Thoughts on Uniforming: Part I -- Philosophical
Thomas H. Harbold (tharbold@ns1.WMDC.EDU)
Tue, 14 Apr 1998 08:54:03 -0400
I've been following with considerable interest the various threads on
uniforms, a subject which is near and dear to my heart: uniforms and
uniforming are an interest which has, at times, approached a passion with
me. Naturally, I have strong opinions on the subject, and certainly don't
expect everyone to agree with every point I make!
That said, I am committed to uniforms as not only one of the eight formal
"Methods of Scouting," but as an integral part of the whole Scouting ethos.
Scouts have been, are, and must continue to be a uniformed body -- which,
of course, means that we have to take considerable care in the creation and
promotion of our uniforms.
In the second half of this "treatise," I'll go into more details on my
suggestions regarding the "practical" aspects of uniforming -- materials,
specific uniform items, and so on -- but in this part I wanted to open with
some general, more-or-less philosophical comments on uniforming as such.
The first thing which I think we have to come to terms with (in more than
just uniforming) is that no matter how much we might wish it were
otherwise, Scouting is never going to appeal to every boy -- in fact, it's
never going to appeal to a majority of American (or any other) boys. That
being so, I think we need to be *very* cautious about going overboard in
our effort to "appeal to the masses." We won't -- can't -- accomplish it,
and we'll dilute our appeal to our "core constituency" in the process.
[Aside: It is for this reason that I have grave doubts about the so-called
"Varsity Scouting" side of the program. Although athleticism in a general
sense is part of the ethos of Scouting, I don't believe the Scouts should
be in the business of offering and promoting team sports, per se: we are
impinging on the territory of youth leagues, and in the process diluting
and diverting our attention and effort from what should be our own proper
focus -- the outdoors in the "wilderness" sense of the term.]
The debates over so-called "activity uniforms" is of particular relevancy
in this context. I happen believe that we should make available as wide a
range as possible of "Scout gear" -- sport and casual clothing -- as in
fact we are beginning to do; and that we should certainly allow Scouts (as
we always have) to wear Scouting t-shirts, polo-type shirts, etc., for
activities, such as sports, for which the uniform (any uniform) is not
practical. And wearing Scout "gear" as street wear, of course, provides
primo recruiting opportunities! :-) On the other hand, I do not think
that we should ever confuse "gear" with *uniforms*.
Much as some people are made uncomfortable by the (para)military roots of
Scouting, to which uniforms clearly hearken back, the fact is that it's
this very thing that has historically been part of the appeal of Scouting.
In fact, "troops," "patrols," and even "Scouting" itself are words and
concepts which are military in origin. B-P was a General, and his original
scouting manual was intended for his troops (there's that word again...
*grin*), remember? The Scouts are *not* (and should not be) a paramilitary
outfit, but the distinct military "flavor" is part of the appeal of Scouts,
and the uniform is a big part of that.
It all goes back to what I said above, about never appealing to everyone:
we're not going to appeal to, and imho shouldn't want to appeal to, kids
who have bought into the whole "Nintendo generation" mindset. As Larry
Faust pointed out in an excellent article some days ago, the Scouts have
always been a slightly "counter-cultural" (in the sense of counter to the
"pop" culture) outfit -- and that, too, is part of the appeal.
That being so, I think we should consider making a conscious effort *not*
to try to keep "up to the minute" -- heaven forbid "hip"! -- and, so long
as we don't get too carried away with it, we might want to even consider
the possibility of being *intentionally* ever-so-slightly "old-fashioned."
(An example or two of what I mean will appear in my "Part II -- Practical"
section of this essay.)
There are at least two reasons I see for this. The first is that everyone
knows that the Scouts aren't hip, cool, rad, or whatever you want to call
it; if we try, we are likely -- in fact, almost guaranteed -- to come
across as artificial, not terribly believable, and possibly even somewhat
ridiculous. Think of an older person -- late twenties, thirties, or older
-- who tries to dress like a teenager, and you'll see what I mean, I'm sure!
The second reason is that consciously and *visibly* remaining connected to
our roots through uniforming provides yet another touch-point, another
sense of rootedness, for young people who are growing up in a world with
precious few roots, precious little connectedness to the past -- precious
little sense of continuity or community. The fact that kids like to pretend
they don't need this doesn't mean they don't -- they pretend they don't
need rules, too, remember...?
In fact, we're beginning to realize the importance of this connectedness,
this rootedness, more and more as time goes on (of course, it was
intuitively obvious to earlier generations!), and it is something which
Scouting, with it rich traditions, is in a fine position to support.
Uniforms, if they're properly designed and worn, are a tangible, visible
sign of this connectedness, this heritage.
