What kind of Scoutmaster are you?

In the last post, we got a pretty good feel for the general attitude toward the “Merit Badge Mill” for a lack of a better term.  It seems that there is not a lot of support for this style of merit badge earning.
Now, I did receive some emails that found that style the best practice in, as one guy put it “the world we live in”.  But those comments were far less than those opposed.  In all fairness… I did ‘accept’ any comment that was made on the blog.  I did not respond to all of the emails, especially the one that called me “Old fashioned and not in touch with today’s Scouts”.
Which led me to thinking this week… What kind of Scoutmaster are you?
It was brought to my attention that the 1998 Scout Handbook does not make mention of Baden-Powell.  I have not checked this out for myself, but if that is the case, it begs the question.. Why?
But back to the subject at hand.. What kind of Scoutmaster are you?
Baden-Powell said in “Aids to Scoutmastership” that we need not be “Know it all’s”
To be a Scoutmaster you need:

  • He must have the boy spirit in him; and must be able to place himself on a right plane with his boys as a first step.
  • He must realise the needs, outlooks and desires of the different ages of boy life.
  • He must deal with the individual boy rather than with the mass.
  • He then needs to promote a corporate spirit among his individuals to gain the best results

Now BP goes on to explain all these points in the book and I won’t just copy and paste the whole thing here.. Google search Aids to Scoutmastership and get your own copy and read it.  But I will say that if you do as BP says.. you may just be a good Scoutmaster.
Scoutmasters should be a friend to the Scouts.  He should remember that these are boys and not adults.  We ask a lot from these young men which is all a part of the program, but at the end of the day they are boys.  They have issues at home, school, sports teams, and the everyday life of a teen ager.  So for the Scoutmaster that places himself on the “right plane” with the Scouts does a better job understanding them and working with them as they grow and develop.
The Scoutmaster needs to understand where the Scouts are in life.  Once again, they are not men, they are boys and they all grow and develop at different rates.  Some 14 year olds are more mature that others.  Some 12 year olds mature faster than some 15 year olds.  So it is important that the Scoutmaster works with the Scouts individually and not paint broad strokes with his Scoutmaster brush.  At the same time, the Scoutmaster needs to build the team up as well as the individual.  The team (Troop and Patrol) is an important part of the Scouting program and a huge part in developing young men.
On the other hand.  And I know too many Scoutmasters like this, they are ‘roped’ into doing the job, they have no real desire to do the job but they do it because their son is in the troop, and they have no desire to learn the program or assist in running it right.
Now is that a subjective statement.  Not so much.  In the introduction to being a Scoutmaster in the Scoutmaster training program, the trainers introduce the new Scoutmasters to the 8 methods of Scouting.  And with few exceptions the methods have remained the same for 102 years.  Those same methods that BP himself outlined.
In both Aids to Scoutmastership and Scouting for Boys, you can find all of the methods that we currently use to achieve the Aims of Scouting.
The Patrol being the foundation for the Scout to start learning.   The ideals found in the Scout Oath and Law as well as the motto and slogan take that foundation and apply it to their daily lives and the attitudes that shape the Patrol as a group.  Scouting is done and should always be done in the outdoors with a Patrol.  The Outdoor program is fundamental in the Scouting program.  It is as BP said “our classroom”.  Advancement opportunities set challenges and goals for the Scout to meet.  The Advancement program tests the Scouts ability to manage his goal setting and give him a measurement of his own success.  Not the success of the unit, but himself.  The association with adults is a method that is often confused.  Confused, because it is a method for the Scout.. not the adult.  In associating with adults the Scout learns to manuever through the world.  It places the Scout in a position to learn to be comfortable in job settings as well as social settings.  The adults role in this method is to be a good example.  Personal Growth is perhaps one of the most important methods that is often overlooked by Scoutmasters that do not take a personal care for each of the Scouts in their Troop.  The Scoutmaster that does the job for a set amount of time or because no one else would take the job often look at Scouting as a camping club.  Merit badges just happen at Summer camp and it really doesn’t matter if there is personal growth in the individual Scouts.  I mean, after all you only have to care for them on Monday nights and one weekend a month… right?  The uniform is where I see most of the lack of care for methods.  Cost is always an excuse, but rarely a solution is given.  The uniform has been a part of Scouting since the very beginning and should remain a method as long as Scouting exists.  It is not a financial burden if the Scout believes and lives the part of the law that suggests that he is “Thrifty”.  Adults create the burden by not enforcing the standard.  To many parents fail to see the value in Scouting’s values and would rather take the easy way out and just say that it can’t be done.  Hog Wash!  And finally, when it comes to methods Leadership development.  Now, I do know that I put this one last and that is not how they are listed… but here is where I see a big gap in the ways in which Scoutmastership is practiced.
Leaders are made, not born and sometimes that trial and error called learning is not pretty.  The Patrol and Troop are the practice grounds for leadership development.  And to be honest.. it’s real ugly sometimes.. that is when the good Scoutmaster needs to allow it to be ugly.  Parents don’t like to see that.. but it is the best way for a Scout to learn.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn as long as the Scoutmaster is there to teach, coach, train, and mentor the Scout.  By applying “Guided Discovery” the Scout will develop into a leader.  He may not be the next Patton or [insert your favorite leader here], but the lessons he learns while discovering his leadership potential will serve him later in life.
In short.. What kind of Scoutmaster are you?  Are you one that embraces the lessons taught us by Baden-Powell or do we throw it all out the window for “modern thinking” and convenience.  “Old fashioned and not in touch with today’s Scout”.  I don’t know about you, but can you disagree with the Values of Scouting?  How about the methods?  These are time-tested and work well when applied by caring Scoutmasters.
If that makes me old-fashioned… so be it.. but if you do as BP suggests.. you can never be out of touch with today’s Scout.  They are the same as they always have been… they are boys looking for adventure.
I am curious to hear what you have to say about this.  What kind of Scoutmaster are you?
“What the Scoutmaster does, his boys will do. The Scoutmaster is reflected in his scouts. From the self-sacrifice and patriotism of their Scoutmaster, Scouts inherit the practice of voluntary self-sacrifice and patriotic service.” – BP in Aids to Scoutmastership

Have a Great Scouting Day!


