Scouts-L Mail Archive for December of 1999: Gotta Boast!..numbers
Dalton, Lloyd P.
Fri, 17 Dec 1999 10:46:18 -0700
**Apologies in advance for the length of this post**
Jim P. makes a good point--anectodal evidence may be just as
valuable as broad statistics. Both provide useful information, and neither
can illustrate the whole picture of scouting's health.
For the troops & packs in a district to be growing, they are
obviously providing a fun & worthwhile program to the youth. I think the
great majority of troops & packs do a fine job of scouting As long as they
continue to do so, they will enjoy "modest growth."
But there are two ways for growth for happen:
1. The slow & modest way, where units attract youth and keep them with a
strong program. Troops & volunteers are responsible for this, and council
leadership really has little positive or negative effect.
2. Sideline programs, initiated and run at the council level, usually not
by volunteers, and which attract youth in a "draft" fashion. I'm speaking
primarily of LFL, where youth are enrolled more or less automatically from
local school districts.
Way #1 has some advantages (to me, anyway):
-- The primary goal is the physical, mental & emotional growth of a scout.
Everything else is secondary. This is because the folks running the program
are the parents & friends of the scout.
-- A boy spends MUCH more time in structured environments, geared at
stimulating leadership & teamwork and building knowledge (also known as
-- From a young age, a boy is surrounded by a near-permanent framework for a
long period of time--usually more than 5 years! In other words, membership
in scouting is viewed as a significant part of life, rather than a temporary
Way #1 also has some definite drawbacks:
-- It takes an large amount of resources to provide for a fairly small
amount of youth.
-- Large, sudden increases in membership are rare. This can be frustrating
to adults who want things to keep getting bigger, better, faster.
-- The framework of scouting is geared toward those who join at an early
age, and acclimate themselves to the customs & culture of scouting. Those
who join at an older age are not easily integrated. (Right now, Exploring &
varsity units are extremely independent from traditional scout troops.)
Way #2, has different advantages:
-- It takes far fewer resources, and can easily cooperate & cooexist with
other organizations or schools.
-- It provides for rapid membership increases, since there is a large pool
of older youth who for some reason, never got involved in scouting. Also,
participation is not strictly voluntary.
And, way #2 has some real disadvantages:
-- The primary goal is NOT the physical, mental & emotional growth of a
scout. The program is geared much more toward skill training.
-- Those who run the program often have little connection with the youth
-- Long-term retention is very low.
Scout troops have a lot of ways to keep older youth involved. Camp
staff, OA, High adventure, Troop leadership. But these are all geared
toward older youth who have been in scouts for at least a few years.
Most of the programs instituted under method #2 (LFL, varsity,
venturing, explorers) are or were primarily concerned with reaching youth
who "missed the boat" for scouting, age-wise. Through these programs, they
still get some of the scouting's benefits.
I think what is missing is a clear distinction between these two
types of programs. The simple policy of counting all membership equally is
a good indicator that scouting does not yet have a clear understanding of
its own structure. And without a clear vision of what each program is and
isn't, balance suffers.
Specifically, it is too easy for a council to put energy & effort
behind programs of method #2. Like investing in a hot stock, this promises
immediate rewards for little risk.
But there are consequences. For instance, my council (Central
Minnesota), holds a few large events each year, jamboree-style. Activities
at these events are very structured, the (stated) objective being to
"exhaust" the scouts by the end of each day. This doesn't allow much chance
for a boy-run program.
A few of these events are acceptable, as long as a council doesn't
focus on them exclusively. But our council is doing so more and more.
I think the reason is that council policy and attitude are
influenced heavily by programs that don't include youth leadership, don't
really have an advancement program, don't use the patrol method, don't
emphasize the outdoors, and don't wear a uniform.
In case you didn't catch it, those are all methods of scouting, and
important ones, too.
The reason we don't have a clear distinction between traditional and
contemporary types of programs, is this: If we took a honest look, we'd
have to conclude that many of the contemporary programs, though not
worthless, are significantly inferior to traditional programs when measured
against our standard, the BSA mission.
"It is the mission of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to serve others by
helping to instill values in young people, and in other ways to prepare them
to make ethical choices over their lifetime in achieving their full
potential. The values we strive to instill are found in the Boy Scout Oath
But adjusting the balance of resources back toward trational
programs is a painful option. It would be like selling your high-flying
stock in order to invest in a mature, slow-growth industry.
It's very unlikely that people above the volunteer level will make
this hard choice. Long-term planning has not been a strength of the
scouting movement. (Although long-standing traditions are often mistaken
for coherent strategies).
All of the above is my understanding of the membership issues facing the
BSA, as clear as I can make it. Let me know what I overlooked.
SM, Troop 28
St. Cloud, MN