Being almost the new year, it is a good time to reflect. Personally, this has been a tough year with aging parents running into serious health issues. One of the things that happens when you have the final visit is the chance to see some of the old photographs, and one of the ones my father kept and scanned is from when I was a scout. It made me think about the differences between when I was a scout and the experience my sons are having as scouts today.
The photo is from a scouting exposition that Chester County Council had in 1975. My troop elected to do a pioneering and a cooking demonstration. As SPL I delegated the cooking to my ASPL, and organized the pioneering project. We knew that the pioneering demonstration had to be stable on a parking lot without guy lines or stakes. We wanted it to be spectacular. The picture shows the results. In the background is an ugly tower – but clearly scout designed and scout-built. It was also taller than the competition, and stable enough for visitors to climb. The foreground shows the competition (our rival troop – but a more or less friendly rivalry – both troops are still in existance in that district so I won’t give the numbers). They had built a spectacular, adult-engineered, set of projects. However, their projects couldn’t handle traffic. You may notice that they are looking across the parking lot at our tower in disbelief – we actually won! They are also looking at their ScoutMaster – (well really adult acting as SPL) – who ran the troop very efficiently.
We really had a scout-run troop – much more so than either of my son’s. (although in fairness I think both troops are trying to move in that direction, and one has made great strides). So what is the difference? Why did we pull it off?
- One possibility is that parents, schools and teachers were far less protective. I could carry my scout knife in my pocket to elementary, middle and high school and no one cared. Heck, in high school I brought a machete in as a prop for a class play (for Laeretes to fence with Hamlet). I think the extra freedom allowed us to develop a sense of responsibility – mom or dad wasn’t there to fix it all the time.
- Another possibility was our meeting time. We met Saturday morning. This let us have a stronger outdoor program than we usually do today. We pretty much were guarantied two outdoor events a month -a hike and a campout. I think this may have been important as the troops that met on a weekday evening were much less scout run than ours.
- Kids were less scheduled. Sure there was little league, but that was only in spring and early summer. Basically you got home from school and entertained yourself until dinner time.
- The patrols camped as patrols. The patrols cooked as patrols. If there wasn’t a troop campfire then we had patrol fires
- Patrols met separately from the troop meeting and planned for their events without adult supervision. If you messed up – well you messed up. (one of the reasons that I didn’t do the food at that exposition was that I messed up badly the first time I was a patrol leader on food planning for a campout).
- Scouts were involved in planning the year at all levels. The current standard approach is that the scoutmaster and the patrol leaders council meet and then the scoutmaster presents the plans to the troop committee. We just met together and bounced ideas off each other.
- Older scouts were allowed and encouraged to plan their own “high adventure” trips. Sort of like venturers today.
Some things were the same and cannot be the root cause of problems. Adults were around. When we went on an outing the drivers and assistant scoutmasters were there. Like today, they camped as an “adult patrol” off on the side, but they kept an eye on us. In fact, the times we had trouble were when the adult supervision failed. It wasn’t uncommon for one of the adults to meander through the patrol area and check that everything was OK. I don’t think boys were fundamentally any different than then.