December 22 - Pictures from the past
For a couple of weeks, I've been scanning and digitizing all my fifty years worth of slides and photographs. Not surprisingly, many of them are from Scouting, beginning in my own days as a Boy Scout. Also not surprising was the fact that some of the names have been forgotten, although most of the faces are familiar. Some of the boys I knew as fellow Scouts or as Scouts in my troops are now gone. Younger than I, many of them, lost to age or illness. I came across pictures of a patrol hike in Germany from about 1959. One of the beaming faces was that of Bert, who would be gone in two years of a brain tumor.
Some of the events pictured were memorable, like the warm Winter campout where our boys built sand castles on the shore of a small lake. Another set was from our new troops first camping trip. One set from a very cold Winter camp in Massachusetts when we kept a fire going all night with hot chocolate in a huge pot in case boys woke up cold and needed to get warm.
Others were from events that I can now barely remember. There were so many. All the troops I was in from age 14 camped out every month, regardless of weather. We went to so many camporees, they fade into each other. None of them equaled the camporee we hosted with Green Bar Bill Hillcourt as Camp Chief.
I have a lot of pictures from the 1969 Jamboree in Idaho. There were no pictures from the 2010 Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, because I was just too busy staffing Stamp Collecting Merit Badge to take any. There are pictures from summer camps, Philmont, Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base, Camp Owassippe in Michigan and lots of other places.
A lot of my slides and photos have faded or turned with age and a lot more work will be needed to get some of the restored to their former glory. But just seeing them for the first time in a long time has been a real trip down memory lane. I suppose it's not a bad way to end a year and to think about during the Christams Season.
It also makes me very happy that Scouting has played such a big part in my life. I have many more friends and great memories because of it. I hope others feel
the same. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
December 6, 2013 - Some Interaction With "Old Scouts" - A great start for the holidays!
Meaningful events have been happening in my life over the last ten days or so. For Thanksgiving, I was invited to spend the holiday with two brothers who were members of my troop at MacDill Air Force Base in the late 1960s. We have kept in touch and had lunch or dinner together a number of times over the years, but this was the first time I've spent a full couple of days with them. The younger brother's home was full of family and friends, but I spent a lot of time talking with both of these men. One is a lawyer and the other is an orthodontist. Both are successful in their profession and are giving back to their communities. There were lots of memories shared about the "old days" in Troop 26 and I showed them some pictures I'd recently digitized. We had lots of fun trying to identify the kids of nearly fifty years ago, but it was very clear how much these experiences had meant to them. Their father, an Army officer, was in Viet Nam during much of the time they were part of that troop. They really needed the friendship of the young men who were the leaders of the troop and of the boys who were part of it. It was very clear just how meaningful it had been for them. It made me feel very good to know that. I was glad that I had that opportunity to be their Scoutmaster and that I had had the opportunity to be a boy in Scouting. There is a synchronicity in the universe and certainly within Scouting. We give and we receive.
Just yesterday morning, I reached my computer with my coffee in hand to read the morning mail and found an email from a former Scout. He had been a charter member of another troop which I had the honor of founding back in 1982. I had seen him a few times when he was in the Army and home on leave, but hadn't heard from him in years. It seems he had been searching the internet for any mention of our troop and discovered my website. Through that, he contacted me and I passed his email along to the other founding leader of the troop. In his email, he expressed that his Scouting experiences had been very helpful in his Army years and after. He had joined right out of high school and spent at least six years serving before deciding to get out and go back to college. He's now working in the D.C. area. He recalled his first visit to Washington as part of the troop on one of our expeditions to the nation's capitol. He's not in contact with any of the other guys from the troop of that era and has not been part of Scouting himself since the 1980s. He does have two sons, both of whom are in Cub Scouts. He said he hopes to keep them interested and into Boy Scouting because he feels that boys today need it more than ever. Like me, he sees kids disappearing into houses and attaching themselves to video games and online activities, but never going outside.
Well, it has really made my last two weeks to have those experiences! It also makes me want to redouble my efforts to do whatever I can to keep boys joining this great program and to stay in it all the way to Eagle. Mostly what I do these days is to try to pass this spirit along to other Scouters in the hope that some of them will stay longer and do as much as they can to make the program available for coming generations.
What a great start for the Holiday Season! I hope yours goes as well.
October 31, 2013 - Scouting and People of Importance
Two things happened recently that brought this topic to mind. The most recent was the announcement that former Secretary of Defense and Director of Central Intelligence Bob Gates is President-Elect of the B.S.A., which I think is good news for several reasons. The B.S.A. president is always a person of importance, but not someone who is as nationally and internationally known as Gates.
The first thing that started this thinking was watching a video of Dr. Terry Grove discussing the letters that Eagle Scouts have always gotten from the Chief Scout Executive. He said that it was always interesting to read the listing on the side of the official letterhead, which included all the members of the National Executive Board. His comment was that it was a "Who's Who" of notables in U.S. history.
The President of the United States has, since President Taft, been the Honorary President, but other than former president Teddy Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin it's hard to think of many presidential moments in Scout history. Recent presidents have visited Jamborees and received the Annual Report to the Nation and that's about it.
I believe there are a number of reasons why early people of fame and fortune became involved in the B.S.A. and why the same people of today are less inclined. Probably the major factor is that in the early Twentieth Century, there was a great deal of concern about boys and how best to develop them into good men and good citizens. When the B.S.A. came along, many important men were willing to devote time, money and influence to Scouting. Today, there is less concern boys, per se, than previously. While I am of the opinion that society today is more hostile to boys than ever before it is not politically correct to think so. Boys are by nature rowdy and somewhat hyperactive. They are aggressive and aggression is frowned upon by the schools and the public generally. One of the reasons that Scouting is as popular as it is has to do with the opportunity to do "boy stuff" in an environment that tolerates and understands it.
