Are we still Delivering?

all togetherThere has been much said, yeah.. even here on this blog, about how Scouting has changed to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator.  A greater emphasis on merit badge work shops and staying within an arms reach of a cell phone.  Sometimes I wonder if we in Scouting are still delivering the promise.. you know the promise of Scouting.
I find it interesting that when we look back in the not to distant past that Scouting was much different.  Even as far back as when I was a Scout there were not the concerns of life as we know it in today’s Scouting world.
Now I am a believer that we do need to bring Scouting to where the boys are.. but sometimes we should take the boys back to where we came from.
Baden Powell once said “By the term Scouting…is meant the work and attributes of backwoodsmen, explorers, hunters, seamen, airmen, pioneers, and frontiersmen.”
The 1947 Handbook for Scoutmasters goes on to add, “The word ‘Scout’ opens up to the boy the picture of open spaces, woods, rivers, and lakes, mountains which are to be his playground and where he will have his fun.”  It goes on to say, “It is this promise of adventure, of camping and life in the outdoors that lures the boy into Scouting.  We MUST keep faith with him by giving him that adventure – not just to satisfy him, but because it is the best way we have of holding him.”
There is more written in the Handbook for Scoutmasters that reinforces this idea of adventure and the promise of Scouting, I wonder when we stopped talking about that.  There is no mention of it in the current Scoutmaster Handbook.
We have allowed lawyers to dictate that adventure.  We have allowed video games and laziness to dictate our levels of activity and we worry about Scouts leaving the program because we need the numbers.
I believe that every boy should be in Scouting… but not for merit badges or bobbles and beads.  I think they should be seeking adventure!  Like we did when I was a boy.  Adventure!  Parents need to allow this to happen.. that’s where it starts.
You know, there were just as many creeps in the world in the 70’s and 80’s as there are today.  The world really is not more creepy.. the difference… we have 24 hour news now and this wonderful thing called the internet.
We rode our bikes to and from Scout troop meetings.  Heck, we rode our bikes everywhere.  We were told not to talk to strangers and never to take candy from them.. and you know, we came out alright.  Every day in the summer we left in the morning and came home in time for dinner.  Looking for adventure.
In Scouts we found adventure.  We camped with our Patrols, we did not need… nor did we want, all the adults hanging around.  The fewer of them the better.   Our parents were concerned about us, but knew that we would be ok.  We trusted our Scoutmaster and the skills we were taught and we looked for adventure at every turn.
Not every Patrol got a ribbon at Camporee.. but then again, they were not all about competing either.. they were about skills and discovering new things.
Our PLC had a blank check to plan the next big adventure.  I remember when I was a Tenderfoot Scout we had the biggest adventure ever.  Our Troop was dropped off in Belgium to take a ferry across the English channel.  Once we arrived in England we took a bus to the Baden Powell house and stayed there for a few days.  We explored the local area and got to camp at Gilwell Park.  2 weeks from when we left home, we boarded the ferry and back we went.  We only had 2 adults with us the whole trip and it was an adventure of a life time.
The old Handbook for Scoutmasters suggests that we can retain Scouts because “it [adventure] is the best way we have of holding him.”  The best way!  I firmly believe that if we just allowed it, we can get back there.  I don’t think that boys have changed much… it is the parents that did the changing.   You know.. I can’t remember one kid when I was growing up that had peanut allergies.. now you can’t even say the word peanut without some Mom yelling that her son is allergic.  I think it’s time we give our boys their adventure back.  I think it’s time that we go back to actually delivering the promise and not just Eagle Awards.  I think it is time that all of us Scouters ask the simple question.. are we still delivering the promise?
Just my buck and half.. curious to hear you thoughts.  Weigh in.
Have a Great Scouting Day!


  1. Jerry, I refer you to the book “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy. She was interviewed by Clark Green last year, and I picked up and read her book. She issued the idea that generally in the culture parents have become so fearful of their children being hurt that parents will go to extraordinary lengths to take away all risk of danger. She says that this has been caused by a relentless campaign by the news networks to scare parents by presenting every child abduction and murder (though they are very rare) as being ever present and eminent right outside our doors.

    I am afraid this has seeped into scouting, as district executives have tried to delete all sense of danger, and thus of adventure, from scouting. In Hillcourt’s day, when he wrote the scoutmaster handbook, there was not an army of lawyers ready to sue the BSA out of existence, and the cases of crimes against children were not constantly paraded before our eyes on 24 hour news services with revolting detail and exact images.

    What should we do? We should push our scouts to exert themselves to do things they have not done before. We can still follow age appropriate guild lines and practice safety procedures in our camps. But I have seen more growth in my scouts on a primitive, wilderness survival camping trip with minimal gear, than on car camps with full trailer full of all the comforts of home. One tenderfoot scout told me in a Scoutmaster’s conference that his best trip was one camp where it rained and was soggy the whole weekend. I think he realized that if he could come through that, he could do any camping well.


    1. Great points Allan. I suppose that is one of the reasons that once our PLC started moving towards being a backpacking Troop we encouraged it. Our Troop does not have Patrol boxes and heavy gear. We camp using backpacking skills every camp out. But it still bothers me that the farther along we go the more Scouting is loosing the promise of adventure. At what point do we take it back? When do we say enough is enough and just give the boys the adventure that they really crave. They don’t know it in some cases becasue they have never been allowed to seek it.
      Come on Parents.. let your boy be a boy!
      Thanks for the comment.. really great points.


