Keep the Promise of Scouting

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What, precisely, is the promise of Scouting? No one would know better than William Hillcourt:

your mission as a scouter

Your Life as a Scout

You are an American boy. Before long you will be an American man. It is important to America and to yourself that you become a citizen of fine character, physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Boy Scouting will help you become that kind of citizen. but also, Scouting will give you fellowship and fun.

Yes, it’s fun to be a Boy Scout! It’s fun to go hiking and camping with your best friends… to swim, to dive, to paddle a canoe, to wield an ax… to follow the footsteps of the pioneers who led the way through the wilderness… to stare into the glowing embers of a campfire and dream of the wonders of the life that is in store for you…

It’s fun also to learn to walk noiselessly through the woods… to stalk close to a grazing deer without being noticed… to bring a bird close to you by imitating its call. It is fun to find your way cross country by map and compass… to make a meal when you are hungry… to take a safe swim when you are hot… to make yourself comfortable for the night in a tent or under the stars. In Scouting you become an outdoorsman.

But Scouting is far more than fun in the outdoors, hiking and camping. Scouting is a way of life. Scouting is growing into responsible manhood, learning to be of service to others.

The Scout Oath and the Scout Law are your guides to citizenship. They tell you what is expected of a Scout. they point out your duties. The Scout motto is “Be Prepared” – prepared to take care of yourself and to help people in need. The Scout Slogan is “Do a Good Turn Daily.”  Together the motto and slogan spell out your ability and your willingness to serve.

Your life as a Scout will make you strong and self-reliant. You will learn Scoutcraft skills that will benefit you as you grow. In time you will develop skills of leadership as well.

So pitch in! Swing into action! In your patrol and your troop you will have some of the best times of your life.

William ‘Green Bar Bill’ Hillcourt – page 9, Scout Handbook, 9th Edition, 1979

In the video I posted yesterday  Green Bar Bill Hillcourt said “Scoutmasters should be trained to make every single promise on page nine come true in the life of you kids…” (At about 10:20 in the video).

To put his remarks and the 9th edition of the Scout handbook in context we need to understand a little BSA  history.  Hillcourt was the author of many of the BSA’s handbooks (most notably the Scout Handbook, Patrol Leader Handbook, and the Field Guide). In the early 70’s the BSA adopted a program revision that, largely, did away with the emphasis on camping and outdoor skills. This ill-conceived program revision was short lived because Hillcourt came out of retirement in the late 70’s and wrote the new (9th) edition of the Scout Handbook that restored the emphasis on camping and outdoor experiences.

With the 9th edition of the handbook Hillcourt steered the BSA back on course (although he felt he had more work to do, he wanted to do away with skill awards, he argues that they are killing Scouting in the video).

While Hillcourt was, in part, advocating we return to past traditions he wasn’t arguing that we ought to return to the past. What he was doing, at least to my way of thinking, was reaffirming that Scouting was not something to approach formulaically through a system of academics but that it was a progressive developmental journey through experiences in the outdoors.

On page nine he lays out the sum total of what he had learned through 60 some years of Scouting, this is his definition of what Scouting should be, what every Scouter should be aimed at creating.

What he doesn’t talk about is nearly as important as what he does mention.

Nowhere on page nine does he mention being an Eagle Scout, or even suggest the subject of advancement, and only parenthetically refers to developing leadership skills.  Of course neither advancement to Eagle nor developing leadership skills are bad things in themselves, but they have become wildly over-emphasised and our preoccupation with them shoulders out  things essential to Scouting.

Is the most important thing about Scouting the outdoor program? Yes, but not because the skills of the outdoors are particularly important but because the process of learning these skills and the process of preparing for and participating in outdoor experiences as a member of a patrol are important. They are, in fact, so important that Hillcourt says making those processes a reality is the only thing a Scoutmaster should be concerned with.

When Scouts do the things Scouts do they advance, they learn how to lead, and achieve the aims of Scouting.

When Scouts do requirements and go to leadership training they get badges and certificates.

Green Bar Bill dedicated his entire life to reminding us to get the horse in front of the cart. If you’ll watch the entire video you’ll get some idea of his clarity and intensity –  again and again he returns to the way Scouting works. He cajoles, questions and encourages the Scouts and adults in the room to get it right.

Read page nine, that’s your mission, and in the words of Green Bar Bill;  ‘… pitch in! Swing into action!