scouts-l Mail Archive for August of 2000: Society Is To Blame
Anthony Mako (ajmako@NLS.NET
Mon Aug 07 2000 - 10:29:55 CDT
You have to understand three things before reading this:
1) This is mostly a rant, but discussion is welcome
2) The anger behind this rant wasn't created entirely by the subject of this
3) I personally believe in the primary mission of Scouting
Due to several circumstances mostly beyond our control, my troop was forced
to reschedule our summer camp at the last moment. We had scheduled camp for
the last week of June at another council's camp (the reasons were varied and
require a great deal of explanation, so I won't go into that here). Several
things happened before camp to cause us to reschedule camp to the second to
last week of July at our local council camp (Manatoc Scout Reservation).
I have attended summer camp at Manatoc for years. The first was 1974. The
last was 1988. I worked on camp staff for five years. Nearly everyone who
works for the council knows me pretty well (several current staff members
were Scouts when I was on staff). The reason I didn't attend summer camp
there for twelve years has nothing to do with local council politics or a
lack of confidence in the staff.
During those twelve years, Great Trail Council has worked hard to improve
the quality of the camp program by adding program elements, increasing
staffing, and concentrating on showing campers a good time without resorting
to the merit badge mill mentality (which it had in the mid- to late-70's). I
was, when the week was over, very impressed with the camp program.
My first impression of the camp caused a bit of concern. The staff was
generally helpful. Check-in on Sunday was a breeze. Dinner was great. And
the welcome campfire Sunday night was great, although it seemed short. There
was no Scoutmaster's meeting Sunday night, but there was an SPL meeting.
"Great," I thought. "They've finally figured out who really runs the troop."
Monday, however, was the first clue that everything wasn't a great as it
could be. Due to some glitch in the kitchen, Monday's breakfast was a cold
breakfast. According to my SA, it was frozen. He called it a "French
Toastcicle." As we walked back to camp, he commented that it was probably
the worst meal he'd ever had at Manatoc. My personal feeling was that it
ranked a distant second to 1983's "One Pancake Breakfast."
As the troop settled into the camp routine, my SA and I began our leisurly
strolls through camp and encountered the first of two major problems. We
walked a short trail between our campsite and the camp Trading Post on
Monday morning and picked up a considerable amount of trash. Another walk on
Monday afternoon, on a different trail, yeilded even more trash. It was
everywhere - on the trail, beside the trail, in the woods, in the ravines -
everywhere. And it was obvious trash.
We figured that the trash was a fluke. That it would improve as the week
went on, but by Tuesday afternoon it was obvious that someone, or something,
was replacing the trash as soon as we could pick it up. On Wednesday's SM
meeting, we mentioned the problem to the camp staff and were dumbfounded at
the response. In a nutshell - "Society is to blame; the racoons are too
smart; and Scout leaders should say something to their Scouts."
One of the constuctive solutions to the trash problem was instituting a
program that had often been used at Manatoc. It's called Pick-Up-And-Win.
Basically, it goes like this: 1) Pick up ten pieces of trash and take it to
the trading post and get a free slushy; 2) catch someone dropping trash, and
they have to buy you whatever it was they dropped. We were told that
Pick-Up-And-Win wouldn't work because "kids today are different; it would
cause fights and it's too hard to enforce."
We also suggested that food items purchased at the trading post could be
restricted to the porch by the trading post. We were told that wouldn't work
because "it would be too hard to enforce." We pointed out that it worked
pretty well at another camp we knew of, and were told they couldn't do it at
Manatoc because it was done at the other camp. Needless to say, I was
speechless after that.
Another thing that concerned me during the week was respect for the dining
hall. Manatoc's dining hall is 70 years old. The tables are at least 50
years old. The chairs are at least 60 years old and haven't been refurbished
in about 30 years. As a result, there are several rules to respecting the
dining hall that have been around since before I was a Scout. We keep all
four legs of the chair on the floor. We don't pound on the tables. And we
don't stomp on the floor. All of these rules are explained during check-in,
and at Sunday dinner.
What concerned me was that as the week progressed, these rules weren't
enforced by the staff. I enforced them within my troop, but that was only
five Scouts in a sea of hundreds. One troop in particular turned leaning
back in the chairs into a means of getting attention. The staff did nothing
to discourage this. They didn't repeat the rules or enforce them. I
commented about this to several staff members, but nothing was ever done. In
fact, as I was checking out on Saturday, I overheard to senior staff members
commenting about how the chair chant, pounding and stomping had gotten out
It was apparent to me that the staff expected the adult leaders of each
troop to enforce the rules - exclusively. They felt no need to remind
campers of the respect expected in the dining hall, or any of the other
rules. From my perspective as a former staff member, it appeared to me that
the staff didn't see it as their responsibility to enforce the camp's rules.
Apparently, their job was only to state the rules on Sunday. Apparently, it
was my job to enforce the rules - exclusively. When I mentioned my concerns
to senior staff members, the standard response was "Society is to blame."
That's fine, but here's a clue: Scouting is supposed to be working to
correct such behavior. You can't blame society for behavior YOU have control
over. You can claim that you don't have control over the behavior, but that
isn't true in Scouting. Each adult leader has influence over his or her
Scouts. Staff members have even greater influence over Scouts because the
Scouts often perceive them as senior Scouts rather than adults. It's not
enough to simply state the rules and never enforce them. The camp staff has
the responsibility of setting the example - even to adult leaders (many of
whom may not have heard the rules). If the staff can't be bothered to
enforce the rules, why should the adult leaders? The staff has to live and
work at the camp, they have more of a stake in the condition of the camp
than the adult leaders do.
For the record, I know that at least five Scouts managed to learn the rules
and live by them. Not because the staff explained them, but because I did.
Unfortunately, the failure of other adult leaders and the staff, did not
leave a good impression on my Scouts. They have already made their choice
for next year. I love Manatoc Scout Reservation, having spent considerable
time growing up there, but I won't force my Scouts to love it. I'll support
This is a rant. Mostly, I'm posting this in order to clear my head and
figure out what I want to say in my letter to the Camp Director and Director
A. J. Mako, Scoutmaster, email@example.com
Old Portage District, Great Trail Council