Scouting Ideals: Merely Experiential or an Educational Approach?

DSCF1305[NOTE:  this is part four of a mini-series on the “methods of scouting” — the introduction can be found by clicking HERE.]

As a Method used to achieve the Aims of Scouting, “Scouting Ideals” uses our Oath, Law, Slogan, Motto and Outdoor Code to communicate specific concepts to our scouts.  The purpose is for them to incorporate these concepts into their daily lives.

How do these concepts get introduced?  Is it solely up to the scout to develop their understanding through experiences which occur randomly throughout their involvement in the scouting program?  Should leaders exert a proactive educational experience to assist youth in drawing out a more complete understanding of the concepts?

Perhaps the best strategy is to take advantage of both opportunities:  instruction and discussion helps prepare the youth to maximize their learning during experiential situations.

What’s been published about this method?

The concepts of “scouting ideals” were highly evident in the first edition of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) handbook in 1911.  Beginning with the introduction by Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton (“Do you believe in loyalty, courage, and kindness? Would you like to form habits that will surely make your success in life?”) and continuing through chapters one (scoutcraft), six (chivalry) and nine (patriotism and citizenship) the ideals of scouting are interwoven through the program.  The discussion offers both explanation of what the concepts mean and provides ample examples of what these ideals look like in every modern knightday occurrences.  From this early document, scouting has suggested that leaders would benefit their youth members by providing both educational guidance and an environment where the youth can explore the ideals on their own.

Then too, a good scout must be chivalrous. That is, he should be as manly as the knights or pioneers of old. He should be unselfish. He should show courage. He must do his duty. He should show benevolence and thrift. He should be loyal to his country. He should be obedient to his parents, and show respect to those who are his superiors. He should be very courteous to women. [educate the scout on what it means to be “chivalrous”] One of his obligations is to do a good turn every day to some one. [encourage the scout to experience this for himself].

As early as 1938, the Scoutmaster Handbook discussed the “Ideals of Service” in reference to the Oath and Law.  This theme is continued through each subsequent handbook including the following statement; “We have considered those parts of Scouting that are so essential to the success of the program that we call them methods.This reinforces the main concept of this series of articles that troops who neglect any of the methods are undermining their success.

Looking to 2013 guidance on this method of scouting, we find statements like these:

Ideals. The ideals of Boy Scouting are spelled out in the Scout Oath, the Scout Law, the Scout motto, and the Scout slogan. The Boy Scout measures himself against these ideals and continually tries to improve. The goals are high, and as he reaches for them, he has some control over what and who he becomes.” (

The ideals of the Boy Scouts of America are spelled out in the Scout Oath, Scout Law, Scout motto, and Scout slogan. Boy Scouts and adult leaders incorporating these ideals into their daily lives are said to have Scout spirit…Scout meetings and Scouting activities reinforce the ideals of Scouting through the message of a Scoutmaster’s Minute and in the form of new understandings the Scouts discover for themselves. (

The ideals are those outlined in the Scout Oath and Law, the Scout Motto and Slogan, and the concept of “Scout Spirit”. This method permeates everything Scouts do, defining acceptable behavior, challenging the Scout to do his best, and even to do better than his best. Scout spirit describes the level of commitment a Scout has toward these ideals, and challenges him to do what needs to be done. (

Clearly, there is an obligation to teach boys how to recite the Oath, Law, Slogan, Motto and Outdoor code as part of their Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class (“T-2-1”) requirements.  Further, there’s a final requirement for each and every rank to evaluate how the scout has incorporated these ideals into daily living.  However, the mechanisms for encouraging boys to transition from rote memorization of words to deciphering meaning and applying that meaning personally into actions is left open to interpretation.

Test: Are our actions leading to fulfillment of the Aims of scouting?

One of the three Aims is character development.  While each scout develops individually, there are mechanisms we can use to help catalyze the process.  Active discussions about the ideals with the intent of clearly defining and describing each component can help scouts avoid misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

Scout helping old ladySome scouters would decry this as interference and assert that the boys will figure it out in due course.  I suppose that’s true, but in my mind this amounts to a “self-study” program.  Scouts are certainly free to purchase a handbook and use it to teach themselves all of their first aid, knots and lashings, but we know that there’s an advantage to group instruction, leveraging troop guides, and incorporating competitions and other events to ensure fun and mastery.  Why would we place the scout in isolation on ideals when the remainder of the program is all about patrols, groups, teams, buddies and shared experiences?