Another reason for unwillingness of people of importance is concern for the public view of Scouting. Scouting has been under fire for some time due to concerns that it is too religious or not religious enough, too discriminatory against gays or not discriminatory enough. The list of issues goes on, but public people don't want to damage their reputations by being associated with controversy. Scouting used to be the safest organization that one could endorse. Like mother and apple pie, it was an American institution. Sadly, it no longer is. Part of the reason is society changing generally and part of the reason is failure on the part of the B.S.A. to anticipate and stay ahead of changing social and demographic shifts.
As Scouters, there are things we can do about the situation. Most importantly, we can bring the best possible program to the youth we have in our units. We also can communicate to people in our community who have power and influence that Scouting is important. Let them know we appreciate those who contribute to Scouting and support it in business or government. There are a lot of us. We do have a voice that can be heard and appreciated.
October 19 - Safety, Responsibility and Over-protection
When I was researching council histories for Men of Schiff, I was struck by how much Scouts did back in the Twenties and Thirties during dangerous emergencies. In one case, Scouts were mobilized by the council to assist in fighting a major forest fire. In another, Scouts were called out by a Scoutmaster and later the council executive to help remove records from the state capitol building during a fire. In neither case were there injuries to boys. It's certain that today no responsible Scout or civic official would want Boy Scouts placed in danger like that, but it's also true that many activities Scouts used to take for granted are no longer commonplace. Some have been eliminated by the Guide to Safe Scouting. Even patrol camping without adult supervision is no longer allowed. When you consider that boys actually started Scouting on their own and hiked and camped before they organized and sought out men to be leaders, that's quite a difference.
In back of my home there's a retention pond that has water in it year around. Twenty-five years ago, hardly a day went by that some boys didn't come to the pond to collect minnows, find lost golf balls or just poke around the pond. Now, I seldom see any kids around it at all. When I do, they are often accompanied by parents. I realize that in part today's kids stay inside a lot due to games, movies and other electronic activities they didn't have years ago, but I also know that parents are more reluctant to allow their kids to roam around freely. In part, it's realistic to think of dangers and hazards before letting them go out on their own. On the other hand, we know that many dangers are more perceived than real. News media make money telling horror stories, so they sell the awful ones and people think the world is more dangerous than it really is.
We have also become a much more litigious nation than ever before. Most of the rules in Scouting guidelines are the result of lawsuits or the consideration of the likelihood of them. So, we limit the activities of unsupervised kids today to a degree that would have startled parents when I was growing up. My dad once watched me playing with a dead wasp. He told me that you can get stung by a dead wasp, but I didn't believe him. Instead of making me drop the wasp, he simply waited until I got stung. He made a believer out of me.
We also have a generation of youth who often don't move away from home until quite late in life. My generation was eager to get out from under parental supervision as early as possible. College and the military helped us to do that back then. Every male had to consider the draft, even before Viet Nam, and many signed up as soon as they were old enough.
In the last couple of days, the latest example of schools overreaching in the name of safety got some publicity when a school district announced that bats, balls and practically any object that a boy would want to play with have all been banned from playgrounds, except under direct supervision of a coach. It was feared that someone might be injured. Many other school districts have done similar safety bans of various sports or activities.
A phenomenon has become prevalent in Scouting and probably other groups that did not exist when I was growing up: helicopter parents. There are increasing numbers of parents who essentially want to monitor the activities of their preteen and adolescent children to a very minute degree, 24/7. Many Scout leaders complain about the constant presence of parents who want to make sure their child never comes to any harm.
One of the tenets of Scouting from the beginning has been giving boys a chance to try things they would not otherwise be able to. We teach that in Scouting, boys can "fail successfully." They may not succeed in a project, but they learn a lesson from it. I vividly recall being a Senior Patrol Leader and a campout where I was responsible for bringing the food for the "Greenbar Patrol." When we set up camp, I discovered the meat we had frozen ahead of time to keep it cool during the next day was missing from our supplies. I realized it had been left in the freezer at home. We didn't starve, but in no other way could I have learned about the need to check everything twice and then check it again.
However, we run risks when we let our Scouts fend for themselves. If a patrol goes camping without adults and there is an accident, what happens? If they are properly trained and prepared, they can take care of it, if necessary seeking help. However, they have to be taught what to do. It's part of Scouting. If we are canoeing in the Boundary Waters and a boy gets a fishhook embedded in his thumb in such a way that it's impossible to pull it through and cut off the barb as recommended, we have to solve the problem as best we can. I'm not going to tell you what we did back in the early Sixties, because it is definitely not recommended procedure, but let's just say that some of us got training in minor surgery in a wilderness situation. I was a twenty-one year old crew advisor and had some skills developed on camp staffs and troop outings in the past. The boy and his thumb survived the trip.
I'm concerned that a generation is rising that has no idea how to care for itself. I readily see that safety has to come first, but it's also clear that we have often exceeded the actual dangers in our zeal to have it. The fact is, the real world is not safe. Even without war, terrorism, muggers or crazy people who decide to shoot up an elementary school, it would not be safe. Children need to be raised not to fear everything but to appreciate real danger when it crops up. Only through experience can that happen. A child raised to see danger everywhere and believe he is protected from it by Mom and Dad will have a rude awakening when he finds himself in the work environment, living on his own and dealing with his own finances.
