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Four Steps to Scout Advancement – A Scout Learns

Second in a series of articles about the four steps to Scout Advancement.
Articles will be published each Tuesday beginning November 20, 2012 
“… It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy spirit of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”
- Albert Einstein

Learning is a natural outcome of Scouting activities.

Instruction in Scouting skills can come from a number of sources. Most important are the Scouts themselves, sharing what they know with one another and helping each other along the advancement trail.

Scoutmaster’s Handbook

When we introduce the idea of instructing, learning and testing we usually think of the academic model; passive students, active teachers, and the attainment of a certain standard of performance. Scouting is not academic.

That’s the key.

Scouting is not school.

Scouting focuses on what Einstein calls ‘the holy spirit of inquiry’.

Learning in Scouting is experiential – a process of discovery – not an academic exercise. One question follows another like a path of breadcrumbs until the Scout discovers what they need to know and do.

What practical purpose is there in tying a square knot? It joins two ropes together.

What is gained learning to tie a square knot? On the surface it’s learning to join two ropes together. A great practical skill but simply learning that practical skill is not the point.

Our aim is  a process of discovery that enables Scouts to lead themselves (and others) to learning anything they need to know.

Self-leadership is the first step in leadership development.

I can teach any Scout to tie a square knot in a few minutes – left over right, right over left, ; now you try. The Scout is passive, I am active, he watches and then he tries. It’s an echo of what he has done in school a thousand times. Listen to teacher, do what teacher does. This is efficient, it’s effective, and it’s not really Scouting.

Whenever possible we want to initiate a process of discovery we begin asking questions:

  • Does the Scout have a handbook?
  • Can you find out how to tie a square knot by looking in the handbook?
  • How do you find the right page?
  • What does it say there?
  • In Scouting what does the square knot symbolize?
  • When would you use a square knot?
  • You use it twice a day at a minimum to tie your shoes, what? That’s not a square knot? Are you sure, can you see a square knot in there?

One question follows another  building a spirit of independent inquiry, of discovery.

Learning skills is a ‘head fake’. It looks like we simply want to learn some practical knowledge but we are really off in another direction – learning how to learn - a skill that far surpasses the simple knowledge of joining two ropes together.

As Scouts gain the practical skill they begin to instruct and lead others and we witness the real benefits of the process.

The process of discovery is not as linear and efficient as the academic method but what does it create?

At his Eagle board of review what’s more important: a Scout who remembers how to tie a square knot or a Scout who is capable of leading himself and others to discover and accomplish nearly anything.

Ideally Scouts gain achievement towards advancement as a natural outcome of what they are doing in their patrol and troop. We don’t ‘do requirements’ we  do what Scouts do.

What do Scouts do? They go camping and hiking. They build a fire , they cook over a fire. They build towers and bridges, they play games. If Scouts are doing what Scouts do they will be completing requirements. I’ve recently expanded on this idea in the post Scout Advancement – Carts, Horses, and Suntans.

Nothing drains the spontaneous joy and excitement out of Scouting more than telling Scouts ‘now we are going to work on requirements’. They have to put down the fun, intriguing, interesting things they are enjoying and stand around listening to someone tell them how to ‘do requirements’.

While the skills one gains as a Scout are useful, even important, life skills they are nothing more than a means to an end; developing a capable, contributing, decent human being. We work towards this by inspiring the ‘holy spirit of inquiry’ and desire for achievement that is measured by the effort a Scout extends, not by the sum of his performance.

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