‘Adultism’ can be a loaded term but I think it would be useful to consider it in the context of our work in Scouting.
Adultism is the broadly defined as valuing the ideas, initiatives and direction of adults over that of youth. If Scouting is to stay true to its foundational principles we ought to make an effort to understand the place of adult influence and guidance.
That we commonly call ourselves “adult leaders” is an sign that we are in danger of misunderstanding our role in Scouting. Since most adult volunteers begin their work in Scouting with Cub Scout aged boys they develop a set of practices and attitudes proper to working with younger children that they may not change adequately as they begin working with older children.
Scouting has inherent emphasis and focus; a self-defined direction to everything we do. Think of it as a field of play, as literal as chalk markings on a soccer field or the painted lines of a basketball court. This kind of established boundary and rules of play don’t need our interpretations or endorsements – they are an part of the game.
Adultism skews Scouting when we think that adults independently set up the field of play, control the relationships between the players and develop the rules of the game. We don’t need to invent these things, they are already there.
Scouts are inherently self-governing. They choose leaders, they select their own activities and administer them. Adult volunteers have a relatively small role in this. We’ve often discussed our responsibility to support a safe physical environment for our Scouts while recognising the latitude built into Scouting for Scouts to experience failures as a vital part of the learning process.
Adults sometimes expand this provisional authority to coerce Scouts into doing what adults would prefer they do; they expand their veto power in a way that devalues the authority of Scouts to decide the way forward.
Responsibility and Authority
If Scouts are truly responsible then they must have the real authority. They have to make decisions that are not continually subject to change or nullification by adults.
Scouts have what every adolescent craves – autonomy. Adults are very uncomfortable with autonomous young people, we are threatened by them. While this autonomy is practiced within the framework of a defined direction we should take any decision to limit this autonomy seriously and with measured thought.
Adultism devalues direction, waters down self determination, skews authority and responsibility and devalues autonomy. We’ve said, time and time again, that Scouting is for the Scouts, that it is something they do for themselves rather than something we present to them. Seeing Scouting work, realising its full potential for good, begins with understanding the adult role, the scope of its responsibility and authority and honoring the Scouts role in his development above our own.