  2. This is a great post! I’m constantly fretting over how to promote and deliver Adventure. We just started a new troop and our stated focus is on the basics: Scout Skills, Patrols, and Fun. The scouting program, distilled, is a great opportunity for our boys. The problem seems to me, is that there is so much, and the program is so wide open in application, that most of us lose focus on occasion and get away from the essentials. Yes it is a smorgasbord of opportunity, but you don’t have to put everything on your plate. Pick what you like, keep it reasonable, add it to your plan for this month / year / whatever, but save room for dessert. On your next trip up to the smorgasbord, get more of your favorites and maybe try one or two new things, but don’t overdo it because you know you’ll regret it in the morning.


    1. Yes there is so much out there …. the reason. There has been so much pressure to move away from adventure and into the safe comfort zones of over protective parents (and lawyers).
      Look at the new Merit badges that are coming out. You tell me where the adventure is in any of the following. And NO.. this is not a “Well, to each his own..” This discussion is about real adventure and getting the Scouts back to being Scouts.
      Here is the list of new merit badges.. I wish I was making this up:
      Programming, Game design, Digital technology, Animation, Computer Aided Design, Advanced computing, Multi media, Welding, Robotics, Chess.
      So in an effort to be fair and balanced…
      They did add Kayaking, Geocaching, and the most adventurous.. Scuba diving. Three out of this long list get our Scouts excitied.. I mean.. Scouting! This is not what Baden Powell had in mind.
      Thanks for the comment Mike.


  3. Interesting point of view “yes”
    Not new, have we all not asked ourselves this many a time “yes”
    The big question is what can be done to reverse this trend.
    Will this take scouting forward or should we be following technology as this may be the future scouting of space and the universe.
    I know I did not want my scouting to stay where my fathers scouting was and that was not that far behind mine.
    The pace of technology is moving forward so fast that 30 year old’s are considered old fogies past their sell by date, don’t know what that says for us.
    The problem in the here and now, how do we excite and challenge the boys.
    Meetings should not be a series of “information lectures”
    Merit badges, basically a extension of school learning .
    We are not going to change the lawyer driven scouting councils.
    There must be some innovative ideas out there.
    We don’t need to keep the idea pool only within the scouting community.
    I and a number of my scouting friends and discuses this many a time and to our frustration have come up empty handed.
    Looks like we all need a helping hand, just to really understand the problems scouting is facing


    1. Stuart.. yep Technology is moving fast.. but that supports my point.. with this fast moving technology now is the time to get them out into the woods.
      I love the technology and embrace it.. but it is not supposed to be the thing that takes away from adventure. We need to use it to seek adventure.. real adventure. GPS, Cell phones, tablets.. they can all be used to enhance the adventure.. not make it go away.
      There is no such thing as virtual camping, hiking, and exploring.
      Thanks for the comment.


  4. The adventure is there still. Achieving balance is tricky. The boys want more but live in a world where so much is spoon fed to them they don’t place a big priority on doing stuff for themselves, not to say they don’t like it when they get the chance. The politically correct bubble they have been enculturated into has turned them into “mommas’ boys”. When I was a kid in the inner city, I found camping out and getting dirty, hiking in the woods very attractive. It took teamwork and a self sufficiency that is not so popular right now. Boys need to see the healthy masculinity of self sufficiency, to strive towards acting as role models to other youmg men. I tell them that first aid, knot tying and outdoorsmanship are not optional skills, they are the hallmarks of being a good scout. All the rest is gravy.


    1. Thanks Les. And to your point of balance.. we need to be the swing of adventure in their lives. We need to makeself reliance a priority and maybe force the issue of taking a chance. Yeah.. we have lots of mommas boys out there… but deep down they want adventure and if momma isn’t going to give it to them, the schools won’t give it to them, we will. Love your comments.. thanks


  5. I know way too many Life Scouts who have no idea how to build a fire! I was fortunate to crossover into my Troop as a patrol of eight; seven of us made Eagle together. The 8th guy never made it past second class, but was still active and camping with the troop at 17yrs old. Today, I would hold him up against any Eagle Scout! Far too much attention placed on advancement and other things these days. Money, Membership, blah blah blah. I would love to go to Irving and take every calculator off every desk and replace it with a picture of an 11 yr old boy holding a half raw, burnt chicken he just tried to cook!


    1. Ha! The raw chicken brings back memories. I (and now my boys & their Troop) have a reputation for using Dutch ovens, even carrying them in 3 miles down a desert canyon. I get asked why sometimes, and the answer lies in my youth, when my Patrol was eating an awesome pot roast, while the other Patrol was eating raw chicken 2 hours later. I remember thinking to myself, life is good!
      To echo the main point with data – I went to Philmont in 1979, Scouting’s peak membership year. I went back last summer, and the program was virtually identical. Same paperwork, same difficulty of treks, everything. Since 1979 Scouting’s membership has of course dropped precipitously. Meanwhile, Philmont still runs at full capacity, with lotteries to attend. Something over 20,000 Scouts and Scouters attended last year. Looks to me like staying with the basics worked.


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