Scouting, Sidelines, and New Interpretations

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It is scarcely necessary for me to go over the old ground of our principles; they have been the same ever since the Movement started.

But when it started it was on a very simple scheme, and with the growth of years many new interpretations and many new side lines have been added to it, so that there is the risk of its becoming over-clothed with these and of the original ideal and method being lost sight of.

Baden-Powell, B.P.’s Outlook, October, 1936

The mother of a second year Webelos recently told me; “My son doesn’t like camping so we are looking for a troop that does more than just camping all the time.”

It was one of the few times I been at a loss for words! I felt kind of like a football coach whose player told him: “I’ll join the team as long as I don’t have to play football.”

I did my best to explain that camping was the definitive thing that Scouts do; not just one option on a menu of various activities.  Did we do other things? Yes, but the “original ideal and method” is camping.

Baden-Powell constantly encouraged us to stay focused on the original ideal and method of Scouting. That method is a “very simple scheme”: Scouts form patrols, patrols go camping, and Scouting happens. (An oversimplified phrase, but I have spent considerable time defining what “Scouting happens” means elsewhere in the blog.)

This very simple scheme isn’t merely stodgy traditionalism; it is the heart of the movement. We are always in danger of losing sight of it in “many new interpretations and many new side lines.”

Two things are the principal causes of “over-clothing” and losing sight of the original idea and method.

1. Scouters don’t understand their work.
That the simple scheme has worked in every corner of the world in vastly different conditions for more than a century proves it will always be relevant, useful, and effective. Scouts form patrols, patrols go camping, and Scouting happens. All we do as Scouters is subservient to this simple scheme.

Simplicity is sometimes more difficult to understand and accept than complexity. Anyone can swing a hammer and hit a nail; but study, hard work, and experience are required to become a master carpenter. Anyone can don a uniform and wear a patch; but study, hard work, and experience are required to become a useful Scouter.

2. We try to extend the Scouting program into areas the “original ideal and method” never intended us to go.
Sometimes there’s an uneasy feeling we are missing something; that if we only added this or that new sideline we could bolster our membership or better retain Scouts. However, the original ideal and method isn’t missing anything (in case you missed it: Scouts form patrols, patrols go camping, and Scouting happens.)

If we can’t recruit new Scouts or retain older Scouts before we explore new sidelines and interpretations we first ought to ask if we have faithfully applied the original ideal and method.

Anything outside the original ideal and method is a distraction. If we vetted all we do by asking, “what will this do to strengthen the patrol method?” most new sidelines would never get off the ground.

As a camp director at each week’s closing campfire, I shook hands with dozens of Scouts who had attended camp for four or more years. Despite this, the persistent perception in some quarters was we did not offer enough to attract older Scouts.

When this perceived deficit was brought up I pointed out that many interscholastic sports teams, school bands, theater groups, clubs or similar organizations generally had more new members than those who stayed involved for three or four years. This usually fell on deaf ears.

I can name several sidelines and new interpretations introduced at camp over the years aimed at reducing this non-existent deficit. These short-lived programs bore little, if any, results other than to waste energy and resources going down a blind alley. Various Scouting organizations have tried adopting programs outside of the simple scheme in one way or another with the same results. They don’t gain traction because, no matter how admirable their intentions, they are outside of the field of play.

I often wonder what would have happened if we applied the energy and resources wasted on them to bolster our application of the simple scheme.

I believe strongly in the need for innovation and change, but I also agree with Baden Powell’s observation: “there is the risk of (Scouting) becoming over-clothed with these and of the original ideal and method being lost sight of.” Welcome any change or innovation that removes barriers to, or encourages more of, the simple scheme. Be leery of the rest.