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What Do Scouts Decide?

There’s a lot of discussion about who makes decisions about what activities Scouts put on their schedule. What do Scouts decide? Should adults be part of that process, or must we always allow Scouts to make these decisions? Some would argue that who makes these decisions is a good test of whether a troop is youth-led or not. ‘Youth led” is a key component of the patrol system, so the question we ought to be asking is if we are applying the patrol system.

I think it’s safe to say we sometimes place too much value in the “what and were” decisions in Scouting and don’t think enough about the “why, how, and who”.

Where you go camping is inconsequential, how you go camping is everything.

All of Scouting’s  program elements (pioneering, backpacking, cooking, cycling, canoeing, etc.) are  slightly different iterations of putting the patrol system into practice. We could return to the same campsite ten times a year and do ten different things, or the same thing each time, but in the end applying the patrol system is all that really matters.

If you ask a patrol leader’s council to start with a blank calendar and fill it in you are asking them to re-invent the wheel. Some Scoutmasters complain if patrol leaders choose the same activities from year to year, there are a few that require they don’t repeat anything from one year to the next.

I don’t see any appreciable difference between a camping trip to a local park where patrols are functioning at a high level, cooking, hiking, playing games, and a high dollar trip to an incredible something-or-other. I like a change of scenery, enjoy a big exciting activity or challenging adventure; but I see comparatively little value in those things when compared to the real work of Scouting that happens in a humble campsite set up by a patrol.

A common counter argument  is “If we don’t go to different places and do different things our Scouts will get bored and quit”. This is only true if you aren’t applying the patrol system. Scouts, especially older Scouts, aren’t nearly as interested in doing new, different, big things as they are in the patrol system. They are endlessly inspired and energized when they have real responsibility with the accomplishment and freedom that comes from governing themselves,  If they are just participants in various activities and those activities don’t change, yes, they will get bored and quit.

All that being said Scout should choose their own activities, and adults should respect those decisions so long as they within the bounds of the program. We encourage invention and innovation, but I don’t think we need to require it. Some of my Senior Patrol Leaders have been very energetic and interested in new ideas, some are happy to use ones we have repeated many times.

Who makes ‘were and what’ decisions is a small percentage of what constitutes any objective indication of a troop applying the patrol system. The “why, how, and who” are much more important.

Thanks to John Nelson from West Chester- Troop 947 for getting me thinking about this!