Earnest Thompson-Seton first published ‘The Birch Bark Roll’ in 1902. His work in establishing the pre-BSA organization, The Woodcraft Indians, was ultimately woven together with the ideas of Baden Powell and Daniel Carter Beard to form the program of the BSA.
More than a century later Seton’s ideas remain relevant to our work as Scouters. Studying his foundational concepts help us maintain focus on heart of our work:
Two other important ideas underlie the scheme. The first is personal decoration for personal achievements; second, no competitive honors (Prizes are not honors.) All our honors are bestowed according to worldwide standards.
In our colleges to-day every effort is made to discover and develop a champion. The great body of the students are neglected. That is, the ones who are in need of physical development do not get it, and those who do not need it are over developed. The result is much unsoundness of many kinds. A great deal of this would be avoided if we strive to bring all the individuals up to a certain standard. In our non-competitive tests the enemies are not “the other fellows,” but time and space. We try not to down the others, but to raise ourselves. A thorough application of this principle would end many of the evils now demoralizing college athletics.
About one hundred and fifty deeds or exploits are recognized in these various departments, and the braves are given decorations that show what they have achieved. The plan aims to give the young people “something to do, something to think about, and something to enjoy in the woods,” with a view always to character building, for manhood not scholarship is the first aim of education.
I learned early on that pitting Scouts against each other in competition reaped limited rewards. Most boys are naturally competitive, they don’t need to be encouraged to compete. As Seton points out competition against another yields a few winners and many losers.
The idea of acheivement, rather than competition, is the model for character building is one of the most important concepts in Scouting; it is what sets Scouting apart from nearly every other youth activity.
Another key foundation concept in Scouting is a broad, varied field of achievement designed to appeal to nearly anyone. Seton’s scheme of achievements was developed to offer the largest possible spectrum of activity, learning and skill.
As trite as it may sound every scout is different. They have different skills, different talents and different ideas. Scouting is not intended to produce a uniform product but to recognize and validate individual effort, to build character one scout at a time.