How do we reconcile the need to let our youth reach out and experience the real world while keeping them safe from actual danger? It's a question I don't have all the answers to. For one thing, it's not possible to anticipate and prevent all danger. It never was and never will be. We have to find a line somewhere that allows "acceptable risk." I was glad to see Scouts at the 2013 Jamboree doing rock climbing, white water rafting, shooting, skateboarding and experiencing real adventure. There were broken arms at the Jamboree. Certainly not the worst thing that can happen to a boy. The worst thing that could happen would be for him to be held back from all adventure in the name of protecting him.
October 2, 2013 - Eagle Scouts
Last week I had the pleasure of lunch with Dr. Terry Grove, author of 100 Years of the Eagle Scout Award. Terry's vast collection of Eagle Scout medals has been exhibited at National Jamborees and other national events. Both are a most impressive look at the development and history of the highest award in Boy Scouting. During the conversation, Terry mentioned some details about the early Eagle Scouts. He mentioned that the first group of Scouts ready for Eagle completed their requirements at about the same time. It was a very close race to be the first to ever achieve the badge. As many know, the first was Arthur Eldred of Long Island, New York. He received a letter from Chief Scout Executive James E. West in August of 1912, informing him that he was qualified to be the first Eagle Scout. His actual award presentation was made later that year. The main reason for the delay was that no Eagle badges had yet been cast. In fact, the whole design was changed from the one that appeared in the first handbook printed by the B.S.A. In those days, a National Court of Honor, composed of West, Chief Scout Ernest Thompson Seton and National Scout Commissioner Daniel Carter Beard, met to approve each Eagle Scout Award. There were no local review boards. Dr. Grove has even worked out how often and when the National Court met, by collecting the award records by date.
One of the reasons I find the history of early Scouting, both in the United Kingdom and in the United States so fascinating is the fact that the men who built the structure and organized it were making it up as they went along. They were creating an organization, unlike any in history, from scratch. There was friction and dissent. There were last minute changes, like the design of the Eagle badge, in many cases. Even though the British Scouts had been going for a few years at the time of the formation of the U.S. movement, the situation there was very different from that in the U.S. Boys were not different, but social structure and the sheer size of the country made organization here much more complex in many ways. As mentioned in my book, Men of Schiff, the British had many men available with wealth and a great deal of time to deal with Scouting. That was not the case here. There were men with money and men with time, but they were not the same men. A whole class of professional Scouters arose to spread and organize Scouting in the United States.
There were no manuals on how to do such a thing in 1910. Boy's organizations that existed, such as the Y.M.C.A., worked on different methods than Scouting. Both Seton and Beard had organized boys and run programs for them, but nothing on the scale of Scouting. Guidelines had to be written and issued. The whole system of badges had to be created and agreed upon. Organization was chaotic, to say the least, since there was more than one organization of Scouts. There were even British chartered Scout units in the U.S. All of these had to be incorporated into the B.S.A. It took quite a while, but under the very firm leadership of West, it all came together. Not without error and not all going according to plan, but it became an organization. Scouting in the United States within a very short time became the largest Scouting organization in the world.
Almost miraculous, one might say. My last blog was about the stars aligning and this seems further evidence that there are times when it all comes together at the right moment in history. The Boy Scouts of America has been the result of the kind of alignment.
A sadder fact is that the same thing works in reverse. America of today is not the same by any stretch as it was in 1910. Until sometime in the middle of the Twentieth Century, the growth rate of the population in the middle class was growing by leaps and bounds. In the Twenty-first, the growth rate is declining. Although the B.S.A. has reached out to boys of different ethnic and social backgrounds, Scouting has remained primarily a middle class organization. The economics of the country seem to be changing, perhaps permanently rather than temporarily. Money is no longer available from the same sources that funded the movement in the past. Many councils have found themselves unable to raise the money needed to keep camps open and pay staff at the same level as previously. Recently, divisions within Scouting have caused groups of Scouts and Scouters to break away and start their own movements based on how they interpret Scouting values as stated in the Scout Oath and Law.
It is a time of change and turbulence in America and the world. Will Boy Scouting survive this century? We have to face the possibility that it may not, at least in its present form. What changes we will see can only be guessed at. However, in Scouting we can see today that there is a group of dedicated men and women who are committed to ensuring that it does prevail over these difficulties and continue to build character, citizenship and leadership in boys of Scout age.
September 21, 2013 – The Scout Movement: When the stars align
As a writer and history buff with a spiritual bent I have often speculated upon just how fortuitous was the moment when Scouting began as a movement. All the ingredients were present in 1907 to give the world’s greatest organization for boys its beginning. It was as if orchestrated.
As mentioned in Men of Schiff, boys of the 19th and early 20th Century lived in a very different world than they do today. There was, for example, no such term as “teenager.” Boys in those times went to school until they were old enough to start working as an apprentice or on their parent’s farms. Upper class boys in England started what we would consider prep school at about the same time. So, those lads never had the period of time we now consider to be part of coming of age: the teen years. Nowadays, lives of most boys are filled from an early age with activities tailored for them and can compete in a wide variety of sports. They all have access of some kind to video games and electronic media. Movies and entertainment venues for teens are a major industry.
This was not the case in 1907. A boy was either in school, working or hanging out on the streets. Boys’ organizations tended to be church based and really rather boring for the most part. The young men of that generation in Britain were physically rather unfit, which was a source of concern more for military reasons than anything else.
Then came Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. After 1900, he was a great military hero in Britain because of the publicity surrounding the Siege of Mafeking during the Boer War. There were portraits, flags, commemorative plates and even pub tables bearing his image and the letters B-P. His exploits were, as even he said, “greatly inflated.”