Now, of course, none of this means that Scouts are going to automatically
want to wear their uniforms -- as many a post, and much of our experience,
has clearly shown! We need to be willing to do some "marketing" (for lack
of better word) of the importance of uniforms.
An important starting point would be to not just encourage, but expect --
and if necessary, require -- that adult Scouters who are interacting with
the Scouts, whether on outings or at meetings, be uniformed themselves.
Seeing adults in uniform will not automatically guarantee that Scouts will
want to be in uniform, but I *can* guarantee that if the adults are not
wearing them, they are showing the Scouts that the uniform is not really
important... and that, the Scouts *will* pick up on.
Another stop in the right direction would be to restore the section of the
Scout Handbook which deals with the uniform, and other "marks of a Scout,"
to where it belongs: at the *FRONT* of the Handbook, not hidden back around
chapter 23, as if it were something we were ashamed (or at least
self-conscious) about. [See what I mean about having strong feelings on
this subject...? *grin*] I was sorry to hear that the new handbooks are
apparently about ready for press, because this is something which *really*
needs to be corrected, ASAP. It's not only the location, either, it's how
it's presented: we can't afford to be lukewarm about this.
Chuck Bramlet, in a fine post on the uniform as one of the Aims and Methods
of Scouting as found in an old handbook, mentioned that "It is... really
amazing what the old manuals actually _say_ about some of our 'hotly
debated' questions," and I'm in complete agreement. As I've said in other
fora on other subjects, only through understanding -- in fact, to a
significant degree, internalizing -- our history will we be fully equipped
to function in the present, and plan for the future.
Therefore, I'm going to quote extensively from the Scout Handbook, Sixth
Edition, Fourth Printing (September 1962) -- my brothers' Handbook (I was a
seventies Scout) -- which I consider to be a fine example of the *right*
way of promoting the uniform. Right in the front of the book, immediately
following sections on "You -- American Boy," "You -- Boy Scout," "You -- in
the Great Outdoors," "You -- Patrol Member," "You -- Member of a Troop,"
and "You -- Prepared for Service," comes the seventh section: "Your
Uniform." It reads as follows:
The Boy Scouts of America is the largest uniformed body of volunteers in
the world. This very moment, more than five million boys and leaders belong
to the Boy Scout movement in the United States and wear the Scout uniform
Your uniform is part of the thrill of being a Scout. The moment you put
it on you feel ready for hike or camp or other vigorous Scout activity.
The Scout uniform stands for the brotherhood of Scouting, for the Scout
ideals, and for outdoor life. The color blends with the hues of forest and
field. The design is made for comfort, for freedom of action, and for
health. Every Scout wears the same uniform -- it is a badge of democracy,
an emblem of service.
To the public, the uniform proclaims aloud, "Here is a boy who is a
Scout" -- the people know that only a boy who is a full-fledged member of
the Boy Scouts of America has the right to wear the Boy Scout uniform.
I see few, if any, modifications needed; this could easily be inserted
as-is into the next Scout Handbook. It then, on the next page, goes on to
illustrations of the major Scout badges and a brief description of their
significance (collectively, not individually):
YOUR SCOUT BADGES
On your uniform, you wear the badges that show that you belong, that you
are a member of a certain patrol in a certain troop in the Boy Scouts of
But there are other badges that tell of the Scoutcraft you have mastered
and the rank you have reached and badges that show the world what
responsibilities have been entrusted to you by your patrol and your troop.
The badges you earn are the best proof of your determination to make the
greatest possible use of the opportunities that Scouting offers you.
Nothing half-hearted, reserved, or namby-pamby about any of this! Nothing
diffident or self-conscious, a self-consciousness or half-heartedness that
any Scout can't help picking up. Again, if adults take the lead -- whether
in wearing the uniform or in writing about it -- Scouts may or may not (but
hopefully will) follow. But if adults *don't* take the lead, or are
ambivalent in their leadership, we certainly can't expect the Scouts to
respond. As the saying goes, "if the trumpet give an indistinct sound, who
will come to battle?"
However, if we're going to say that "the moment you put [the uniform] on
you feel ready for hike or camp or other vigorous Scout activity," that it
"stands for... outdoor life," that "the color blends with the hues of
forest and field," and that "the design is made for comfort, for freedom of
action, and for health," we'd better be able to deliver on those promises
(as I'm not sure we can with the current one). My specific recommendations
on that score will follow, in Part II -- Practical.
Always assuming anyone's still with me, of course... ;-)
Yours in Scouting,
Thomas H. Harbold P.O. Box 1537
email@example.com Westminster, MD 21158
www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/5129 ICQ # 6198968
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