Change and the BSA
Mon, 22 Jun 1992 12:42:22 PDT
Ahh..the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Recent postings about changes in the program and in advancement could have
been written almost verbatim some 20 years ago. Or 40 years ago. Scouting did
not come along in 1977 with the first major change in advancement requirements.
Whatever happened to all of the farming-related merit badges back when we were
a more rural society? Where are the Air Scouts? Remember the onset of Skill
Awards - those useless but wonderful little council-money-maker belt loops? Or
when it took 25 merit badges for Eagle? Or how you could become Eagle without
camping, cooking, or swimming merit badges? How about the Red Berets? Where
are the leggings and spats? Changes have been going on since Scouting began.
Some of the recent postings suggest that ALL change is bad. There's a
problem with adding Space Exploration and Engineering merit badges? BSA was a
decade late in getting with that program! Under President Eisenhower, there
was a call for an emphasis on science in American education, but that wasn't
reflected in Scouting until 1969. And what's wrong with Emergency
Preparedness? There was a day when our Scout troops were the first group
called for disaster relief, lost child searches, etc. I haven't seen a Scout
troop (with the exception of some highly skilled Explorer Posts) do much of
this in many years.
Perhaps there was even an error back in the 1940's when the <silent swim>
was added as a requirement for the Swimming merit badge. Leaders felt that
this might be useful for boys who were facing inevitable military service. (I
still have an editorial from the Communist daily <Pravda> which references the
Boy Scouts' mission in training underwater demolition experts!!!) And today,
believe it or not, knowledge of popular contemporary music or how to treat drug-
induced seizures is not all bad. Nor are these things outside the likely
experience of our young men.
What bothers me more than anything is the thought that advancement to First
Class is now some statistical yardstick for measuring performance. Reaching
for statistical goals has always been a strong temptation for wrongdoing. Look
at the whole BSA back in 1976, when falsified statistics, nonexistent Scouts
and troops, and mishandled federal funds led to the departure of the Chief
Scout Executive. Or just two years ago when a midwest council faced criminal
indictment for similar behavior.
The fact that BSA has actually published studies of why kids leave Scouting
is great news. There is no question that Mike Walton's <impromptu> activities
are the backbone to a successful program. High adventure and <pushing the
envelope> are natural for kids. Nonetheless the two-adult rule is a very
valid one. And not just for the increased concern over abuse. Many years
back, we found ourselves camped near another troop with only one leader.
During an <impromptu> tree climb, one of that unit's boys fell and broke his
arm. Had we not been there to help out, that leader would have been in
trouble. As it was, we got the boy to the hospital and home while the leader
kept his troop in the field.
Boy training can't replace adequate adult leadership. Reading Scout stories
from the 1920's, you'll find groups of boys who'd go out on a summer-long
encampments with only occasional adult supervision. But seventy years ago,
this was a very different world. Scouting has had to change.
Church and school field trips might indeed be more challenging. So how much
of this success is based on the leadership training that goes on in the average
church youth group and how much is based on the dedication of one or two adult
leaders? And are either the adults or youth involved prepared for emergencies?
BSA rules are sometimes stupid, over restrictive, and a bit nonsensical.
Some are crying for change. But they are usually based on real life
experience. Increased litigation will probably continue to force up the
program costs and the number of silly rules. Someday perhaps the BSA National
Council will become a small advisory body with individual units setting their
own local policies. This will mean BSA giving up some of its power - not a
real good bureaucratic likelihood - and local people accepting more
responsibility for their actions.
Until then, accept the fact that change is inevitable. Some will be good
while some will be bad. Just do what you can to turn these changes to your
boys' advantage. And my apologies for long-windedness.
Past Prime Scouter
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City