    1. I suppose that’s the point. If the question is asked then the measure is either met or not. The scoutmaster that fails to use the methods is not meeting the aims of Scouting… And therefore should ask “what kind of Scoutmaster am I?”


  1. Old enough to know better, young enough to learn comes to mind as does a Scout is clean but not afraid to get dirty. Guess that makes me “old fashioned” but I remember what Jim Virgin told us about embraising modern technology at Woodbadge. Cell phones at Jambo might be an example. I see a move to set up merit badge sessions by the district and have participated in one at Horizon Air where we ran several hundred through Aviation MB in one day. Not all passed. As a kid one of the hard things was to call a stranger and ask for an appointment. Merit badge group sessions get rid of that block. Put me in the knots column as old fashioned.


  2. Jerry, In another blog I posted the following. I think it is relevant. There is a reason that these merit badge events happen, and that they are acceptable to modern scouters, where they may not have been a generation or two ago. I am not a fan because I do not believe they meet the merit badge program goal of acquainting a boy with a new subject, or of giving him contact with a wide range of adults.

    “For me, the biggest catalyst for change came in the 1970’s as a result of sexual predators being found in the ranks of scoutmasters. I cannot say that we always had that problem, but in the early 1970’s it seemed that every month we heard news of a scoutmaster molesting a kid. In fact, I remember a story about the danger of the BSA being sued out of existence if something was not done. The solution was the two deep leadership policy the BSA came up with. As a boy I remember often going camping with only the Scoutmaster as the adult leadership in camp. The BSA also went looking for the molesters to boot them out.

    As a result, troops had to get more adults involved in the program. If you needed two registered adults to go camping, you needed five or six to ensure you had enough to choose from, since scheduling more than one is more difficult. Our little troop of 10 to 15 had a scoutmaster and an assistant, and one year we got a guy just home from the Vietnam war who wanted to go camping. Now, I am always looking for enough adults to register so I can get a second or third adult to go.

    When you have that many adults registered, they will be bored and drop out pretty quickly unless they have something to do. So troops decided to sign some up as merit badge councilors, scout advancement trainers, patrol advisers, and the like. I think this caused the rise of adult run troops, as adults scouters took over parts of the program. As a boy, I never heard of doing merit badges as a class in a troop meeting. Now, I have to push hard to keep it from happening.

    Get more adults in the troop, especially if their day job is sales or marketing, and you have troops becoming very sophisticated in recruiting, identifying unreached teenagers, contacting cub packs and Webelos dens, and putting on good cross over shows. This has resulted in large and very large troops. We have two or three troops that are over 100 in youth membership. Mega Troops. Combine the size with the larger number of merit badges readily available to earn, and the ease in earning them, and you come up with the Eagle Mill type of troop. One of our mega-troops uses troop T-shirts that say “Eagle Factory” on them. They have 150 to 180 boys, 40 adults, and have 4 to 5 Eagle courts of honor per quarter. Crazy. For a while the council told smaller troops to emulate these big troops, so many had merit badges in troop meetings, and had adults responsible for guiding scouts quickly through their advancement.

    I think the youth protection policies have had unforeseen consequences in the scouting program.”

    Sometimes it takes a long memory to piece together the evolution of the scouting program.

    Now, I have a lot of questions about the merit badge program. Why did we need three citizenship badges to replace the one? Why did we morph the activity oriented Conservation badge into the academic Environmental Science? Why did we take Cooking off the Eagle required list?


  3. I know what kind of Scoutmaster I am…one that has been trained and also mentored by other scouters and Scoutmasters that do it right. And one that has read the books and follows what the BSA and BP preach.

    I am a friend to my scouts…I do have that Boy Scout mentality
    I am a teacher to my scouts…Do as I do, say as I say
    I am a mentor to my scouts….I remember one time that this didn’t work for me, but I think that you will do well
    I am a coach to my scouts…It doesn’t matter how hard life knocks you down, it matters that you get back up
    I am a guide to my scouts….there is the easy path and the right path…most of the time, they are not the same, you choose

    In all, our troop is boy-led. Our scouts don’t ask to do Merit Badges in the meeting. I have had that conversation at troop committee meetings, when one of the parents comment that the program seems dull. I will often say “well, there are other troops that have merit badges during troop meetings, maybe we should”…and then my ASM shoots me down. He knows that I will never do that, but he does it as he supports me and the understands the program.

    As long as I am a part of this troop, we will follow the program the way that BP laid it out…and the instant that we aren’t doing that anymore, someone can peel that patch off my shirt…but they will have to dig my corpse up, open my casket and take it.

    It’s a bit of a rant, albeit a bit “all-over” but I think that you get the drift. I think that I am a damn good Scoutmaster, abiding by the rules, and following my teachers and mentors in the ways that they have taught me.


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