I believe that we can help scouts learn about the meaning behind the words in the Oath, Law, Slogan, Motto and Outdoor Code without constraining their understanding to our own personal biases.  Indeed, the benefits include preparing them to lever their own past experiences into a deeper understanding, and sharing personal observations with peers as a sounding board.

Mechanisms for discussion

Most units provide a “scoutmaster minute” as part of their program.  BSA makes the following claims about this portion of the meeting:

The Scoutmaster’s Minute is brief in duration but one of the most important parts of a troop meeting. Occurring at the closing of the meeting, it is the thought that will go home with the boys. It is the time to teach one of the ideals of Scouting. The Scoutmaster’s Minute is a special time when you have the attention of all the boys in the troop, and it is your opportunity to convey a special message of inspiration. Many of the Scoutmaster’s Minutes listed below are parables, short stories about everyday people and occurrences that illustrate a moral attitude or religious principle. (

Key statements – “most important part”; “thought that will go home (to parents) with the boys”; “teach ideals”; “inspire”; “illustrate a moral attitude or religious principle”

In our troop we try to leverage this important part of the program by leading a discussion about specific scouting ideals.  Lectures are boring, but when we ask the scouts to get involved they respond.

The key has been to prepare provocative and reasonable questions for the scouts – knowing what to ask and how to ask it can make the difference between a boring time and a fun time:

“What does it really mean to be brave?”  “How does the dictionary define thrifty?”  “What would be some of the possible consequences of breaking our loyalty bond to each other?”  “Does being clean mean more than physically clean?”  “Have you ever discussed this with your parents or religious advisor”  “Can you think of a time when you read about this concept in the Bible (or other faith document)?”

In our troop (chartered to a Baptist Church of the GARBC Fellowship) we often proactively cite scriptures that offer insights into the concept being discussed.  This is OK with our troop families because they understand that we’re not pushing “BAPTISTIC BELIEFS” versus “ROMAN CATHOLIC BELIEFS”,, we’re using the Bible as a source of information to illustrate ideas by putting a face on the concept.

From a historical perspective, the Bible is full of accounts where people either characterized the proper execution of ideals or failed in some way with respect to an ideal.  This sets the stage for a meaningful discussion that the scouts can approach.

For instance, an examination of loyalty can be found in Daniel, chapters one through three. These young men were probably almost Scout age when they stood up for what they knew was right. Their loyalty and faith were proven to be the right choice. Sometimes illustrating the opposite of a virtue can help define it, too.

Examining betrayals in the Bible shows the consequences of broken loyalty and the need to safeguard and protect our relationships. David’s betrayal of Uriah in taking his wife ultimately led to a variety of negative consequences, including civil war in the kingdom. Peter’s denial of Christ, and later his recommitment (John 21:15-17), show us that there can be a way back from betrayal.

Ultimately, I would ask Scouts, “How does God demonstrate His loyalty (expressed as love) to us?” It would be interesting to hear their answers and resulting discussion. Of course there are many references in scripture that could be used to highlight God’s loyalty to us despite our total depravity separate from a relationship with Him by his grace (Romans 5:8, 1 Pet 1:18-19; John 3:16-17;

We try to place a write up from these discussions on our blog site frequently.  You can view samples by searching the site for the category “Devotional” or by searching for various expressions used in our scouting ideals (i.e. Duty to God, Duty to Self, Helpful, Thrifty, etc.)

We recognize that not all units would be comfortable with this approach of incorporating scripture references, but there are other alternatives to using scriptures or other religious documents.  Aesops Fables are a deep source of moralistic tales which can be leveraged to help capture the attention of scouts.  An online source for many of these stories can be found at

One of my favorites is “The Scorpion and the Frog”:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

FrogScorpionThe frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”

We need to be careful with the company we keep – just because they say they’re trustworthy and will not hurt us, we should consider their past performance and their tendency towards self-destruction as a real threat to our livelihood.  How do we learn to distinguish real threats from perceived (non-existent) threats?


How has your unit pursued the understanding and application of scouting ideals?  Does your unit use candle lighting ceremonies with descriptions of the points of the Oath and Law? Are your scoutmaster minutes supercharged discussions?  Do you use headlines from the local paper in highlighting how somebody (non-scout) failed to adhere to scouting ideals?  Would you be comfortable asking boys to contribute their personal experiences or personal faith teachings to a melting pot discussion that helps everyone in the group gain a fresh perspective on an old idea?

Taking a proactive approach with scouting ideals can help your scouts build character faster and in a more connected (day-to-day, real-life) manner.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions so that we can all learn through this “virtual roundtable”.


About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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