The patrol system is not one method in which Scouting for boys can be carried on. It is the only method.
It is not the slightest use to preach the Scout Law or to give it out as orders to a crowd of boys: each mind requires its special exposition of them and the ambition to carry them out.
– Baden Powell
Two things drive character development; the example of role models and interaction with peers.
Being told how they ought to act or having good conduct modeled for them is only the first step. The real work happens when Scouts develop mutual respect for each other and foster coöperation within a group of equals. This coöperation is where the really radical idea of Scouting, self-government through the patrol method, takes place.
When Scouts, make their own plans, formulate their own rules, keep up their own discipline, elect their own leadership charged with implementing these plans they have the opportunity to learn through experience what it means to belong to a group and to accept personal responsibility.
Within the troop and patrol Scouts act on the notion of reciprocity. Cooperation, with all its troubles and triumphs, enables each Scout to discover more about themselves and integrate the concepts of the oath and law into their own character.
When we have real self-government the Scout Oath and law are no longer just a bunch of concepts preached by adults. They find meaning in the life of the patrol and troop, individual responsibilities become group responsibilities.
Baden-Powell understood that role models have a limited influence on Scouts, that character really develops through small group interactions. That’s why he was so adamant about the patrol system, that “the Scoutmaster has to be neither schoolmaster nor commanding officer, nor pastor, nor instructor” and “all that is needed is the capacity to enjoy the out-of-doors, to enter into the boysʼ ambitions, to put himself on the level of the older brother, that is, to see things from the boyʼs point of view, and to lead and guide and give enthusiasm in the right direction.”
If we limited character development to role models a Scout would become increasingly dependent on them We want to foster cooperative independence through the patrol method. As BP said:”The patrol is the character school for the individual”.
The central importance of the patrol system prioritizes everything else about Scouting. It’s a little jarring at first! We think that the content of our meetings and camping trips are all-important, but they are actually just decorative. We think that the metrics of attendance, membership, fundraising and advancement are important but they are merely indicators.
Instead of spending our time on decorations and indicators let’s concentrate on the real heart of the matter – the patrol method. If we build the patrol method the program features and metrics will follow.