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Issue 184 – July 19, 2009 – Special

Usually, the letters are from readers here. This time the letter is from Andy and I want to share it with each of you because it offers some real insights into the best of Scouting – what it can be in a really good program. A few days ago, I read a wonderful email from Dan Kurtenbach, a Commissioner in the National Capital Area Council, on the Scouts-L e-mail discussion list suggesting how advancement requirements might be revised to eliminate words that suggest anything like a classroom learning process. I shared that email with Andy and told Andy very simply “I like the way he thinks.” In my way of thinking, Dan was right – there is a need for revision. I think that is because Scouting is about adventure, the out-of-doors, having fun, and not about being just another kind of school.

I like the way he thinks, too… and I’ll take it one step even further:

B-P described “advancement” as like a suntan: something you get naturally and effortlessly whilst having fun in the out-of-doors.

I think of “advancement” as “serendipity”–Done well, the Scout doesn’t even know it’s happened till it’s too late!

In addition to staying as far away from “Scout school” as we can, we also need to stop such admonitions as, “Go on this hike and you’ll get credit for…(fill in the blank),” or “Show up for this project and you’ll get service hour credit,” or “Go to camp so you can earn merit badges.” All of this is, in cold fact, the antithesis of what Scouting’s all about, and it’s anathema to who boys joined up in the first place!

I’m looking, right now, at a little booklet, produced in 1948, titled, “It’s Fun To Be A Scout.” Here are some excerpts: “You’ll find fun and adventure in Scouting–lots of it!”… “There’s fun in hiking…with your best friends”… “There’s fun in living on your own in the open…in a tent you’ve pitched, eating meals you’ve prepared”… and, “When you become a Scout, you show your willingness to join with other Scouts…in service.”… “Scouts have fun at home, too…when you learn some of the tracks (that) make camping easier…”

Notice immediately that there’s not one word in this introduction about “completing requirements” or “being tested,” or “doing stuff to receive ‘credit’.”

Let’s remember our Wood Badge “guided discovery” experiences… We did something, and then learned why we did it and what we’d done! These weren’t put in the syllabus for us adults; these were put there as models for us to emulate with our Scouts!

Think of a well-run COPE course… Do you hear guides saying, “Now we’re gonna learn how to work as a team”? Of course not! Instead, we’re given a challenge and we discover for ourselves that teamwork will produce a solution! Wow! What a concept! But… do we bring this home and apply it? Or do we return home with a renewed enthusiasm for running “classes”? Think about it…

So, how do we accomplish “serendipity” and “guided discovery” as Scoutmasters in our home troops…?

Let’s try this…

We notice that we have a new Scout patrol and every one of the six members is Tenderfoot, so they all need to learn how to pick a camping site, build a cooking fire, cook a couple of meals, and do a flag ceremony. So, they go on a campout with the troop, and pre-plan their meals under the guidance of their Troop Guide (the Assistant Scoutmaster also assigned to them “shadows” the Troop Guide). The Guide uses a Q&A method to elicit from them thoughts on how to select a good patrol campsite, and then he demonstrates how to gather the necessary ingredients for a successful cooking fire, so that the patrol goes off and does it, led by their Patrol Leader (not the Guide!), and they come back and a couple of them cook a meal (they make up their own “duty roster” of course), and then the next day others do the cooking. And so forth, without ever once mentioning “requirements”!

The patrol comes home. They bring their handbooks to the next troop meeting. At that meeting, their ASM says, “Scouts, your Guide tells me that you had a great campout! You selected your patrol site, built a couple of good cooking fires, had some good meals, and played capture-the-flag with the other patrols! Nice going! Say, by the way, would you give me your handbooks, please…” and then he proceeds to initial their books on the appropriate page, and shows them what they’ve done! Cool, huh!?! THAT is how Scouting’s supposed to work! No class, no quiz, no nuthin’ ‘cept learning-and-doing. Visceral, kinetic, hands-on, and A SURPRISE!

Same with service… Scouts aren’t “encouraged” to show up to “get credit”–they show up BECAUSE THEY’RE SCOUTS and THIS IS WHAT SCOUTS DO! (Andy)

Happy Scouting!

The NetCommish & Andy


Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(July 19, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter..


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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