So, when he came upon the idea, with the help of a number of others interested in the welfare of boys, it caught on very rapidly. Fortuitously, he found Ernest Thompson Seton, whose Birch Bark Roll had a small following in the U.S. and a tiny one in England. Seton had come up with an idea for awarding non-competitive awards (think Scout ranks) for achieving certain goals. He also invented a number of games that were fun to play and taught woodcraft skills. Baden-Powell incorporated many of those ideas into Boy Scouting. B-P even discovered that General Allenby (later Lord Allenby, who distinguished himself in Arabia in World War I), was being ambushed by his little son and the governess who had been studying B-P’s book, Aids to Scouting. That book was written for soldiers, but contained many outdoor skills that boys could learn.
So after his famous camp on Brownsea Island in 1907, B-P wrote a new book, Scouting for Boys, which sketched out some of what we now know as Boy Scouting. This book could be bought cheaply and enabled boys to begin playing the game of Scouting on their own. Scout Patrols and even troops sprung up all over the United Kingdom.
If Baden-Powell had not been a military hero he would never have attracted the attention he did. If boys had not been looking for something that was especially for them to give them opportunities for adventure, if other men had not been less successfully trying to begin organizations to meet their needs, Scouting would probably never had have started, much less quickly become a world-wide movement.
It was a moment in time. It was a combination of the right people with the right means and the right ideas to start a boys’ movement that has lasted well into the 21st Century. I don’t really believe in coincidences. To me, things like this happen for a reason. That’s one of the things that keep me involved and interested in Boy Scouting. We do face challenges today that we have never faced before. But Scouting still has a program that interests boys and teaches them important values they cannot learn anywhere else. It offers them adventure they won’t find anywhere else. It will continue to adapt to the times, but the Scout methods will remain and boys will continue to find troops and patrols of lifelong friends under the leadership of adult guides and mentors they will remember always.
September 8, 2013 - More Men of Schiff
Since publishing Men of Schiff earlier this year, I have spent a great deal of time promoting it. I established a Facebook Page, a website and a Twitter account. Through all these internet social media, I’ve come in contact with a great many people. Some have told me some great stories of people they have known who were involved in Scouting. I’ve been accumulating some of these and realized that there is a great wealth of knowledge about many men who were professional Scouters that I haven’t heard about. I began to think that there might be fertile ground for a new edition of Men of Schiff with even more stories. The more I think about it, the more I think it would be a good thing.
So, I’m calling on my readers and those who follow me on the web to contact me with stories. There are several ways to do it. The easiest for me is if people simply write out their stories and send them to me. However, many people find it difficult to put stories into print. So, the second method would be an interview. There are at least two ways to do that. People who want to be interviewed can contact me by email or snail mail, let me know their general story and their schedule and I can contact you to set up a good time to do an interview by phone. Another way is for you to contact me and let me send you a question and answer form for you to use in putting down your recollections. In either case, I may be able to do some research and find more questions to ask that will help you and me to get out your thoughts.
It seems to me an easy way for people who would like to contribute to do so. You can remain anonymous or receive full credit for your input. You can tell it in your words or tell it to me and let me tell it in mine.
I am especially interested in professional Scouters who served from 1910-1950, but I’m sure there are more recent examples worthy of sharing. I would also be interested in stories about council secretaries, camp rangers, paraprofessionals and people who served on camp staffs. There are many untold stories in Scouting and I would like to help get some of them out to the general public.
So, here’s my contact information: my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; my Twitter account is @MenofSchiff; my snail mail address is Winston R. Davis, 117 West Wyndham Court, Longwood, FL 32779. I will happily give my phone number to those who seriously wish to tell a story.
Thanks, and I hope to hear from many of you.
September 1, 2013 - Boy Scouting is About Boys
I've been researching and writing a blog on Scouting's influence on American cultural values which will appear this week. I was sidetracked, however, by another discussion that arose elsewhere and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind.
Our federal charter, dating from 1916, reads as follows: "That the purpose of this corporation shall be to promote, through organization and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in Scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values, using the methods which are now in common use by Boy Scouts."
There is nothing in there about "youth." For a long time, girls have been part of Scouting, both in the Explorer program and the Venturing program, including Sea Scouting. I don't see any real argument that the inclusion has been of benefit to the program. Boys of that age are becoming interested in girls and enjoy working with them in that environment. Girls have been part of camp staffs, high adventure base staffs (see the section on Joe Davis in Men of Schiff) and have been very popular with leaders and boys.
Today, we are obliged to talk about "youth" when referring to members of the program, because not all are boys. Many countries have Scouting programs that include girls at all levels and that seems to work well. However, none of those programs have the same mission statement as the B.S.A.
It appears to me that we are in danger of losing sight of our primary objective, which is stated very simply in the Congressional charter. Our program is really about boys. The girls who are presently members of the B.S.A. are in the program because it helps us to improve the program in certain areas. Any organization can only serve so many objectives. History is full of failed organizations that attempted to be all things to all people.
We have plenty of cultural problems in the B.S.A. today, given the issues concerning gay membership and the requirement to believe in God. These issues are not going to go away. To some extent, the idea of inclusiveness has already gotten people thinking about whether it is fair to exclude girls from Cub and Boy Scouting. To my mind, fairness has nothing to do with our mission in this regard. Boys, especially those of Boy Scout age, need exposure to the outdoors, to associate with other boys whose backgrounds are not the same as theirs and to strong male role models. It's difficult to see how inclusion of girls would accomplish those ends.
