Posts Tagged ‘Traditional Scouting’

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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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…

-johnS

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