Lord Robert Baden-Powell (B-P, as we Scouters call our founder) described Scouting as a "game with a purpose". The purpose is to develop leadership skills and self-reliance in young men while instilling strong ethical values. The Scout Law: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent." The Scout Oath: "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout law; to help other people at all times; and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."
You can learn life skills in school and you can be preached to in church. Scouting gives a boy the opportunity to learn by doing in the framework of fun outdoor activities: the game part. As a leader, one’s greatest responsibility is to lead by example and do his or her best to embody the values of Scouting, rather than just preaching them. On the other hand, it is also very important to make it fun. Boys vote with their feet. If they don’t enjoy the program, they have many other alternatives in today’s world.
The session that I taught at this weekend’s adult leader training was about using games as a leader. Sometimes you just want to lighten up and have a little fun. It’s also fun to make the lessons into a game. Ideally, you have a fun competition that utilizes the skills you are teaching. For instance, as we prepared to help with a Special Olympics, the boys had to play some games to develop a little empathy. They opened and applied band-aids while wearing a pair of gloves. Try zipping your pants one-handed sometime, or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. If you try to eat with your non-dominant hand, use a spoon. If you use a fork, you’ll put your eye out. You’ll be surprised at how difficult these things are.
In the early seventies, there was an ill-conceived movement to make Scouting more "contemporary". Fortunately, it didn’t last. I love this 1972 editorial from William Hillcourt (known to Scouters as "Green Bar Bill"):
"Is Scouting in tune with the times? Scouting has never been in tune with the times. Even in 1908, it was idiotic to suggest that you should go out camping because everybody knew that the night air was bad for you — you might get malaria, for heaven’s sake… It was exactly because of the fact that it was idiotic and out of tune with the times that made Scouting appealing. It goes back to the atavistic thing that is supposed to be in every human being to play Tarzan and Robinson Crusoe, and so on."
Indeed the game of Scouting appeals to a boy’s sense of adventure and competition and risk-taking and a little show-offiness, and this will never go out of style. The sad thing is that Scouting’s values have fallen out of style with a lot of folks. "On my honor…" In four and half years as Scoutmaster, I never encountered a single boy who knew what his honor was. It was a meaningless term before we spent time learning and understanding the Scout oath and law as part of his joining requirements. If I accomplished nothing but giving those boys an increased understanding of those values (and any increased aspiration to them), then my time was well spent.