to B-P’s ideas and ideals.  As a Scouter, it may be time to plant your flag in another camp.

Either way remember:  Scouting is a Game, and it is for the Boys.

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Morally Straight… No More.

May 23, 2013
"Boy Scouts of America" march (sheet...

“Boy Scouts of America” march (sheet music) Page 1 of 6 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is a sad day in the history of Scouting.  Please indulge me one last time… for now.  I expect if you’re involved, or even interested, in Scouting you’ve heard the results of the BSA’s change in membership policy.  You may agree, or not, and I do not.  But at the end of the day, many—hopefully most–of us will cowboy up and muddle along.

I am disappointed that our organization that bills itself as having “timeless values” folded so easily to outside pressure.  And Yes, I do see this as an assault from outside Progressives bent on tearing down any institution of traditional values.  This is not the end.  They smell blood in the water and will circle the BSA like sharks.  The attacks on adult membership standards continues, and they will double down on atheism.  Moral relativism is alive and well as men of principle shirk their duty.

As a practical matter, this issue remains one more element of Character.  While the statement reaffirms that “sexual conduct” is contrary to the virtues of Scouting, have we ever withheld rank from a boy who was sexually active?  Have we withheld leadership from adults known to engage in extra-marital affairs?  Should we?  How about youth caught drinking?  Drinking and driving?  Bullying?

We say one thing, we do another, and society in general convicts us of moral hypocrisy.

And today they are right.

The Boy Scouts of America Statement (23 May 2013):

“For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.

“Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization’s long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting’s mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change.

“Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place. The BSA thanks all the national voting members who participated in this process and vote.

“This policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units.

“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue. As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.

“While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. America’s youth need Scouting, and by focusing on the goals that unite us, we can continue to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve.”

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Myself, I am troubled by the change, and how it was accomplished.  I’m not interested in telling other people how to live their lives, but there are many different things I can do with my time… things which align with traditional values.  I think after Summer Camp, I may take a break from the BSA and re-visit those values.

Yours in Scouting,

John S.

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You Can Never Be Prepared For Some Things

April 30, 2013

English: A stop sign in , Canada.

I witnessed an auto accident last week.  Guy pulled out from a stop sign and t-boned a car right in front of me. Scarred the heck out of me.

My Scout sense did kick right in.  I stopped safely, checked the scene, then called 911.  Fortunately nobody was hurt seriously, just banged up.  Both cars were totaled.

I was thankful then that years of Scout training didn’t fail me then.  But there are some things we can’t always be prepared for.  My friend was in the car in front of me that was wrecked–I wasn’t a cool, collected first responder; I was mad as hell and fighting not to make a bad situation worse.  Then when I calmed down, I really wondered how well prepared I would have been to provide first aid if someone had been bleeding. When was the last time I checked my first aid kit in the truck?

As Scouts we strive to do our best, but there’s just some things you’re never sure how well prepared you will be.

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Scouting isn’t for Everybody

March 2, 2013

Two Scouting uniforms from 1917-1918

Please indulge me in one more Sound Off post, and I’ll get back to more fun & interesting fare…

Scoutmaster Jerry posted a provocative piece this week on his blog.  In part, he says:

I submit for the sake of discussion that maybe Scouting is not for every boy.  It may be that what Scouting offers is not what they want or need.  It may be that the boy is not ready for the adventures that Scouting offer and well-intentioned parents do not really understand what Scouting is all about.  It is also true that many Scout leaders do not know what Scouting is all about and therefore have promoted a program that misses the mark when it comes to achieving Scouting’s aims.  This has led to young boys joining troops that quickly disappoint or fail to deliver on the expectations they and their parents had on the join night.

As I’ve tried to note previously, any values-based organization is, inherently, “not for everybody”.  And that is OK.  There are, as Jerry notes in his blog, plenty of after-school programs that provide entertainment & exercise.  BSA doesn’t stand for “Baby Sitters of America”!  Jerry continues:

Not everyone wants what Scouting offers.  Numbers, while they drive much of what the professional Scouters track are not the program.  A great program that stays the course will bring in the numbers of boys that seek adventure, values, and ideals that are the hallmark of the Scouting program.  Numbers for the sake of numbers will be just that and we see this play out each year with amount of boys that leave our units.  They don’t want to play the game with a purpose and we should not make them.

