A reader recently told me they were feeling frustrated with evaluating advancement requirements and lamented “I sometimes wish the people who write these requirements would actually watch them in a troop environment.”
Tell me about it!
We get into difficulty when we look at advancement as our aim, or of central importance to Scouting.
It is neither.
We parse, measure and debate requirements endlessly as though getting them right will somehow make us better Scouters or our Scouts better people, but they are powerless to do either.
Advancement metrics, like the points on a scoreboard, indicate a certain type of achievement, but they don’t indicate players have grown by playing the game
Advancement requirements only define a universal, measurable standard of achievement. We mistake achievement of requirements for success rather than striving for our true aim – character development.
Character development happens when we examine our internal understanding of principles and ideals; when we interact with friends, counselors, coaches, and mentors. Character is not engineered, it grows organically. There’s a logic to this growth but it can’t be measured uniformly. This makes understanding Scouting a challenge for many of us.
We use the cycle of challenge and achievement advancement offers to build character, but we may miss a more subtle opportunity for growth.
The patrol system is the central method for character building. Actual responsibility for one another in the patrol leads to thousands of interactions and decisions. Each interaction and discussion requires Scouts to reference their understanding of the Scout oath and law.
That process is what achieves our aim, not the completion of requirements or the measurement of advancement.
Advancement is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
If you haven’t achieved anything more than fulfilling a requirement you’ve missed the point.
We can further that process when we make youth leaders responsible for assessing advancement. Before you blow a gasket, their responsibility is not without adult oversight, and this oversight creates another opportunity for thousands of interactions and even more character development. I enjoyed asking my youth leadership many questions about how they were handling advancement, about what the requirements meant, and how they assessed individual Scouts. We talked about not only of achieving First Class, but exactly why it is important, (something I explained in this post)
Character develops through active, ongoing, relationships; not by completing a list of requirements. We build character when we trust Scouts to be as committed to doing good and being good as we are. We build character through honest reflection and discussion aimed at internalizing the ideals in the oath and law.
Our aim is not consistent achievement in advancement; We have a greater challenge; to develop character as defined in the Scout oath and law.
How do we tap the vast, character building potential of the oath and law? By understanding how rules differ from ideals, and how conduct differs from character. Engineered language like that in the requirements is disappointingly powerless when it comes to building character.
Each of us measure up to the extent of our highest reach. Scouting is intended to develop an internal standard of self consciousness and self control. Achievement in advancement is not our aim, it is a result of having achieved our aim.
If we work to develop character our Scouts will achieve many advancement milestones, and (more importantly) form attitudes and ideals that will serve them throughout their lives.
Greg Crenshaw says
You nailed it!!! One of the best pieces I’ve seen on what we are ultimately trying to achieve in Scouting. Well done Clarke!!!
Andrew Colclough says
I have been thinking on this recently Clark with my Tiger cubs. I know things are a little different in Cubs, but I tend to see the achievement/advancement system as nothing more than a tool, or perhaps a roadmap, in the game of Scouting. I’m pretty green at Den Leading, but I already have loosened up on driving the Scouts through advancement, and am focusing more on just using advancement as a template for fun, and working together.
We had our first big award ceremony pack meeting, and I was really pumped to give out the various achievements to the Scouts. Had every cub 100% nailed down each requirement to the letter? …no. The ones who hadn’t, were close, but might have missed this or that specific minor point. But we had all worked through the things together as a Den, and I wasn’t about to “ding” one of my Scouts because they hadn’t specifically nailed some jott in the requirements.
I mean, no wonder Scouting became a world-wide movement with Baden-Powell all like: “Bad luck Scout, I only saw you identify one bird, not two. Reward denied.”
But seriously, in my view the advancement rewards at this point are more about celebrating what we had worked through together, learning about the outdoors, hiking safety, etc.
You could see the excitement and pride in the Scouts eyes about scoring some belt loops for their adventures (to be honest, they are so new, I doubt they even realized they were earning anything yet).
And I have already witness growth in character and camaraderie as we have been doing fun things together. I don’t want legalism over requirements to get in the way of that. And as the cubs mature, I hope to turn the advancement judgement more over to them, as you suggest.
John Patrick Hickey says
Excellent, excellent article Mr. Green. One of the best I have read about advancement. I will be sharing this with others. Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights.