How is the one essential feature of Scouting explained? We are all familiar with this quote form the founder of Scouting;
The Patrol System is the one essential feature in which Scout training differs from that of all other organizations, and where the System is properly applied, it is absolutely bound to bring success. It cannot help itself!
B.P. knew, early on, that this one essential feature was so singular, so unusual, that it was in danger of being lost in the tumult of good intentions. In all his writings he continually corrected Scouters who strayed from the one essential feature. He insisted, over and over again, that the patrol system was the axis on which the entire movement turned.
He knew that without it the Scout oath and law become little more than inspirational statements instead of living concepts, that the system of advancement becomes a list of requirements rather than the natural outcome of a Scout’s activities.
It’s not surprising, then, to look around and see that many of us have lost our hold on the one essential feature of Scouting – it’s all too easy to do. The science of management, the alchemy of marketing, the lure of entertaining programs and other trappings of the adult world have obscured (if not crushed) this elegantly simple yet incredibly complex, unique and fragile idea.
In the thousands of pages of training materials, policy manuals, program ideas, merit badge worksheets, and other ephemera mentions the patrol now and again, but it is a minor feature in a landscape of distractions.
Let’s separate the concepts from the jargon, exchange the familiar terms that have lost their meaning through repetition and misapplication for a simpler explanations to describe the patrol system –
In Scouting every large group is subdivided into smaller self-governing groups. To realize the potential of the small group concept it must be thoroughly embraced and unfailingly put into practice. Applying it partially only gets partial results.
Goals of the small group;
- Every member has individual responsibility for the good of the group and the group has collective responsibility for the good of the individual.
- Responsibilities are shared among all of the members of the group, each has some responsible role in the affairs of the group.
- The dynamics of personal responsibility, respect for authority, and group responsibility form the ideals of active citizenship.
- Members develop self-control, mutual respect, team spirit and character as they learn to cooperate.
How the groups are formed;
- The members themselves choose smaller groups based on a combination of existing friendships, interests and age.
- Experience shows that the optimal number for a small group is no more than eight or less than five but this should not be an absolute rule.
- The groups may exist for a long period of time or be fairly fluid, so long as they achieve the goals above.
How the groups relate to the larger group;
- Each small group elects a leader to represent them to a central council of group leaders who determine what activities will be pursued.
- The small group is free to hold elections of their leaders at any time and set whatever qualifications they consider important.
- All members elect a leader of the small group council who appoints other members to supporting roles for the larger group.
- A large group divided into small groups develops a spirit of friendly competition that tends to raise the efforts of individual members, the small groups, and the larger group as a whole.
The role of adult advisors in a youth organization;
- To mentor and train group leaders to execute the goals of the small group concept.
- Provide administrative support that youth members cannot perform themselves.
- To maintain the focus of the organization without imposing their personal goals or using their position coercively.
- To maintain a safe and accepting atmosphere by assuring that applicable policies and rules are observed.
- To provide an example of patient, considerate and compassionate adulthood.
- To provide resources of knowledge, experience and skill when called upon.
- To resolve conflicts or difficulties when asked or when they are beyond the scope of the youth leader’s capabilities.
What would happen if we stopped doing everything else and focused all our efforts on the one essential feature of Scouting?
Gerry Curry says
I have a couple of questions?
I usually ask my SPL what he would like to do with the new scouts when they cross-over, and usually we leave them together in there former dens as a new patrol, you seem to hint at letting them choose, but do they understand the patrol method?
Second question – they can hold elections whenever they want, we use 6 month terms, and only hold elections then? Is that right or wrong in your opinion?
Thomas LInton says
You mean we should try Boy Scouting? Hey! Great idea! It might work – again. We have a long way to go in this area where only a small minority of troops allow youth to lead in any sense, BSA is dying out here in the absence of Boy Scouting.
I just came from a rehearsal for a seven Eagle Court of Honor. The SM, as usual, played SPL, gave all the orders (And they were orders.), and made all the decisions down to the smallest detail. And none of the Eagles who will be honored ever exercised leadership except in the rare absence of the SM.
The patrol is the team.
The troop is the league in which patrols play the game of Scouting.
Really like your team & league analogy!
Jim Boggs says
Tell it Brother!
Games of simples rules, like chess, become very complicated when played well.
I get tired of people saying………
A) “There not mature enough”
B) “They wont step up and take responsibility”
C) “Its too big of a problem”
D) “They wont have any fun”
and on and on and on and on they go…………….
But I still have yet to let one of their so-called “reasons” convince me and they probably won’t ever succeed in doing so!
Larry Geiger says
In one sense it’s easy. Just do it.
In another sense, it’s very complicated. There are a lot of issues to be considered when creating a Patrol.
There are two kinds of patrols.
There are patrols, lowercase “p”. These are informal groups of boy that form naturally in neighborhoods, sand lot ball fields and elsewhere. This is the patrol structure that BP observed in the field.
There are Patrols, uppercase “P”. These are Patrols formed in the implementation of the BSA Program within a Scout Troop. This is where it gets tricky. We are trying to reproduce something that is in actuality sort of nebulous. The formation of which involves the following:
The child (boy). His personality, background, experience, culture, intelligence, inclinations, anxiety and fear, potentials, academic ability, spiritual/religious background, etc.
The parents. A whole mess of goals, emotions, experiences and what not.
The System. Uppercase “S”. In other words, the BSA. It’s units, districts, councils, camps, staff and volunteers. It’s training materials, handbooks, online materials, training courses, training instructors, and commissioners.
The actual adult leaders. Particularly the Scoutmaster. His background in Scouting and in life. His expectations, goals, relationship to his/her children, his/her spouse, his/her other children, his/her parents, former Scouting experience, and so on.
The other Troop leadership and all of the their stuff.
You put all of that into a pot, stir vigorously and out pops a Patrol.
It would be nice if everyone listed above understood perfectly and exactly what BP saw and implemented 100 years ago, but they don’t, won’t and can’t. It would be nice if everyone list above all had exactly the same goals and background experience, but they don’t, won’t and can’t.
Therefore. Every Patrol looks different. Go figure, we’re human beings!
Actually, I personally think (IMHO) that this is a good thing. Scouting attempts to lead and guide Scouting leaders to an understanding of what needs to happen so that they can then implement it in their own way, in their own community, in their own chartering institutions. I say that’s good.