It will probably not be long before Scouting as movement has to deal with this issue. I think it will come only after the other inclusiveness issues are dealt with, but it will come. My hope is that we will focus on doing only one thing and doing it right: To teach boys to take care of themselves, to train them in Scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values. That, and only that, is our mission.
Your comments, as always, are welcome.
Win Davis - September 15
Keith is referring to one of two alternative youth organizations that I know of. Both have sprung up in the aftermath of the BSA's decision to include gay boys of Scout age in the program.
The other organization is the the Baden-Powell Service Association. Both are Christian-based and oppose inclusion of gays in Scouting at all. As I have said previously, my feelings about this are that since religious denominations vary on whether homosexuality is wrong or not, it favors one religious point of view over others. I think both these organizations have done the right thing by withdrawing from Scouting and beginning a movement based on their own religious views.
As to whether they will be successful, that's another question. The BSA is having great difficulty in getting boys into the program in a time of declining birth rates and increasing competition for the time of boys. Certainly we should all wish them only the best.
It is worth noting that neither organization will be able to use the word "Scout" or "Scouting" because the BSA's congressional charter gives it exclusive
August 28, 2013 - Boypower ‘76
In 1967, Alden G. Barber, Scout Executive of Chicago, Illinois, became the Chief Scout Executive of the B.S.A., succeeding Joseph A. Brunton, Jr. Barber had been a very ambitious professional Scouter and headed up one of the most ambitious programs in the history of Boy Scouting, Boypower ’76. The ultimate objective was to have one boy out of every three of Scout age in the U.S. in Scouting by the time of the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976. The program also aimed at raising $65 million (almost half a billion dollars in 2013 value).
Worthy goals, but the program led to disaster for the B.S.A. The men at the National Council had not taken into account several factors. One of these was a declining birth rate which would lead to lower numbers of boys available to recruit from. The other was the fact that, human nature and culture being what it is, only a certain number of boys are attracted to Boy Scouts or any other program. The declining birth rate should not have been a problem (1 boy out of 3 should be a constant), but the fact that the program goals were based on increasing membership regardless of numbers of available boys caused a dilemma. You can’t claim a program a success when numbers are dropping, even if the reason is out of your control. Egos being what they are, the leadership of the B.S.A. was compelled to resort to every available means of raising membership.
Some of the things they came up with were: reaching out to minority communities, including more girls in Scouting through the Exploring program and changing the program of Boy Scouting to make it more appealing to a different group of boys. None of these worked particularly well.
Minority communities were then and are now difficult to reach by Boy Scouting. Minority boys will join Scouting if it’s offered to them, but the volunteer spirit is not the same in all cultures. The B.S.A. discovered it was difficult to find leadership for these boys. They then received federal monies to hire men in these communities whose job would be to create Scout troops and Cub packs and find and train leaders for them. When that proved to be impossible, the men hired ended up having to run the units they created. They didn’t have the time to provide proper leadership, so they resorted to having boys play basketball or other games rather than to teach them camping and take them outdoors.
Changing the program, which was done in 1972, also proved a bad idea. The effect of taking the “outing out of Scouting” was to create dissatisfaction among boys who wanted to camp and do other outdoor Scouting activities while not proving especially attractive to boys who didn’t want to do those things. Scouting became a diminished program which was not fulfilling its true mission objectives.
The membership goals were set for each year based on goals set in 1968. Each year numbers would increase, as would troops, packs and posts to support them. Since that proved to be impossible, Scout Executives in local communities were left with few alternatives. Lacking the budget to increase staff enough to do all the work, the higher and higher goals were just handed to the same number of staff members. As a result, a professional Scouter might find that, no matter how hard he or she worked (women were included in the professional ranks in the early 1970s), the goals could not be reached. The professionals were expected to keep up the routine work as well. Their jobs included raising money, finding trainers to teach Scouting skills to new leaders and maintaining relationships with existing troops, packs, posts and their chartered organizations. There were camporees, summer camps, training weekends and endless evening meetings with volunteers.
The job simply could not be done. I happened to be in professional Scouting in Miami and Orlando, Florida, between 1970 and 1975. Both areas were experiencing major growth rates during that time and new schools were being opened constantly. Still, it was very difficult to reach our share of the goals. Not all areas were experiencing that kind of growth but rather a decline. Since the beginning, the B.S.A. had relied on sales techniques from the business world and during the 1970s, every professional was subjected to hours of sales promotion strategy. While that helped in some regards, it was not enough to do the impossible and the frequent sales meetings took time away from their work.
Recognizing that the goal is impossible, a person comes to the conclusion that he will fail unless he can somehow game the system. In Scouting, it turned out to be relatively easy to create fictitious units and fill them with fictitious members. There was also money available in the form of federal funds for work in impoverished areas. So what had to be done to succeed was to make up an institutional sponsor and either make up or find names of boys, fill out the paper work and pay the fees. Many professionals did just that, either with the knowledge of their superiors or without it. However, there is no getting around the fact that by the middle of the decade all professional Scouters understood what was going on. I believe that anyone who was in the profession during that time either did cheat or was aware that others were doing so. It’s not difficult to figure out what happened to morale during those years. By 1975, I really no longer cared if I lost my job or not and just wanted to get away from the pressure and the hours I was spending. Many others felt the same and we were either fired or simply left, in many cases to work for volunteers who knew us and recognized how our skills could be put to use in their businesses.
