1914 marked the year the Boy Scouts of America first published its own version of the HANDBOOK FOR SCOUT MASTERS. While certainly a “how-to” guide for hands-on Scoutmastership, much as today’s editions, this book, uniquely, discusses at length the fundamental philosophy underpinning the Scouting movement. Importantly, this philosophy has changed little in the past 96 years. For example, it was stated in 1914 that “The primary object of the Boy Scouts of America is…educational character-building for good citizenship,” and this objective remains virtually intact today.
Then, in a chapter specifically titled, “Principles and Methods,” this handbook makes this statement: “The Scout Master must keep in mind that it is his business to work in cooperation with all of the forces that are trying to help the boy to live rightly in his community.” It also makes this statement: “The Scout Master will be doing his best work when he so plans his Scouting that it will fit into the school or employed life of the boy.”
Stop for a moment. Go back and read those two statements again, and ask yourself: What are they saying to us, as Scouting volunteers?
Let’s turn to the young men who have recently received the 2009 National Eagle Scout Association scholarships. A scholarship recipient in the BSA’s Northeast Region is, of course, an Eagle Scout, but his life beyond Scouting includes stage manager for over 40 school dramas, plus a part-time job. In the Central Region, this young man, in addition to Scouting, he’s a National Honor Society tutor and an altar and funeral server at his church. In the Southern region, the Eagle Scout-recipient also was on his school’s Varsity football and wrestling teams, was a National Honor Society member, and a member of the National Beta Club. In the Western Region, this Eagle Scoutvolunteered six hours every week at a free medical clinic—not for “service hours” but because he wants to be a surgeon—is a concert violinist, Karate Black Belt, sailor and equestrian. Finally, the top national scholarship recipient is an Eagle Scout who is a multiple-subject GATE-AP student, school academic team captain and two-time MVP, four-year soccer team player, and president of his school’s student government. Together, these five Scouts received nearly $150 thousand, and deservedly so.
How do these two aspects—the cooperation of Scouting with “other forces” and multi-faceted Eagle Scouts—fit together? This way: These young men’s Scoutmasters understood 96 year-old precepts and made certain that Scouting remained flexible to accommodate their busy, active, involved, and broad-based lives.
Far too often, I receive letters from Scouts and their parents at odds with a Scoutmaster who, instead of cooperating with other factors in a boy’s natural life, establishes an either-or rule: “It’s either Scouts or other stuff, and you’d better pick, because I’m going to‘flunk’ you on ‘active’ and ‘Scout spirit’ unless you show up for XX% of all troop meetings and campouts.” Far too often, I hear from a Scoutmaster irate that any Scout in “his” troop would deign to go out for a team sport and have to show up for practice and games, or participate in debate after school, or go to band camp instead of Scout camp, or ditch a meeting because he’s an actor or tech in a school play, and on and on. The pity is these people just don’t get it… They don’t get that the true “volunteers” in Scout aren’t the adults; they’re the boys and young men who are getting something out of the Scouting program that, if managed right, can last a lifetime. Remember, there’s nothing “compulsory” about Scouts: If a youth is harassed, threatened, brow-beaten, or just plain bored with an unimaginative program, he’s gone. Likely forever.
Maybe we need something like a “Hippocratic Oath for Scoutmasters”—I will keep the youth in my care from injustice, and never do them harm. How? Simple: We just need to make room in our thinking for the whole variety of forces invested in bringing up our country’s next generation to be happy, productive, responsible citizens.So, back to “square one”—Let’s all work in cooperation with all of the forces that are trying to help the boy to live rightly in his community…and the world.
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..