This is the fifth of twelve installments in a story that follows a new Scoutmaster, Chuck Grant, attempting to use the patrol method in a troop that has forgotten how.
I’ve based this work of fiction on the stories shared by readers and listeners, questions they have asked, and the advice I commonly share in reply. Scoutmasters can expect to encounter challenges and setbacks along the way.
I’ve tried to avoid being unreasonable optimistic, or overly pessimistic about the progress we can make when we stick to the basics.
Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three
I called Jake, and the three patrol leaders about our meeting at the grocery store. “Make sure to bring your menus, otherwise we won’t know what to get,” I reminded them.
I asked George Hudson, and Wayne Murray two of my assistant Scoutmasters, to come along. George was able to make it, but Wayne couldn’t.
I asked George to stick with me while the Scouts shopped.
Once we were all together we huddled outside the grocery store for a moment. “Okay, let’s take a look at your menus,” I turned to Bob, “still pancakes for breakfast on Saturday?”
“Yeah, still pancakes,” Bob replied.
“So what do you need to…”
”… pancake mix and butter!” Bob said.
“Good for you, now you’re talking! So no syrup on those pancakes?” I asked.
Bob grimaced, got a pen out of his pocket and scribbled on his menu as the other Scouts laughed.
“Now you are getting the idea!” I said, “Let me show you something,” I showed them the menu I made up for the adults for or camping trip, “See? Here’s the menu, and here’s everything I need to cook it; that’s my shopping list.”
I explained how I made my shopping list, and the Scouts started working on theirs.
“Jake, your job tonight is making sure everyone else does theirs, okay?” I asked.
“Mr. Hudson and I will be there if you have questions,” I continued, “each of you get a cart, and we’ll all meet at the checkout in a half hour or so.”
The Scouts took off at a run.
George looked at me, “That’s it?”
“What’s it?” I asked.
“Those boys have no idea what they are doing, I can’t wait to see what they get,” he chuckled, “when I do cooking merit badge we go into a lot more detail than that.”
“George,” I said, “Hold on to your hat, I am going to boss you around for a moment.”
“Yes SIR!” George returned an exaggerated salute.
“I want you to listen as I work with the Scouts at first,” I directed, “and try not to talk; if that’s even humanly possible.”
George put both hands over his mouth.
“You should learn how to do that more often,” I laughed, “that’s a good look for you.”
George punched me in the arm.
We caught up with one of the patrol leaders, “Hey Bob, how many Scouts in your patrol are going on the trip?” I asked.
“Six, I think,” he replied.
I looked in Bob’s shopping cart, “I see you have one box of spaghetti for dinner, does that look alike enough to you?”
“I don’t know, maybe?” he said.
“Take a look at the box,” I said, “do you see anything about servings anywhere?”
“Serving size four ounces” he read.
“Four times six is 24 right?” Bob nodded, “how many ounces in the box?”
“Sixteen,” Bob replied.
“So…?” I asked.
George started to answer, I shot him a look, and he put his hands over his mouth.
“I need more spaghetti,” Bob said.
“There you go! Grab another box, that way you’ll have plenty. I’ll be you guys will be pretty hungry after all that climbing,” I said.
Bob headed off and I called out, “you going to have sauce on that?”
“Yes,” he answered over his shoulder, “I’ll get enough too!”
I turned to George, “That’s exactly what I’d like you to do, ask questions first rather than giving directions or answers.”
“I’ll give it a try, I still think we are going to have some hungry Scouts,” George replied, “we could have told them all this before we started, you know.”
“You’re right,” I said, “but my plan is to work along with them, step by step, at first, like I am doing now,” I explained,” to get them in the habit of figuring things out for themselves.”
“Huh,” George said, “seems like a lot more work to me.”
“At first it will be,” I replied, “but we are building something we haven’t had before.”
George’s son Zach came down the aisle, “Dad, how much oatmeal should I get?”
“Hey Zach,” I said stepping between him and his father, “ I was just talking to Bob about that a moment ago, ask him about serving sizes.”
Zach looked at me, then at his father, back at me again, “Okay.. I guess,”
“Go find Bob,” George said.
I patted George on the back, “see, it’s not that hard is it?”