Eventually, the B.S.A. had to come to grips with the reality of the situation. Many councils had been caught by the federal government misappropriating funds or simply had to admit in an audit that the boys they were claiming didn’t exist. In 1980, the program was changed again to more closely resemble what had been there from the beginning. William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt agreed to come out of retirement to write a new Boy Scout handbook. On page nine of the Handbook, Bill said, “[I]t’s fun to be a Boy Scout! It’s fun to go hiking and camping with your best friends . . . to swim, to dive, to paddle a canoe, to wield an axe . . . to follow the footsteps of the pioneers . . . to stare into the glowing embers of a campfire and dream of the wonders of the life that is in store for you.” Bill regarded those things as essential to boys enjoying Scouting and as promises made to them that had to be kept.
There have always been ambitious men in professional Scouting who have sought to rise by overlooking some inflation of numbers. There have been program initiatives since James E. West was Chief Scout Executive. Most have not attained their intended goals. As this is written, the B.S.A. is implementing a program called Journey to Excellence, parts of which include attracting more youth (as opposed to boys) into Scouting programs and to make headway in the expanding Latino community. It is too early to tell what results the Journey to Excellence will bring us.
Boy Scouting: 2013 Versus 1960
A discussion evolved earlier on Facebook about how the old 1930s uniforms have held up so well that you can still wear them today if you have one. Then the old Boy Scout handbook was mentioned. Mine was in more or less constant use from 1954 until 1960 and it’s still sitting over there on my bookshelf. It’s still a useable book after all these years.
So, it got me thinking about the last fifty years of Scouting in the U.S. Not so good, overall. The best guess I could find for membership in 1960 was around five million boys. In 2013, the total numbers of youth in the B.S.A. is less than five million. Despite inclusion of more minorities, girls in older youth programs and the much lower age for Cub Scouts (Cubs were at least 8 years old in 1960), not to mention extension of the upper limit of membership to 21 for Venturing, the numbers have slowly declined each year.
My thoughts took me to: What if we turned back the Boy Scout program of the BSA to 1960, leaving aside Venturing, Sea Scouting, Learning for Life and Cubbing for the moment? What if we reprinted the books we used in those days as our guide? Realistically, we’d have to do some updating to account for changes to the program through the addition of the Guide to Safe Scouting. We’d have to make accommodation for inclusion of women as leaders. In 1960, there were no women in Scouting, except the Den Mothers. We would also have to change the merit badges to more or less what we have today. My first merit badge was Beekeeping. It’s a long story, but probably not too many Scouts would be out earning that one today.
The patrol method hasn’t changed too much in fifty years, but the way we train Scout leaders, both adult and boy leaders has changed quite a bit and not necessarily for the better. I confess I haven’t attended a Wood Badge course since probably 1970, but I do know that much has changed in way it’s conducted. I just reviewed some of the Boy Scout leader training materials on line and it seems the basics are really the same as they were in the Sixties. I don’t know that they are presented in the same way, however. It seems we rely a great deal on Power Point presentations, DVDs and the like to get our points across.
Before continuing I dug out my old Wood Badge notebook. I attended a course at Zastro Camp, Philmont, in 1968. Before I started looking at it I reflected how much enthusiasm I brought home from that course. I was a Scoutmaster at the time and we had a pretty good troop of forty or so boys. The troop had been boy-led for a long time, but we had trouble getting the point across to them how exactly they were supposed to function. After Wood Badge, I asked one of my Assistant Scoutmasters to step in as Scoutmaster for a month and took over the troop as Senior Patrol Leader. I made the SPL my assistant. I ran it just like we had done at Wood Badge: we used silent signals to assemble the patrols; I consulted with the Patrol Leaders after every meeting and made sure they knew exactly what they were supposed to do for the next meeting and on our monthly camping trip. After the month was over, everything went back to the way it had been, but there was a difference. The boy who was SPL really took charge, as did the Patrol Leaders. When it came time for our annual planning conference, the PLs came ready with ideas and with our help planned a great program for the coming year.
The point is, I was really stoked and I spread it like a virus in my troop. I don’t really see that happening after Wood Badge today. Maybe I don’t get out enough and I’d be really interested to see what experiences others have had. This blog is not about Wood Badge, it’s about program. I’m using Wood Badge as an example of something I find to be different and not of the same quality today than “way back when.” I’m going to leave this for a day or two and see what comments I get. I’d just like to get a feel for reaction to the topic before I take it any further.
August 11 – The Summit
The Bechtel Summit Reserve was the site selected for the 2013 Jamboree and for all future jamborees. Spread over 10,000 acres in West Virginia, the Summit is intended to be a facility for many Scouting functions in the 21st Century. The Summit will be the fourth BSA National High Adventure Base, joining Philmont Scout Ranch, The Northern Tier and the Florida Sea Base as a site for year round activities.
The Summit also represents a pretty major evolution in how jamborees work. Previous jamborees have had the atmosphere of a state fair, featuring gateways put up by the contingents, displays of Scouting skills, Americana and arena shows featuring entertainment that has changed as the mainstream culture has changed. The 2013 Jamboree certainly had some of that atmosphere. Patch trading continued to be extremely popular and the shows featured bands as well as other performances to entertain and educate. Mike Rowe of TV’s “Dirty Jobs”, who is a Distinguished Eagle Scout asked Scouts to remember that although “A Scout Is Clean”, he is not afraid to get dirty, and told a little of his own experience as a Boy Scout. Many left the jamboree saying it was the high spot.
