Re: "baptism" of fresh summer-campers
Michael F. Bowman (mfbowman@CAP.GWU.EDU)
Wed, 12 Oct 1994 01:16:51 -0400
"Baptism" of fresh summer-campers was once a universal fate that most
Scouts endured, but did not really much enjoy. There was always the
argument that afterward it did something to make a member feel more a part
of the group; e.g., I survived and its now great fun, etc.
Unfortunately, altogether too much of this hazing became psychological
abuse with no real beneficial purpose other than gratifying some
apparently sadistic impulses. In one camp, we had older Scouts dragging
younger ones off into the woods to get branded. The younger Scout would
see a huge bed of coals with a white hot poker or iron in it and then be
blind-folded. Then the "humorists" would simultaneously press ice on the
poor fellows chest and the hot iron on the ice to get a sizzling sound
causing the victim to urinate profusely in his shorts. What would have
happened, if one of the victims had a weak heart and died? By law the
offender would have been charged with kidnapping and homicide. What
Scouting purpose was being furthered? None that I can think of.
Another group had a prune eating contest for first year campers with
predictable end results. Still another kept its first year campers busy
chasing after smoke-turners and the like to the extent that they missed
many advancement and merit badge opportunities. Those kids were cheated!
One group required its first year campers to wear their uniforms backwards
for a day or so. The list of horribles and ingenious degradations could
go on and on. If you stop to think how you would feel now, I don't think
many of us would willingly volunteer to endure some of these abuses.
In my own Troop I was forced to wear a camouflaged loin cloth after having
my trousers removed, whereupon I learned what poison ivy, poison summac,
and nettles were. Subsequently, I ended up on probation for giving each
of the perpetrators a good old fashioned punch in the nose. When I think
back on it, I still have a low opinion of the guys who did it and the
leader who allowed it. It was bad enough to be unsure of oneself at that
age without the conflicting signals this gave and to have had to succeed
in spite of the hazing.
I can think of no good reason why hazing or physical/psychological abuse
is necessary, tolerable or beneficial. As a youth I saw a lot Scouts quit
because of it and a lot of damage to feelings and relationships into the
If we are trying to teach Scouts to live up to the Scout Law and
Scouting's ideals, this sort of thing really sends strong conflicting
signals. We are much better off creating a healthy, robust environment
that encourages self-esteem, mutual respect, and tolerance and we can do
so much easier without hazing.
This rite of passage is now no longer as prevalent here in the U.S. and
many other countries. However, it does persist in many places because of
tradition and custom. Sometimes it does good to challenge customs and
traditions and ask what purpose they serve.
Better yet, we should be asking what are some alternatives. Fixing a
breakfast for the older Scouts might lend itself to teach helpfulness, and
cheerfulness in service. Constructive tasks with opportunities to learn a
Scouting value ought to be easy for ingenious Scouts and Scouters to
improvise as a substitute.
Yours in Scouting, Michael F. Bowman, a/k/a Professor Beaver
Deputy District Commissioner Exploring, GW Dist., NCAC, BSA
Speaking only for myself, but with Scouting Spirit . . .
____ mfbowman@CAP.GWU.EDU ____
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City