A Scouting Movement, not a Program

February 21, 2011

Is the culture of expertise killing the Scouting Spirit?

We are in our 1st year after the 100th anniversary of the founding of Scouting in America.  The Centennial celebration of the BSA is over, and we can consider the lessons learned from the last century to continue into the next.

As a Scout, I was blissfully unaware of the inner workings of the Scouting program.  I can’t say that my troop was or wasn’t pointed toward the “True North” of Scouting as a boy-led troop.  We got along, we had fun, I made Eagle as did many of my friends.  My Scoutmasters gave much so us Scouts could do what we did.

They did something right, as I came back to Scouting as an adult.  In packs and troops and crews in different Councils along my journey, I realized how different Scouting is from other youth activities.  Scouting has a few paid staff in Council offices, but the program runs on volunteers.  Volunteers who it seems are increasingly difficult to recruit and retain.  And I blame the Soccer Moms.

Many of us in Generation X were brought up believing that if Mom (and Dad) really cared they would get us “professional help”.  Paid day care providers knew better how to raise us and professional teachers knew better than mom and dad how to educate us.  Only losers settled for mom or dad volunteering as coach.  They hired the soccer coach when they really cared.  Plus, it gets mom and dad off the hook for spending time with their kids—just let the experts deal with it.

Scouting isn’t immune to the culture of expertise.  In the early days, the experts were men like Ernest Thompson Seton, and even Lord Baden-Powell himself, but Scouting was a Movement, not a program.  Before BP issued his handbook, boys across the English-speaking world had picked up on Scouting all on their own.  Then volunteer Commissioners picked up the gauntlet.  Then, over time, we have come to rely more and more on professionals and experts.  The Movement gives way to policy and procedure and program.  Edicts come down from Dallas and the rest of us are expected to comply.

Excuse me if I sound less than inspired by the bureaucracy.

I believe the Scouting Movement is the most powerful enabler of change available to young people today.  Where else can a young man or a young woman go and run the program themselves? Where can they go to practice everything they need to know to be a success later in life?  Not on the basketball court where the coach anoints his favorites and yells at the rest.  Not in the classroom where the teachers teach to a test rather than to real life.  Who wants to be that?

Who wants to go to “Scout School”?

Perhaps it is time for us to listen to Prof. Hertz from BP’s homeland (though I have no idea of her opinion of Scouting, as a liberal European I doubt she’s on our side; no matter).  Perhaps it is time to rely less on the Scout Executives and more on the Patrol Leaders Councils.  Now, the Scout Law says specifically that a Scout seeks orderly change, not disobedience, but it may just be time to seek that orderly change by doing what’s right instead of what’s right now.

  • It may be time to worry less about the meaning of the term “active”, and more about how we help Scouts do stuff they want to be active in.
  • It may be time to spend less time recruiting “Friends of Scouting”, and more time recruiting Friends into Scouting.
  • It may be time to do less “training”, and do more learning.
  • It may be time to set aside the prescribed Scouting Program, and take up again a Scouting Movement.

I’ll get right on that, right after the next Committee meeting…




6 Responses to “A Scouting Movement, not a Program”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John S. and Jonah @ ClassB, John S.. John S. said: A Scouting Movement, not a Program http://wp.me/ppAIA-ac […]

  2. Thanks John!
    If you look at all the rules and policies and take them at face value you’ll find that they are almost all simple, direct and important.
    What happens is folks look at one small piece of the whole and interpret everything from what they can see. Second basic problem is that some leaders want things to be more defined and uniform so they forget about individual Scouts and work with herds of scouts.
    Movements are hard to control, hard to direct and define, but they often do the most good.
    B.P. wrote lots of corrective messages to Scouters in his lifetime – they still apply to us today.

    • JC Says:

      Clarke- I really appreciate that you took time to reply. I’ve learned alot from your blog. Herding Scouts is only slightly more difficult than herding cats.

  3. Mike Gregorio Says:


    Thanks for the insight, I don’t disagree with you. I see that everyone is also trying to make Scouting fit more on a controlled path to Eagle. I watch as councils and districts move leader training on-line to make it easier for those with less time. I understand that it make the training more available, but we lose alot by not having the social contact and team dynamics that we are supposed to be learning and teaching. I see summer camps offering wireless so the adult leaders can bring work with them while they are supposed to be out there with the boys.

  4. […] A Scouting Movement, not a Program […]

  5. […] You may have heard of Professor Hertz as an early herald of the 2008 global financial crisis.  I first took notice of her TED talk a couple years ago, “How to use experts — and when not to”.  I don’t endorse her politics, but I do appreciate her skills of observation.  At the time, I applied her topic to my involvement in Scouting. I was concerned that the Professionals had taken all of the fun out of it: […]

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