However, the 2013 Jamboree was advertised as being about high adventure. There was BMX biking on scale not seen before and what was billed as the world’s largest skateboard facility, zip-lines, canopy tours, rock climbing, shooting, swimming, white-water rafting and other high adventure activities, all designed to appeal to the adolescent youth of America in these years. Although boys constituted the overwhelming majority of the estimated 30,000 youth in attendance, girls were there as part of the Venturing program for ages 14-21. Previous jamborees had included only members of Boy Scout troops as attendees and those over 18 could only attend as jamboree staff. While weather kept closing these activities every day and some activities were understaffed and had long lines, they were wildly popular. It had been intended that Scouts would see no vehicles other than golf carts needed for EMTs and maintenance, but it became necessary to bring in busses and other motorized equipment to get staff around to their jobs.
Presumably the after-action reports and experience of the permanent Summit staff will make the next jamboree, in 2017, run more smoothly where there were problems at this one. However, it is apparent that there’s an intention to move gradually away from some of the standard jamboree features, such as merit badges, to greater emphasis on the high adventure activities. Will this make a real difference in the meaning of the experience to Scouts who attend future jamborees? Probably not. Assuming that house-keeping issues are taken care of (extremely cold showers for staff and campers comes to mind), Scouts will still come away in awe of the experience. Contingent leaders are concerned mainly with being able to ensure “their” Scouts are safe, fed, entertained and have a warm dry place to sleep. There were issues with staffing in 2013 that had a lot to do with terrain and facilities. What individuals who served as staff thought about their experience varied, but it clearly was more rugged than most expected. Rugged may be fine to people in their twenties and even forties, but previous jamboree staffs have had quite a few old-timers staffing, men and women who were retired or reached a point in their career where they could take two weeks away from home and job. There were always jobs on merit badge counseling staffs, exhibits and administration that we could handle. That will apparently be less and less the case over time. Maybe next time.
I’ve rambled on here without getting to my main point, which is the purpose of Scout jamborees and whether we are still serving that purpose. I would answer that we are. In 1937 the jamboree served to show the public that Scouting was an organization worthy of public respect and to bring boys together in the spirit of Scouting to share adventure and new experiences. The jamboree of 2013 served the same purposes. Perhaps the public saw a bit less that was new, but the public did take notice. Newspapers and TV news organizations gave at least some positive coverage to Scouting. Scouts today are perhaps slightly more jaded than their predecessors of 1937, but they certainly came away impressed, not only with the adventure, but also with the fact that as Scouts they are part of a really large fraternity of Scouts, not only nationwide but worldwide. Reasonable minds may disagree with the way certain things should be done, but it would be hard to disagree that the overall experience was great for the youth who attended. I look forward to visiting the next jamboree and watch a new generation of Scouts enjoy it even more.
August 7 - Jamborees in the 21st Century
The 1937 National Jamboree was a hugh success in all respects, but due to World War II and the change in leadership of the B.S.A. during that war the next jamboree was not held until 1950. James E. West retired in 1943 after serving as its Chief Scout Executive since 1911 and his forceful administration had governed virtually everything that happened in American Scouting until that time. Much about the operation of Scouting changed in the years that followed his retirement.
The basic form of jamborees from 1950 until 2010 remained pretty much the same as the first one in 1937. But there was a gradual evolution in accordance with the times. Culturally, boys were not interested in the same things their fathers and grandfathers were. Music changed, entertainment changed and boys became more attuned to the country and world outside their own community. Television really changed everything after its arrival on the American scene in the 1950s.
The jamboree I attended in 1969 featured music by Iron Butterfly as well as Up With People and Lanny Ross (who had sung at the first jamboree). Of course, the first landing on the Moon overshadowed any other single event. Astronaut Colonel Frank Bormann came to one of the evening shows to show fuzzy black and white footage of Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface. There had been a trading post at the first jamboree. At this one, there were many. The first trading post had sold mainly Cokes, candy and ice cream. Thirty-two years later, there was a great deal of jamboree merchandise available to take home as souvenirs.
My next jamboree was the Centennial Jamboree in 2010, where I served as a member of the Stamp Collecting Merit Badge staff. Again, the physical arrangements were much the same as they had been in 1937: There were gateways at every contingent’s camp site, reflecting the flavor of the region of the country they were from. Activities and entertainment reflected times we were living in. There was a lot of technology in evidence at the evening events as well as in the exhibits. Cell phone charging stations and porta-potties were dotted around the jamboree site at Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia. Trading posts were everywhere and there was more emphasis on merchandise than ever before. There were still plenty of places to buy food and cold drinks, too. Buses were available to take Scouts to the venues for shooting, fishing, BMX biking and aquatic areas. There was a merit badge midway and boys flocked to all the badges available. I honestly hadn’t expected stamp collecting to attract a huge following and it certainly didn’t have the long lines that our neighbors in metal working had. They had furnaces, welding, anvils and attracted boys like ants. However, our staff was busy all the time from early morning to late afternoon, teaching Scouts how to recognize, identify and mount stamps. It was a great jamboree and made memorable by the fact that it was the 100th anniversary of the B.S.A. and also the fact that it would be the last one at Fort A. P. Hill.
The purchase of a 10,000 acre tract of land in West Virginia was already underway. It was intended that The Bechtel Summit, as it would be known, would be the home for all future national jamborees and the construction of a permanent jamboree site began not long after 2010.
Next: The Summit
August 4 - Jamborees
Having had many thoughts from the promotion through the ending of the 2013 National Jamboree, I began thinking about Scout jamborees in general and what they mean. This jamboree at The Summit was very different than ones we've had before or any that have been held in the world, for that matter.