George smiled, “it’s a little different, that’s for sure, but you are the Scoutmaster,” he saluted again, “and I’ll do as I am told, for now.”
George and I circulated and asked plenty of questions for the next half hour.
After we checked out, they marked their patrol name on each bag as we put them in my van.
“I’ll put these in our store room, and put refrigerated stuff in the refrigerator at our meeting place.” I said, “each patrol will need a cooler for the weekend, okay?”
The Scouts nodded, “It takes some practice, but you guys did a great job figuring things out and sticking to your budget,” I said.
As we waited for the rest to be picked up George and I talked.
“I think that went pretty well,” said George, “maybe I can even get Zach to do all the family grocery shopping.”
“I don’t know about that,” I laughed, “but I do think the Scouts are ready to take on things like this and more.”
“The whole asking question’s thing is tiring for me,” George said, “but I have to admit it works.”
“If we help them figure things out for themselves,” I said, “eventually they develop the habit of finding answers without us.”
George chuckled, “Zach wants to know if he’ll get a badge for all this.”
“He already has a patrol leader’s patch right?” I replied.
“Touche!” said George, “but seriously, aren’t they completing requirements for ranks or merit badges by doing this?”
“Yes, they are,” I answered, “but what I’d like us to start thinking about is the difference between working on requirements and doing what Scouts do.”
“Aren’t they basically the same?” George asked.
“Yes, all the rank requirements refer to things Scouts do.” I said, “What I am saying is that instead of starting out trying to complete a requirement we just do what Scouts do, and advancement is a side-effect.”
“I think I see what you’re saying, makes sense I suppose.” George said.
“Look at all the fun they had this evening, and we didn’t mention requirements once,” I said.
“Yeah, they just kind of naturally got interested in the whole thing,” George observed,
“And we just trained all of our patrol leaders to go grocery shopping,” I added, “next time they can show one of the Scouts in their patrol how to do it without us.”
“You may just make a Scoutmaster yet,” George said.
“Maybe,” I replied, “but only if you keep quiet.”
George punched me in the arm again.
Read the rest of the story in my new book:
Jim Hilliard says
I am really enjoying this series. We are new to town and asked the local DE to recommend a boy-led, outdoor-active troop. Sure enough, the troop he pointed us to has boy-led elections but that’s about where it stops. 20 minutes of “adult announcements” at the beginning of each troop meeting, 3/4 of meetings dedicated to adult-led merit badge sessions and outings organized entirely by adults. How can I help change this? Gen X parents, I think, are often afraid of letting their children fail.
Clarke Green says
How someone helps change the way a troop functions is a common question. The most direct simple answer is that unless you are the chartered organization representative, the troop committee chairman or the Scoutmaster, you do not occupy an organizational role that empowers you to make changes like this.
Can someone inspire change without occupying one of those roles? It all depends on how receptive the people in those roles are to change and suggestion. In my experience about eight or nine times out of ten they aren’t, and pressing these ideas on them becomes onerous, so they identify you as a troublemaker.
Your Scout’s interest individually is the most important factor in determining your way forward. Let’s not kid ourselves; many, many troops are administered just as you described, and Scouts get something out being a part of them. If your Scout is happy and has lots of friendships within the troop I’d leave things alone if your suggestions or ideas are rejected.
If your Scout is dissatisfied, or you weight the importance having him participate in the patrol system heavily, you will need to find another troop.
It’s actually that simple.
I have heard many stories of adults who try to encourage change in an unwilling troop, and they all end badly with lots of hard feelings.
I strongly suggest you find a troop that is more suited to what you want for your Scout; if you aren’t in a role to make the changes there’s no other viable solution.
The next concern that is usually raised is how can you, in good conscience, leave the other Scouts behind in a troop that doesn’t get the program? Shouldn’t I try to rescue them?
My response to that concern is to say that, at least in my experience, this has never, ever worked, not even a little bit, it only compounds the problems.
Jim Esch says
I once had a parent ask me if I had ever had a SPL who was a failure. I explained that the SPL would fail many times but that as long as the Troop moved forward, the Scouts were having fun, and ee learned at least one thing, he was a success. Scouting is about making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, in a safe environment. Sometimes it just takes inviting them to take some Training and then discussion afterwards, to help the adults see the light.