During his lifetime Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, wrote many books and articles directed to Scouters.
Each Sunday I’ll publish a selection from his writings in the hope that you’ll draw inspiration and understanding from his timeless ideas.
I SEE that in one of the newspapers lately the original inventor of Scouting has discovered himself.
He is the fourth who has done so within the last four years. I was under the impression that the original founder, Epictetus, died many hundreds of years ago.
This particular one tells us that we have perverted his ideals and that we are not sufficiently military.
The truth is that these gentlemen see a similarity in our body to something that they have thought of for themselves, but they have not studied its soul and have not, therefore, grasped its meaning or its possibilities.
What is our aim? They don’t seem to regard that as of any special importance in their argument. But it happens to be the keystone on which the whole question stands. Our aim is to get hold of the boys and to open up their minds, to bring out each lad’s character (and no two are exactly alike), to make them into good men for God and their country, to encourage them to be energetic workers and to be honourable, manly fellows with a brotherly feeling for one another.
As our Movement attracts all classes (the poorest get equal chances and consideration with the more fortunate), much of the present human wastage will be turned into valuable citizenhood.
It is by the character of its citizens, not by the force of its arms, that a country rises superior to others.
If we can get that character and sense of brotherhood instilled into all our boys at home and in the British Dominions overseas, we shall forge a stronger link to that which at present holds the whole Empire together.
And as the Movement gets a hold, as it is doing, in foreign countries as well, it will promote a common bond of sympathy which makes for peace between the nations. Our opportunities and possibilities in these directions are immense; and these are the aims which our Scoutmasters have before them in planning their work.
But our original inventors have apparently never thought of these ends. It is certain they could no more attain them by drill than they could attain them by teaching their grandmothers to walk the tight-rope.
Personally, I would not presume to speak were it not that I have had some little experience in this particular line. A good part of my life has been spent in training lads to be soldiers, cadets, or Territorials, and I have served with all of them on active service in more than one campaign. I have since had opportunities of seeing again the cadets in South Africa and Canada, and, for the first time, in New Zealand and Australia. These visits have confirmed me in the opinion which I then expressed, namely, that with the excellent material that one finds among our boys all over the Empire it is quite possible to turn out a very smart-looking army of cadets, all able to drill steadily, to hold themselves well, to dress smartly, and to show a high percentage of marksmen on the range. But many people seem to have the idea that well-drilled men are necessarily good soldiers. I have tried them on service and have very little use for them. The better the soldier is drilled, the less he can be trusted to act as a responsible individual.
Their so-called discipline was too apt to come from fear of punishment or reprimand instead of from the spirit of playing the game. Yet this is essential, if you don’t want a mere veneer of obedience which won’t stand the test of service.
In the Army the well-meaning boys who came to us as recruits had been taught their three R’s in the day schools, but they had no idea of having responsibility thrust upon them, of having to tackle difficulties or dangers, of having to shift for themselves, and having to dare death from a sense of duty.
These things and the many other attributes of good soldiers, which may be summed up in the word character, had all to be instilled into them before one could consider them as fit for drill and military smartness. These are, in reality, only the final polish, and not, as many seem to think, the first step in making a fighting man.
The Boers were never drilled, yet they made very good fighters, and stood up to our drilled troops through a campaign of over two years.
Why was this? Because they had all the proper ground-work of character for the work — they were self-reliant and resourceful, practiced at using to the best advantage their courage, common sense, and cunning (the three C’s that go to make good soldiers). Those men only needed the final polish of drill and a little stronger discipline to make the very best of soldiers.
That is the sequence of training that is wanted. If you apply it the reverse way, you get the veneer. You must, as an essential, first have character development established as your groundwork.
Now, what is the aim of these men who go in for drilling their boys?
Drill will never make a citizen, that is fairly obvious.
Their object must therefore be either (a) to make potential soldiers of them or (b) to catch boys with the glamour of drill and thereby to bring them under some form of discipline and exercise that is good for them.
In the first of these cases it is essential that the Scoutmasters should have exceptionally good instructors, otherwise the discipline learnt in the parades of once or even twice a week is not likely to have a very lasting effect on the lads’ characters; and also the drill palls on a boy after a time and puts him off becoming a soldier later on. If he does join the service he thinks that he knows all about it, and his soul, accustomed to it as a temporary infliction, resents discipline when he comes under the real thing as a permanency.
As an officer I quite sympathize with the one who said that he would rather have recruits who had never been drilled than those whom he described as “half-baked buns who had to be uncooked, re-kneaded, and baked again before they were any good as soldiers.”
In any case the leaders of these boys would surely be better advised to turn them into genuine cadets and not masquerade them as Boy Scouts.
In the other event, (b), the catching and training of wild boys is certainly most commendable, and it is far the easier way to deal with them so far as the officer is concerned. But, then, why not join the Boys’ Brigade or Church Lads, whose training lies in that direction?
By mutating our dress, but not our ideals, they spread false notions as to our intentions. Parents and clergy naturally suppose that soldiering is the end and aim of the Scouts’ training and resent it accordingly. They do not realise that we are working on a far higher plane than that, namely, to make good and successful citizens.
Of course there are many Scoutmasters in our Movement who would like to give a more definitely national note to the training of their boys. They feel that the boys themselves do not quite realise that the character training they an getting as Scouts will be the very finest groundwork for goal results later on, whether they become soldiers or sailors, citizens or colonists.
(A small proof in this direction is to be found in the Cadet Corps of Overseas Dominions. I made inquiry as I went inspecting the cadets, and I found that something like 80 per cent of the cadet non-commissioned officers had been Boy Scouts to start with.)
Well, I am fully in sympathy with this feeling on the part of those Scoutmasters, and I think that they will find their opening in the new scheme of Senior Scouts now being promulgated, when, the groundwork having been laid and the boys having come to an age for judging for themselves, they can specialize in any of the above lines that may appeal to them.