As a noun, it describes a youth-focused leadership curriculum designed to accomplish specific aims or goals through various methods.
As a verb, it could be a generic descriptor of actions or tactics employed to achieve the aims of the program (called “methods”).
Since our scout troop was chartered in November of 2010, we have examined several of the methods of scouting during awards ceremonies (called court of honor programs). Specifically, we’ve addressed:
- Patrol Method
- Personal Growth
- Leadership Development
These presentations have been summarized on our blog site. Additional methods that we use, but haven’t discussed explicitly include Associations with Adults (learning to talk to adults in a respectful, peer-to-peer capacity and accomplished through a variety of mechanisms); Uniforms; Outdoor Program and Ideals.
Every troop is unique in the scouting program, but they should each strive to incorporate all eight of the methods into their program. How individual units accomplish this depends on a number of factors: the interest of the boys; the influence of the adults (too much or too little); the size of the troop; the support resources; the success of fundraising efforts and more. Even apart from these factors, each troop prioritizes its own emphasis on each scouting method.
One could imagine a mythical ‘control panel’ which has eight slider controls with a scale of one to ten printed alongside – the scouting unit, through it’s programs and activities would slide each controller ahead or backward to designate each method’s relative priority. Ideally, all would be relatively equal and offering as high a priority as possible.
However, many units cluster three or four high and the rest low. This is especially true of those troops who have limited resources, limited adult leadership (or committee) support or logistical challenges in conducting the program. Perhaps the troop and its member families are in an economically challenged area so uniforms and high adventure trips have to take a backseat to other methods which are less dependent on finances.
It would be amazing to participate in a troop where all of the methods received top most priority and were executed consistently well. Unfortunately, that’s a relatively rare occurrence. Most troops excel in three or four areas and demonstrate what we might label as “functional competence” in the remainder. Fortunately, this provides a good program for the benefit of the boys, and one that keeps families engaged.
Although many scouters could argue the point, I’ve seen that many troops stack up their priorities in the following manner:
Strongest emphasis on:
- Outdoor Program
- Patrol Method
Lesser emphasis (not abandonment) in these areas:
- Personal Growth
- Leadership Development
- Adult Association
- Scouting Ideals
Culturally, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) seems to be influencing this prioritization in several ways. First, BSA has a great interest in attracting and retaining the largest number of youth members as possible. They’ve long observed that the larger and long tenured troops accomplish this by offering a strong outdoor program that features a lot of adventure. During round table meetings, on blogs and in adult leader training this linkage is repeatedly mentioned.
The patrol method encourages boys to take charge and lead the planning an execution of the program. This helps encourage self-reliance, responsibility and accountability. This couples nicely with a strong outdoor program by encouraging the boys to get excited about trying new adventures and to “plan big”
Parents tend to place great value on their sons being recognized as achievers including the attainment of the resume-worthy honor of being recognized as an Eagle Scout. Because of this interest, troops may place extra emphasis on getting the boys to progress at a steady pace.
There is no question that these three methods are crucial to the success and longevity of a BSA unit; however, units that neglect other methods can develop problems in much the same way that a life of imbalanced diet could lead to chronic health issues.
Here are some examples where units that do not place much emphasis on specific methods could “miss opportunities” for the boys:
- Without uniforms boys and leaders can function in the wilderness just fine, but uniforms can be a real help for developing team spirit, team building/bonding, sharing a common identity as a group, and more.
- Units that regularly keep their youth from visiting with Merit Badge Counselors from outside of their own troop parents inhibit the “adult association” method by contriving access to only adults who are already familiar with the scout. There is value in learning to meet adults who are “strangers” but also experts in their respective fields of interest and have been carefully screened with appropriate background checks.
- Units that pay lip service to teaching “scouting ideals“ – and the meaning behind the oath, law, slogan, motto and code – can have unruly, ill-disciplined, foul language spouting youth whose relationship skills (i.e. “emotional intelligence” or “soft skills” needed for business dealings) are stunted.
- Many of the adult leaders (especially those who were never scouts as youth or had “disconnected dads” as youth) are uncomfortable carrying conversations with their youth counterparts – they tend to bark directions and then retreat to the sidelines. Engaging the youth and developing appropriate relationships with them helps them with their “personal growth” and maturation from boys into men – learning the value of a firm handshake and looking others in the eye when talking and so on. This may seem overly simplistic, but it is a part of the process in helping these boys be ready for the working world and for becoming mentors to younger scouts as well.
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a look at under-served scouting methods – the benefits of working the method, the potential pitfalls of neglecting these methods, suggestions to boost or bolster these methods.