We can not be all things to all people without sacrificing our core values.

Now I don’t want to misrepresent Scoutmaster Jerry’s views on membership.  I know from Twitter that he favors changing the membership policy, along with a few other Scouters whom I respect yet respectfully disagree.  I believe the BSA’s membership policy is all about character and how people choose to live their lives.

The BSA is an organization for people who choose to live their lives with character.

That is the larger question far beyond the immediate issue of membership standards.  That is the larger question that inspires the passion of people on both sides of the immediate issue.  That is the much more difficult question of maintaining BSA’s core values in a world of situational ethics and moral relativism that doesn’t much care for values any more.

 

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To Sacrifice our Principles for Popularity

February 26, 2013

I am glad to see the BSA Home Office finally getting their PR straightened out on this membership mess.

Scouting Magazine‘s Bryan on Scouting blog today published a well-written defense of the national Key 3′s fiasco.  No matter how you feel about the content, at least they’re communicating.

I do disagree with the premise that this is a “family discussion”.  Call it what it is—outside agitators for political correctness.  The “family” settled this matter last year when National Council recommitted to existing membership standards.

Why would our leaders reopen this wound?  I believe this quote from National Commissioner Tico Perez is insightful:

The Key 3 has “one singular purpose in mind: to grow Scouting,” Perez explained. “To take Scouting to as many boys and girls as we can in America…

It’s all about the numbers.  That is the root threat to our organization, much much more important than this smokescreen of membership.

We all know Packs and Troops that look great on paper.  They recharter dozens and dozens of Scouts and Scouters.  They have fun at their meetings, but they don’t ask much of anybody.  Its not too hard to earn ranks, but not too many boys learn very much.  They are popular, but they don’t accomplish much.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t have fun, but at some point we’re compromising the quality of the program in the quest for numbers.

Growth for the sake of growth is no solution for Scouting.  We can not sacrifice our principles for popularity.

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Physically Strong, Mentally Awake, Morally Straight

February 24, 2013

On my honor I will do my best…
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

The BSA National Executive Board has re-opened the can of worms that is our national membership standards.  What a PR disaster.  The atheists and moral relativists of the left haven’t been able to destroy Scouting from the outside, so now they’re trying it from the inside.

What is the BSA’s current membership policy?

“The applicant must possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth. The applicant must also be the correct age, subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle, and abide by the Scout Oath or Promise, and the Scout Law.”

“While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”

The argument seems to be that sexual orientation is wholly genetic.  The science is far from certain, but for argument’s sake accept the gambit.  We shouldn’t discriminate against people solely on the basis of their draw from the gene pool, should we?

The problem is, we are all dealt a random sample of genetics, but how we act on those genetics defines our character.  Some of us are overweight and some of us can’t swim.  Some of us are slow learners and some of us would just rather not.  Some of us are morally challenged.

  • The Scout Oath promises that a Scout will be “physically strong”.  Physical strength is based on genetics, modified by the personal character to exercise.  Scouts must pass physical fitness requirements (including passing the swim test) for First Class Rank, Physical Fitness & Swimming-Biking-Hiking merit badges for Eagle.  Scouters must pass the swim test to go on the water, and meet stringent height-weight standards to participate in backcountry adventures.  Yet we don’t hear the peanut gallery screaming about how we discriminate against Fat People.
  • The Scout Oath promises that a Scout will be “mentally awake”.  Intelligence is based on genetics, modified by the personal character to study and apply oneself.  I’ve met many Scouts, and more Scouters, who are on mental nap-time.  Yet we don’t hear the peanut gallery yelling about how we need to dumb down our program in the interest of self esteem (although I expect they are out there).
  • The Scout Oath promises that a Scout will be “morally straight”.  Perhaps that is based on genetics, but it is also modified by personal character in which we choose how we apply ourselves.

As a practical matter, however the mucky-mucks at BSA HQ work this out—if they stand strong or cave into outside interests—I don’t expect it will make much difference to the local unit.  We’ll deal with it.

However, the entire episode tarnishes us.  As Scouts, we’re supposed to be braver, smarter, better than average.  We are no better than average when we bend our standards to be more popular with the “in crowd”.

If anyone would like to voice their opinion directly to National please forward to feedback@scouting.org

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