My first question was, "What should a Scout jamboree be, anyway?" Thinking like a Scouting historian, I got out some books and started looking around. The first jamboree in Scouting was held in 1920. It was an International Jamboree held at Olympia, which was a large exhibition hall in London. All of the events were held inside and some one thousand Scouts slept there overnight, although there was a camp established in the Old Deer Park nearby. The jamboree events were spread over 8 days in late July and early August. Events included a grand opening with a stage set and a parade that included American Scouts and real American Indians in full dress. There were arena events, which were really pageants showing off Scouting skills. In the hall and its annexes, there were exhibits of Scoutcraft skills in rows of booths. There was a closing pageant, at which Sir Robert Baden-Powell was proclaimed Chief Scout of the World. About eight thousand boys and thousands of spectators were present during the jamboree. That jamboree served to get the whole world excited about Boy Scouting.
The first jamboree held by the Boy Scouts of America was in Washington, D.C., literally all over the Mall and adjoining banks of the Potomac in 1937. There were about 25,000 Scouts and several thousand leaders, volunteer and professional, in attendance. The first American jamboree was really a huge show for the country. For those in attendance, there was plenty of opportunity for sight-seeing around Washington and getting together with Scouts from other places. Boys in the late 1930s rarely got to see how their contemporaries in other parts of the country lived. The contingents to the jamboree were eager to show off the flavor of their part of the country. Boys from Texas and the Plains dressed as cowboys and showed off roping skills. Those from Hawaii played the ukelele and showed off local dress and dance. There were American Indians, both real and not, in full regalia. There were many exhibits for boys to look at, from all over the U.S. and from around the world. Although it was a national jamboree, there were plenty of visitors from abroad. Scouts took in a professional baseball game and held a patriotic ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery. They got to see or meet Scouting celebrities like James E. West and Daniel Carter Beard as well as national figures like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, internationally famous broadcaster and showman Lowell Thomas, and heard the songs of then-famous Lanny Ross at an evening show.
It was a huge event in the lives of those Scouts and in the standing of the Boy Scouts of America in the eyes of the public. There have been world jamborees and national jamborees every four years or so since the first one. But boys today are not the boys of 1920 or 1937.
Next blog: Jamborees in the 21st Century.
August 1 Thought for the Day
There's a new merit badge for Boy Scouts, Scouting Heritage. The requirements are fairly simple, but the impact on Scouts could be big. Even more important, the impact on Scout leaders who should have some familiarity with the requirements, which would mean more understanding of the history of Scouting.
Here are the requiremnts for the badge. Would you be able to discuss these topics with a Scout? Any of them? Needless to say, I think it's a great badge!
1. Discuss with your counselor the life and times of Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell. Explain why he felt a program like Scouting would be good for the young men of his day. Include in your discussion how Scouting was introduced in the United States, and the origins of Boy Scouting and Cub Scouting under Baden-Powell.
2. Do the following:
- a. Give a short biographical sketch of any TWO of the following, and tell of their roles in how Scouting developed and grew in the United States prior to 1940.
- b. Discuss the significance to Scouting of any TWO of the following:
4. Do ONE of the following:
- a. Attend either a BSA national jamboree, OR world Scout jamboree, OR a national BSA high-adventure base. While there, keep a journal documenting your day-to-day experiences. Upon your return, report to your counselor what you did, saw, and learned. You may include photos, brochures, and other documents in your report.
- b. Write or visit the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas.* Obtain information about this facility. Give a short report on what you think the role of this
museum is in the Scouting program.
- If you visit the BSA’s national traveling tour, Adventure Base 100, in 2010, you may use this experience to fulfill requirement 4b. Visit www.adventurebase100.org (with your parent’s permission) for the schedule and for more information.
5. Learn about the history of your unit or Scouting in your area. Interview at least two people (one from the past and one from the present) associated with your troop. These individuals could be adult unit leaders, Scouts, troop committee members, or representatives of your troop’s chartered organization. Find out when your unit was originally chartered. Create a report of your findings on the history of your troop, and present it to your patrol or troop or at a court of honor, and then add it to the troop’s library. This presentation could be in the form of an oral/written report, an exhibit, a scrapbook, or a computer presentation such as a slide show.
6. Make a collection of some of your personal patches and other Scouting memorabilia. With their permission, you may include items borrowed from family members or friends who have been in Scouting in the past, or you may include photographs of these items. Show this collection to your counselor, and share what you have learned about items in the collection. (There is no requirement regarding how large or small this collection must be.)
7. Reproduce the equipment for an old-time Scouting game such as those played at Brownsea Island. You may find one on your own (with your counselor’s approval), or pick one from the Scouting Heritage merit badge pamphlet. Teach and play the game with other Scouts.
8. Interview at least three people (different from those you interviewed for requirement 5) over the age of 40 who were Scouts. Find out about their Scouting experiences. Ask about the impact that Scouting has had on their lives. Share what you learned with your counselor.
Think about it. You might be Counselor material for this one!
July 30 Thought for the day.
My air conditioning has been on the fritz and had to be replaced. My garbage disposal went out on me too. I sure hope these things don't come in threes! So anyway, I've gotten to know the boss man on the job pretty well and when he came by today, we were chatting. He asked me what my book was about and I told him. A big smile came over his face and he said, "My sons just came back from the National Jamboree!" First dad I'd talked to in person. He said his boys (12 & 15) had a great time. They got wet, muddy and the younger one didn't care much for the food or the fact he couldn't shoot a pistol (he shoots all the time and is range qualified). BUT, they had a wonderful experience and would do it again in a heartbeat. He was excited, they were excited and I became excited.
Great stuff, this Scouting program!